Update – Defra and Natural England grilled on May 21 about bird licences

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Few pest controllers could be unaware that Natural England revoked the three general licences for controlling wild birds (GL 04/05/06) on 25 April. The whole saga has reached such a point that there was a special one-off session for MPs on 21 May.
The whole affair reached a point that the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee held a one-off evidence session on the recent decision to withdraw the general licences for controlling wild birds. The Committee asked Defra Ministers and Natural England (NE) to appear before the Committee to give evidence on 21 May.

Questions foced on the series of events that led to this decision being taken, the handling of the media fallout, the issuing and effectiveness of new general licences and the subsequent action taken by the Secretary of State. A full transcript from the meeting can be read here.

Marian Spain, the Interim Chief Executive of Natural England, was joined at the meeting by Natural England’s chair and deputy chair Tony Juniper and Lord Blencathra. Following the meeting, Marian Spain posted a blog on 21 May updating the situation and reflecting NE’s latest position.

Likewise, on 22 May, Wild Justice also posted a short statement. It seems highly likely this issue has yet some way to run.

Everyone in a flap…
The quantity of column inches devoted to this subject has been exceptional.

However, all credit should go to the regular issuing of updates and lobbying undertaken by the British Pest Control Association (BPCA) on this topic. This included a gathering of evidence on the effects this action had on the industry which culminated in an open letter sent to the Defra Head of State, Michael Gove. Likewise, Pest Control News has posted and sent out numerous updates, as and when they occurred.

At Pest we posted a news story, and our take on the situation, when the cancelling of the General Licences first emerged (25 April). Since then we saw little merit in adding further to the correspondence surrounding this topic. However, readers should be comforted by the fact that if they thought they were being overwhelmed with information, look no further than the pages of the shooting and farming press, for example this story from Farmers Weekly, which have covered the progress of the licensing story, blow by blow, and even christened the saga ‘BirdGate’.

For those unaware of the damage corvids can cause new born lambs, skip the advert and watch this distressing film report.

Behind the scenes…
What Pest has discovered is a whole series of incidents along the way, many less well covered, that we feel readers will be interested to hear about.

First, to recap. This whole saga was instigated by Wild Justice, a not-for-profit company set up on 13 February 2019 by Chris Packham, author and campaigner, Dr Mark Avery, researcher and wildlife campaigner and Dr Ruth Tingay. Their stated objective is to take legal cases on behalf of wildlife against public bodies where they are failing to protect species and/or habitats.

On the very day of their launch (13 February), a Pre Action Protocol letter was sent by Wild Justice to Natural England claiming that the licences GL04, GL05 and GL06 which they had published on 1 January 2019 were unlawful.

13 March. Natural England replied to Wild Justice. Natural England also wrote to the likes of the Countryside Alliance on 15 March explaining the situation and said it was their view that General Licences are a legitimate regulatory tool.

21 March. Wild Justice lodged legal papers with the court seeking permission for judicial review of their decision.

23 April. Natural England announced the revocation of the General Licences GL04, GL05 and GL06 (from 25 April). On their own website, Wild Justice said they did not ask for the revocation of these licences, but had requested that once they expired on 31 December 2019 they would be replaced with a lawful alternative.

What followed was a torrent of indignation that these licences, a vital tool in the armoury for farmers and pest controllers, were being withdrawn with only two days notice. Tempers rose to such a level that a pair of dead crows were left hung outside Chris Packham’s house and death threats posted on social media, accompanied by the launching of an online petition calling for his removal from BBC TV.

23 April coincided with the very first day in the office for Natural England’s newly appointed Chair, Tony Juniper.

1 May. Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, meets Chris Packham in Westminster as this photo posted on Mr Packham’s Facebook page records with the pair brandishing a copy of the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife, which is anti-shooting and hunting.

4 May. Secretary of State, Michael Gove, writes to Tony Juniper advising him that responsibility for the functioning of General Licences is to be transferred, with immediate effect, to Defra .

16 May. Chris Packham receives his CBE medal from the Prince of Wales in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace awarded in the New Year’s Honours for services to nature conservation.

Updated: 22 May 2019

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