Bird General Licences saga set to run…

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Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Things may appear to have settled down following the publication of GL34, GL35 and GL36 on 14 June but, fearfully, this is unlikely to be the end of this story which professional pest control has, almost unintentionally, been drawn into.
Following the almost daily torrent of Licence withdrawals, the issuing of new ones, Departmental changes of responsibility etc over the spring, life returned, more or less to normal, when three new General Licences (GL34, GL35 and GL36) were put in place by Defra on 14 June. These only run until 29 February 2020.

It is worth noting though that the new GL35 licence (the one most relevant to pest professionals), only covers carrion crow, jackdaw, magpie, feral pigeon, rook, Canada goose and monk parakeet. Gulls (herring and lesser black-backed) remain covered by the individual species licence with development of a new class licence ready for next year’s breeding season.

Within the pages of Pest magazine we attempted to summarise these developments. If not already read, this summary from issue 63: June & July 2019 can be viewed here.

One thing impossible within the magazine is including direct links to reports quoted in our article. For those readers who really want to follow the story in detail, the blog posted on 21 May by Marian Spain, interim chief executive of Natural England gives a useful resume of developments from their perspective. The transcript from the meeting held on 21 May from the evidence session organised by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee is also available. From this you will be able to gauge the significance (or lack of) given to profesional pest control in this debate.

Caught the public’s attention
This is by no means the end of the saga and along the way it has attracted considerable media attention – for example n BBC1’s Countryfile programe broadcast on 14 July and available to view until 11 August 2019 – the report starts some 14 minutes into the programme.

Presenter Charlotte Smith reviews the situation and, amongst others, speaks to Dr Mark Avery from Wild Justice, the originators of this crisis, as well as Tony Juniper, the relatively recently appointed chair of Natural England. Whilst Wild Justice is crowd funded, Tony Juniper bemoans a lack of funding within Natural England to even cover the areas it is charged by Governement to manage, never mind taking on legal challenges from campaign groups.

Wider review requested by Gove
Current Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, said Defra would be undertaking a wider review of General Licences over the summer and autumn to provide a long-term licensing solution which balances the needs of users and wildlife. But, one wonders, how much longer Michael Gove is going to be in this position, and what will be the views of his successor? Whoever that may be, General Licences are hardly likely to be top of their agenda.

Add to this the fact Wild Justice feels vindicated by winning its first legal challenge and is now considering a further two such challenges. Indeed as they won their first challenge costs will have to be paid by Natural England, so enabling Wild Justice to recycle these funds into another legal challenge.

Wild Justice certainly intends to pursue the issue until they see what they view as a sensible resolution of the issues. What will that look like? The group states: “We want a licensing system that is lawful, allows the genuine and legal needs of landowners to use lethal control of birds acting as pests to be in place as an action of last resort, a system of monitoring, enforcement of the law and the removal of jackdaw, jay, rook and magpie from the list of species that can be killed to protect wildlife because the science does not support their presence on the lists.”

Scotland and Wales
With all this going on in England, it is easy to overlook the fact that General Licences in Scotland and Wales were not revoked and remain in place. Scottish Natural Heritage is to launch a 12-week online consultation in the summer but has said this year’s General Licences are unaffected.

Watch this space for future news…

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