General licences in Wales: no rooks, magpies or jackdaws

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by Deborah Hadfield

New general licences in Wales are bad news for rare birds and worse news for farmers. From 1 July 2022, Welsh shooters face new restrictions on how they can protect livestock, crops and carry out conservation work.

Natural Resources Wales has removed magpies, jays and jackdaws from one of its new general licences (the lists of what can be shot to protect wildlife and livestock). In addition, it has introduced a season for carrion crows, bringing them into line with gamebirds. You can only shoot crows from the beginning of February to the end of August.

Farmer Gareth Wyn Jones says people are very frustrated by the extra red tape. He says: “We’ve got massive amounts of corvids in this area and I think they are a real problem that needs to be addressed and by helping to protect them. It’s not going to do make an iota of difference to helping our wildlife and our ground nesting birds.

Gareth says magpies are also a huge problem. He say: “They’re an absolutely amazing machine. They are natural born killers; predators and I think that’s why we’ve got such a loss in our songbirds and farm. We have to take control and these licenses aren’t going to help in that situation.”

Gareth Wyn Jones

BASC has been advising the Welsh government on the changes. Steve Griffiths of BASC Wales says the licences are devastating for conserving wild birds in Wales. He says: “The Welsh Government is really pushing protecting red- and amber-listed [birds], and then they do this and it makes it more difficult.”

The new licenses contain a table specifically outlining which birds you can control for which purpose. For example, you can shoot carrion crows to prevent serious damage to livestock and livestock feedstuffs but not to prevent serious damage to crops, fruits or vegetables.

Steve Griffiths

Gareth says the Welsh government needs to listen to farmers and landowners, who can show how successful they are at maintaining the balance in the countryside. He says: “You can see what the difference is when you protect nature. Years ago, my father stopped everybody shooting hares on his farm because he could see the numbers were going down. And he told anybody that was coming here that, if he caught them shooting hares, they would never come here shooting again.”

Gareth says he can now see dozens of hares on his land. He says: “It’s beautiful to see and that’s how we can do it. We have to work together.”

Gareth says the fieldsports community and farmers can educate the government. In return, he says that the farming and fieldsports community need government support and funding. He says: “There are some great environmentalists out there that can help us. I’ve worked with some of them. The farmers and the country people are not the problem. They are the solution.”

Gareth says he doesn’t think politicians are listening to the people that are working the land. He says: “The people are doing these jobs on a daily basis are part of our rural communities. If anything, government should be backing gamekeepers in local areas. They should be paying people to go round and bring down the number of pests.”

Gareth says that in 2006 local farmers got money from Europe to shoot foxes on Welsh uplands. That led to an increase in grouse numbers and other birds. He says: “We brought the number of foxes down, but we will never eradicate them. We need to keep the number to a healthy minimum.”

If you want to carry out pest bird control that is not covered in any of the general licences, you need a specific licence from NRW. Steve says BASC is lobbying NRW and the Welsh government to make them easier to issue. He says: “They need to be more user friendly for people in Wales and that’s the main difficulty at the moment. Nobody’s quite sure what evidence they want. Do they want films? Do they want photographs? When you find that you’ve got a problem, you want to control birds straightaway. You don’t want to wait for up to 30 days.”

Another change is that if any European protected species of animal, as defined within the general licence, or any wild bird of prey is captured, killed, or injured in the course of action carried out under this licence the NRW must be advised.

There have also been minor changes to the use of decoy birds. These are still permitted within the general licences. The new terms and conditions include any meat or meat-based product used as food for a decoy bird must be in chopped or diced form.

Shooters fear the new licences and stricter conditions show how that the Welsh government is institutionally opposed to fieldsports and is deaf to concerns over the conservation impact of stopping predator control. Welsh government policies towards fieldsports are becoming increasingly hostile. There is the possibility of a change in the law around the use of hounds and the Welsh government openly states that it does not support live quarry shooting as a leisure activity. Many are concerned the Welsh government’s opposition to the countryside will lead to more bans and restrictions.

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