Wild Justice destroying the birds they seek to protect
Updated: Apr 23
Many will have now heard of Wild Justice. The campaign group is run by three directors: the BBC’s Chris Packham, ex-RSPB officer Mark Avery and former customs officer, Ruth Tingay.
They claim to be have been founded “to fight for wildlife”. It’s an admirable aim; but the problem is their methods are actually having the reverse effect of their intention.
As a direct consequence of their actions more wildlife is being lost; and the species most affected by their actions are not common species, but those that are already rare and endangered in the UK.
One of Wild Justice’s main campaigns has been fighting against General Licences. Last spring, Natural England were forced to revoke three General Licences after a legal challenge from Wild Justice, which resulted in farmers, gamekeepers and indeed many committed ornithologists being unable to control the spiralling numbers of wild birds, including crows, pigeon and magpie, that destroy crops and predate on the nests of endangered species.
That situation – widely considered to have been a licensing fiasco – was remedied: to some degree. Since then, recipients of licenses have time and again been promised by Natural England a “fit for purpose” system that is both robust and easy to understand. This hasn’t yet been delivered.
And yet, Wild Justice are still determined to bring more cases to court, hiring Leigh Day – the law firm better known for being behind a so-called “witch hunt” of British troops in Iraq, which earned the company £11m in costs from the MOD – to now pursue Natural Resources Wales. Just last week, Defra described Wild Justice’s judicial review into the release of gamebirds as “pointless”, and asked the court to reject it.
But even without Wild Justice’s continued legal threats, the current General Licence system is far from what could be described as being “in full working order”.
A General Licence now exists to control many pest species; but there are a number of exceptions. One of these exceptions applies to designated sites such as Special Protection Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest – which includes the vast majority of most grouse moors in the UK, where most of the endangered species have their strongholds. This means that the current General Licences don’t apply to most grouse moors, who instead need to apply for Individual Licences – known as form A08.
These Individual Licences are valid from the date they are granted until 31 December of that year. But recent figures show that although Natural England have so far received over 1000 applications in 2020, they have not issued a single individual licence and, as yet, no indication has been given as to when that might change.
This means that, by law, gamekeepers cannot control pests to protect endangered ground nesting waders or grouse on designated sites. Instead they must stand by and watch the ever-increasing numbers of crows, gulls and magpies decimate these key species.
The irony here is that the reason that many of these landscapes were made special protection areas in the first place was specifically because of the value that these managed moorland habitats have to many amber and red listed ground-nesting birds.
Take the North York Moors Special Protection Area, which exists to “restrict the predation of and disturbance to breeding Golden Plover by native and non-native predators”. Or Nidderdale AONB, which stated last year that, for curlew: “Nidderdale AONB is a stronghold, with their breeding success bolstered by grouse moorland management”. The curlew is one of the most threatened and endangered species in the UK today and the government have an obligation to protect this species.
As it stands, many moorland estates are currently unable to control corvid or gull numbers, which is essential when coming into the breeding season. Curlew take three years to mature to breeding age, and every season that birds are lost is another nail in the coffin for these birds and other red listed species that rely on managed moorland.
It is not just private owned moorland estates that have been impacted by this. The legislation has also had significant impact upon great areas of RSPB managed moorland.
Many of the RSPB officials and the volunteers who spend time on their reserves are privately aghast at the implications of the actions taken by one of the former employees, Mark Avery, who now runs Wild Justice. There is also increasing concern at the close relationship between the RSPB’s Chairman Kevin Cox and the BBC’s Chris Packham, which is said to go back to their time publishing the Really Wild Show magazines in the 1990s.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of their members told us: “The approach taken by Wild Justice is one of utter delinquency and seems based solely on a personal gripe against the farming and shooting community. It is such a waste of government resources having to sort this mess out, particularly at a time of crisis. The RSPB management shouldn’t be cosying up to these people; their actions are directly at odds with the welfare of the country’s most endangered species of birds we should be protecting.”
The responsibility for this disaster can be placed entirely on the actions of Wild Justice, whose consistent attacks on Natural England and their General Licence protocol risk causing an unprecedented failure in breeding success for many rare bird species. What an utterly pointless, misguided and damaging crusade Wild Justice have embarked upon.