If you live in the UK and take any interest in the news at all then you are probably aware that last Thursday Natural England revoked the general licenses (GL04,05 and 06) that allowed anyone to shoot 16 different species* of bird including several members of the crow family, pigeons and some gulls. The use of Larsen traps and crow cages has also been banned. Farmers, gamekeepers and conservationists (yes, I mentioned those three in the same sentence) have taken these licenses for granted as an effective means of predator control which is a vital arm of conservation, alongside ensuring good habitat for breeding and sufficient summer and winter food sources. The revocation came about because of a legal challenge from the group Wild Justice, which includes Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery. The claim was that Natural England were acting unlawfully by not ensuring that non-lethal measures of control, such as bird scaring, are tried first before shooting. In the short term, the general licenses have been replaced by the requirement for individual licenses, but detail on whatever the future situation will be is very scant.
Several commentators haven’t been able to avoid drawing a connection between the timing of the decision and the appointment of Tony Juniper as Chair. Whilst it could be pure coincidence the lack of consultation on this matter before action is taken doesn’t bode well for the immediate future. We simply cannot move forward in the countryside without talking together. There are so many disparate groups and disagreements that we need to talk together before action is taken. Imposing this particular decision in the way that it was has only done more harm to deepen divisions.
On a practical basis the licensing situation adds yet another challenge to farmers at a time of year when there is immense pressure and it is also a challenge to wildlife. Crows can be a nightmare for newborn lambs and pigeons can decimate crops. Some of the birds on the list can also be very bad news for songbirds, despite arguments by some conservationists. Magpie numbers have been getting out of hand on my Essex coastal farm so I recently arrange for some traps to be put down (well before Thursday may I add!). Whilst the science appears to be inconclusive magpies without a doubt predate on the eggs and chicks of songbirds and I cannot see how they cannot have some form of impact. There are those who enjoy the sight of this charismatic bird, but numbers need to be kept in check.
Curlew are also threatened by the decision. Curlew conservationist Mary Colwell recently told the Telegraph
“You couldn’t have chosen a worse time to revoke the general license than this week really. We completely welcome a general license review, it needs tightening and more rigour, but to time it with the peak start of laying is really terrible. It’s caught us all by surprise.Crows eat both the eggs and the young of curlews. Their eggs are quite large so they don’t take them away but they intimidate the birds off the nest, smash the eggs up and eat them in situ. If we had time to prepare, people could have applied for individual licenses, no one would have minded if it happened at a different time of year. Curlews don’t often relay if they lose a clutch. So we have lost a season and that’s bad news for birds in such trouble.”
The backlash on social media has been considerable. Here are just a few of the (better behaved) responses from twitter:
SOME TWITTER RESPONSES
At the same time there have been some idiotic acts that really don’t help anybody at all. Chris Packham, who isn’t exactly foreign to the idea of being lashed out at, has had dead crows hung outside his house – how is this act really helping anyone?
People on both sides (if you see it in this way – it’s difficult not to in the way it has panned out) have batted insults which simply won’t move us forward. Here are just some of the responses received by Wild Justice.
If you want a relatively partisan free, objective look at the situation which cuts through the fighting and shows that some nuance has come to the fore check out this by the New Scientist. Funnily enough the situation isn’t all that black and white. There is room for grey.
In short therefore, this situation is a mess that has been very badly handled and upset a huge number of people. The way forward is consultation and working across parties, not a simple fight between sides. In the long run, this will get us nowhere.
Some other responses:
Response from the Countryside Alliance – https://www.countryside-alliance.org/news/2019/4/countryside-alliance-response-to-natural-england-r
Thoughts from Mark Avery (several recent posts on his blog about the situation) – https://markavery.info/blog/page/2/
*The 16 species include:
- Feral pigeon
- Collared dove
- Lesser black-backed gull
- Canada goose
- Monk parakeet
- Ring-necked parakeet
- Indian House Crow
- Herring gull
- Egyptian goose
- Sacred Ibise