Natural England toys with wildfowling ban

Wildfowling in England in 2020 could be banned because of Natural England bureaucracy and Wild Justice’s legal threats against pigeonshooting.

After Wild Justice’s lawyers threatened the government in spring 2019, Natural England ended the system of shooting birds under general licences on on what it terms ‘European protected sites’, or on land within 300 metres of those sites. That’s around 10% of England’s landmass.

Natural England ruled that pest birds can only be shot in European protected sites by shooters who have a written individual licence from Natural England, which it has been unwilling to give out. European protected sites include Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Ramsar sites. This has led to the massacre of populations of endangered waders and groundnesting birds by growing populations of pest species including crows and magpies, with their usual protector, shooters, only allowed to stand and watch.

Natural England’s bans on shooting pest birds on European protected sites are now threatening conservation work on England’s coasts.

Natural England announces a ‘wildfowling review’. The agency says it is unable to renew ‘wildfowling consents’ when there is uncertainty about other levels of shooting activity within European protected sites, such as SPAs. Consents are the legal paperwork that ensures wildfowling can take place on sites that fall within national conservation designated areas.

BASC is challenging Natural England’s review. It is asking government ministers to intervene to ensure that the current approach to consenting continues. Knowing that Natural England responds badly to legal threats, BASC is also consulting its lawyers.

James Green, BASC’s head of wildfowling, says: “Wildfowling clubs have regulated shooting and protected the habitats in these areas for generations. It has been a job well done.

“Wildfowling has co-existed on many sites perfectly well with other activities such as dog walking and bird watching. It is wholly disproportionate for Natural England to threaten to now dismantle this system.”

Natural England plans to remove consents until civil servants have assessed all affected SPAs. BASC believes NE does not have the resources to do that in time for the start of the season – which means some clubs may not be able to shoot in the season ahead. And if the clubs don’t shoot, nobody manages the coastal areas for wildfowl, which means wildfowl conservation will end. 

James Green: ‘Wholly unfair’

Green adds: “In essence, a wildfowling club could have its consent to shoot refused because Natural England has not done, and can’t feasibly do, the work required to assess the level of shooting in other areas. It is a bureaucratic nonsense that must be fought.

“It is quite wrong to stop shooting on one area of well managed marsh because NE has failed in other areas of the same estuary. It is wholly unfair.

“NE is seeking to gold-plate its consenting system but that’s an approach that stands to be ruinous for wildfowling clubs. It will also negatively impact the wildlife and habitats that benefit from the work done by wildfowlers to protect the areas they shoot.

“BASC is already engaging available options to fight this on behalf of wildfowling clubs and the wider shooting community. We will support clubs and consider every available legal and political option to protect the future of wildfowling and shooting.”

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