Two shooters – the same problem. How do they shoot pest birds legally?
Shooter A is a pest controller on a large arable farm in the South of England. He followed the advice on the Natural England website. Last week, Natural England said new general licences were coming out last Monday. They didn’t. An unworkable single general licence for carrion crows came out on Tuesday and one for Canada geese and woodpigeons on Friday. More on that from Shooter B.
Never mind, said Natural England’s website: apply online in your own name and you will be covered from the moment you submit the form.
Hundreds of thousands of pest controllers and shooters tried to access Natural England’s website. Within minutes, it was not working. The online form was unreachable. Natural England’s single published email address exceeded its memory quota and returned emails within hours. After many attempts, Shooter A successfully downloaded a form, filled it out and posted it.
It is likely he was one of only a few people to do this. After they could not use the website and tried ringing Natural England instead, many people held off applying because Natural England told them on the telephone that new general licences would soon be out.
Shooter B helps keeper a rough shoot in the West Country. He needs to control corvids to maintain biodiversity and look after nesting gamebirds and waterfowl. After failing to use the Natural England website, he successfully reached Natural England on the telephone to ask what to do. He was worried that, if challenged about crow shooting, he risked a court case, a large fine, prison and the loss of his shotgun certificate.
“I asked them directly: ‘If I have to justify myself how would you like me to do it? A written statement from the police to hand should I be challenged? Receipts? Photos?’
“I explained I had used bangers, eagle eyes and scarecrows over the past two years – but I do not hold receipts or have any photos.”
Natural England told Shooter B that they don’t know the answer. This answer would become a theme. They suggested Shooter B contact his local wildlife crime officer.
Shooter B was surprised at Natural England’s response. “I said: ‘How can you say you don’t know? You have issued the GL26 [the carrion crow general licence]. Surely you know how you want it to work?”
Natural England replied: “I don’t know.”
Shooter B asked – perhaps too forcefully – if he could apply for a temporary licence that ignored the proof of non-lethal methods. “The phone went dead,” he reports.
“So, no clearer. It sounds double standards and that the aim is to stop shooting.”
Shooter A received his ‘licence’ from England in the post on the morning of 3 May. It allows him, personally, to shoot carrion crow, jackdaw, jay, magpie, rook, feral pigeon and woodpigeon – just seven of the 16 species on the general licences he was using a week ago.
Also, this letter seems to go against Natural England’s advice that species would be licenced singly.
Shooter A says: “As far as I can work out, the general licences have become single, individual licences, they only last a few months and the cost of issuing them must be so enormous. Surely it is only a matter of time before they charge for them. Plus they have dropped several species from the list without consultation. No Canadas, no parakeets. They don’t seem to understand what ‘natural England’ is.”
On Wednesday, 1 May, Shooter B wrote the following to Natural England:
“Looking at GL26, it appears users have to be able to justify/prove why a lethal operation has been used. To keep myself within the law how can I do this? We have applied non lethal operations at times over the past few years. I would not be able to provide photos or receipts. Should I produce some sort of written document or statement explaining this, what non lethal options have been attempted and how it went? Is a written statement enough?
“I posed the question a few days ago and was told to contact my local wildlife crime officer. On advice from others, I feel Natural England, as the producer of the new general licences, should be able to aid me though this process.
“Can Natural England please advise me what individuals should do to keep themselves out of the police station while operating under GL26?
“GL26 is not user friendly and puts individuals at risk of prosecution.”
We will report Natural England’s response when Shooter B receives it.
Natural England has a three-part mission statement:
‘We are here to secure a healthy natural environment for people to enjoy, where wildlife is protected and England’s traditional landscapes are safeguarded for future generations.’
With the general licences fiasco, it has failed on all three counts.
Michael Gove will be taking back control of bird licensing from Natural England, at least for a time, starting on Saturday 4 May 2019. Commenting on this news, National Gamekeepers Organisation chairman Liam Bell says: “NE made a pig’s ear of licensing and changes were certainly needed. We must hope that Defra can do better and we will offer them every assistance in sorting out this mess. The priority is to get workable licences back up as soon as possible, especially at this critical time for both livestock and wildlife.”