Now Natural England mucks up the new general licences

The first of the new general licences is not fit for purpose, the second ‘appalling’. That’s what shooting organisations are telling Natural England.

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation condemns a new general licence for controlling crows in England as “hurried, botched and completely unfit for purpose.”

Meanwhile, BASC chairman Peter Glenser QC says its drafting is “shoddy and hurried” and the document is “not fit for purpose”.

As for the woodpigeon licence (GL31), which came out on Friday 3 May 2019 at the same time as the Canada goose licence, it can only be used by people growing crops or by those acting on their behalf. It requires licence users to be able to show the police or Natural England, if asked, what type of crop they are protecting, what alternative non-lethal methods of preventing pigeon damage have been used and continue to be used (or why they have not been used), and also what measures have been and are being taken to minimise losses due to other species and causes.

Read here how two shooters are fighting their way through the new licencing system

A licence user must also be able to show why the threat of damage is sufficiently serious to merit action, saying “Relevant evidence will include examples of actual losses during the present year or in recent years.”

Licence users are asked, in an ‘advice’ section, to exercise restraint in severe weather and the licence ends with a threat that if it is misused for recreational or commercial purposes, Natural England may review it.

NGO chairman Liam Bell says: “This new licence is appalling. In terms of restrictions and conditions it goes way beyond anything seen before. It will make pigeon control as we know it wholly impractical. Farmers and those who help them to control pests will be in uproar. The NGO will do everything it can to get this hopeless licence withdrawn and replaced.”

The new licence (GL 26, for killing crows to protect livestock including kept gamebirds), was issued by Natural England on Friday night, 26 April 2019, just two days after they had revoked earlier general licences, thereby temporarily making crows a fully protected species throughout England.
Michael Gove will be taking back control of bird licensing from Natural England, at least for a time, starting on Saturday 4 May 2019. 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.”

Natural England has tried to put a gloss on the new licences. Announcing the first replacement licence, NE’s interim chief executive, Marian Spain said it would bring “peace of mind” to those who needed to control crows. But urgent analysis by the NGO has found the new 11-page licence to be far more restrictive than the 5-page licence it replaces.

The additional restrictions include:

  • The new licence only allows crows to be killed “as a last resort.”
  • It allows someone to kill crows only if they have previously tried non-lethal ways of solving the problems the crows are causing.
  • It prevents someone from destroying a crow’s nest when it is not in use.
  • It prevents the use of some types of cage traps.
  • It restricts the control of crows during their breeding season.
  • It is invalid in conservation areas such as SSSIs unless a further licence is obtained from NE.
  • It requests users to “exercise restraint” when shooting or scaring crows in periods of severe weather.

It took the NGO just moments to spot many serious flaws in the new licence, which was rushed out without any consultation, with no chance given to suggest changes.

BASC, too, has been analysing the 11-page document and its supporting information since it was released by Natural England.

BASC chief executive Ian Bell outlined his concerns around the failings in the new licence in a phone call to Natural England on Saturday afternoon.

NGO chairman Liam Bell says: “NE’s new crow licence is hurried, botched and completely unfit for purpose. NE must go back to the drawing board and we have offered our help in drafting a replacement licence that is workable and clear. That will take time, however, and vulnerable young gamebirds, lambs and other livestock cannot be left this spring without protection from crows.”

Bell continues: “In the meantime, therefore, the NGO has asked NE for the immediate re-introduction of the old General Licences that were revoked last Thursday, with additional legal safeguards to ensure that gamekeepers and others who control crows and other problem birds can do so without risk of prosecution.”

Glenser says: “We have been in contact with other leading rural organisations during Saturday and all our experts have been working very quickly to analyse the licence so that we could give some reassurances to the rural community.

“Having done that work, we are not able to give those assurances and we have told Natural England exactly that. We have to say that the shambles is continuing in the aftermath of Natural England’s appalling decision to withdraw the three original general licences without warning or consultation on Tuesday.

“Some of the content of the new licence for controlling carrion crows is, quite frankly, bizarre and we believe the licence in its current form is unworkable. We have real fears for the other licences which have yet to be released.”

Bell says: “When I spoke to Natural England directly today I demanded they reintroduce the 2019 general licences that they took away without consultation. There is no time to delay in this, the rural community is desperate for answers and reassurance.”

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