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Common sense prevails as Defra ignores Wild Justice's vendetta against shooting

As of 1 January 2022, general licences – which dictate the rules of how conservation managers and landowners are able to manage numbers of certain wild birds in order to protect livestock, aid conservation, and preserve health and public safety – have been reissued by Defra for England and Wales.

General licences are vital, as each of them cover very specific situations and relate to specific species of bird. However, the updated licences clarified some issues which had been causing some confusion before; namely whether or not gamebirds such as grouse, pheasant and partridge were classed as livestock. The new licences specify that they are:

‘Livestock’ is as defined in section 27(1) of the 1981 [Wildlife and Countryside] Act. For the purpose of this licence, this expression also includes game birds kept in an enclosure or which are free roaming but remain significantly dependent on the provision of food, water or shelter by a keeper for their survival. This does not include supplementary feeding.”

However, this change has not gone down well in all quarters. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the likes of Packham and his pals – who have long railed against general licences and who indirectly caused the deaths of thousands of ground-nesting birds, songbirds and other vulnerable avian species when they forced the government to revoke three general licences back in 2019 – have been agitating against their inclusion as livestock. “Chris Packham brands bird shooting law a ‘fiasco’ as pheasants categorised as both livestock and wild animals”, read the headline in The Independent yesterday.

Crows and other corvids regularly plunder the nests of other birds

It really is rich for Packham to brand the new rules as a “fiasco” – because a fiasco is exactly what he created when Wild Justice forced the government to recall the licences in 2019, and it is what they are trying to create every time they try to challenge the legality of the government’s decisions. Because while the licences are designed to prevent “serious damage” to livestock – such as sheep, who often have their eyes pecked out by crows and other corvids – the wild birds that the licences enable people to cull pose serious risks to many of our rarest, red and amber listed bird species.

The nests of ground-nesting birds such as curlew are highly vulnerable to predation

Yes, the red grouse is vulnerable to predation by carrion crows and magpies. But so are curlew, lapwing and golden plover in the uplands, and blue tits and robins in a suburban back garden. Indeed one of the reasons that ground-nesting birds thrive in moorland areas is because of the predator management that land managers carry out. As a reminder, just look at our blog earlier in the week that highlighted the RSPB’s ‘findings’ that predator control was a vital part of curlew conservation – and indeed the statement from the RSPB’s former chair Ian Newton that: “grouse moors, with their stringent predator control, seem now to be the only places where curlew are still breeding well and maintaining their numbers.”

Packham, Avery and Tingay may not like the idea of controlling wild birds numbers in order to aid the survival of others – or indeed to protect farmers’ livestock or crops. But on the Wild Justice website, there stands a statement of their intent. “We campaign for better laws and better policies”, they write. “Wild Justice uses the legal system to get a better deal for UK wildlife”. Is that right, though? Better policies, and a better ‘deal’ for which UK wildlife? Only the ones, it would appear, who fit their political ideals. If rare birds suffer or curlew become extinct in their bid to damage the profile of shooters, that seems to be fair game. 'All in the name of a greater good' is the cry we hear from Wild Justice.


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