Wales leads the way with impressive new General Licences

Earlier this year Wild Justice successfully challenged Natural England over the unlawfulness of three General Licences, which, Wild Justice had argued, authorised the casual killing of millions of birds without adequate monitoring or regulation.

Whilst we await the outcome of the subsequent Government consultation and review of new General Licences for England by DEFRA and Natural England, the Welsh statutory conservation agency, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has quietly and efficiently got on with its own review of the Welsh General Licences after seeking legal advice and realising that, just like the English General Licences, the Welsh ones were actually unlawful too.

A couple of weeks ago Wild Justice wrote a blog about the proposed new Welsh General Licences, including rumours about how good they might be and the game-shooting industry’s hysteria about the as yet unpublished new regulations.

Yesterday, NRW confirmed that it would be issuing three brand new General Licences on 7 October 2019 and explained some of the big changes that have been made, including changes to the species covered by the new General Licences where NRW felt the evidence to retain them on the General Licence approach was not strong enough, as follows:

  1. GL001 – Prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit or to prevent the spread of disease to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit. This will not now include rook, jay or collared dove. We have also revised the purpose of this General Licence so as to be for the spread of disease to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit.
  2. GL002 – Preserving public health and preventing the spread of disease. This will not now include carrion crow, magpie, jackdaw, rook, jay, collared dove or wood pigeon.
  3. GL004 – Conservation of wild birds. This will not now include rook, feral pigeon or Canada goose.

These changes are significant, particularly for the Rook which has now been removed from all three licences, and the Jay which has been removed from two licences.

[Rook by Vishnevskiy/Alamy]

It’s probably worth emphasising here (in advance of inaccurate headline hysteria by the Daily Mail, Telegraph, shooting press et al) that this doesn’t mean that Rooks and Jays can’t ever be killed; it just means that in those circumstances where land managers can demonstrate a need and can provide evidence that non-lethal control methods have failed, then NRW will consider issuing individual licences to kill these species under very specific and controlled circumstances. There’ll be no more casual killing as there was before.

For GL004 – Conservation of Wild Birds – the removal of the Rook was exactly what Wild Justice had argued for in England, because there is simply no scientific justification for it on the grounds of protecting wild birds (nor Jays, Jackdaws or Magpies).

NRW hasn’t yet published the new General Licences and probably won’t until they become active on 7th October so it’s a bit difficult to comment in detail at the moment, although NRW has provided a series of Q&As (here). It’s clearly not possible to comment on the legality of these new licences until they have been seen in full.

Naturally, NRW’s announcement about the revised General Licences has been met with a furious reaction by the National Gamekeepers Organisation (see here) and no doubt their mates at BASC, Countryside Alliance, GWCT etc will all be claiming the sky is falling in by this morning. There’ll be warnings of a plague of Rooks bringing pestilence across the nation and how their wings will block out the sun and their beaks will peck out the eyes of babies and toddlers.

The Gamekeepers are apparently considering a potential legal challenge against NRW’s decision-making (in the form of a Judicial Review) which is really quite funny when you consider the slurs chucked at Wild Justice by the game shooting industry for er, undertaking a legal challenge (for example ‘another extremist attack’ and engaging in ‘childish eco-politics’).

It’s not yet clear whether there will be grounds for a Judicial Review (although that’s a decision for a judge to make) but NRW’s statement about undertaking a formal review of all bird control licensing in 2020 may well just scupper the chance of an immediate Judicial Review application being accepted anyway – because why waste a court’s time when a review is already planned? (This is the same legal tactic that’s been used by Natural England and DEFRA to delay Wild Justice’s legal challenges against the General Licences and the release of millions of non-native gamebirds).

Well done to Natural Resources Wales for refusing to be bullied in to submission by those with vested interests in the status quo, and particularly well done for placing importance on scientific evidence and the law above old wives’ tales and rural myths.

We look forward to seeing the details of the new Welsh General Licences and particularly watching how Natural England/DEFRA reacts as well as SNH, also currently consulting and reviewing the Scottish General Licences and apparently ‘considering the merits’ of adding Ravens to at least one of the General Licences for unregulated slaughter. Rest assured, there will be another legal challenge if they try and pull that stunt.

UPDATE 4 February 2020: NRW – your general licences are unlawful (see here)


4 thoughts on “Wales leads the way with impressive new General Licences”

  1. On an interview on BBC Wales this morning was a shooter complaining about paying between £20 -100 for a doctor’s certificate, just like HGV drivers. ( with an expensive firearm in his hands).
    I think a medical check should have been a requirement 50 years ago!

    1. The fee for a Shotgun Certificate application is not remotely near to the cost incurred by the police in dealing with it. The shortfall is, of course, funded by taxpayers.

  2. It is worthwhile comparing this potentially considered set of general licenses in Wales with the consultation issued by SNH in Scotland on licences. As RPUK pointed out they may be considering adding Ravens to the general licence.
    It is my opinion that if Ravens are to go on a licence it should be to warn those using the licences to ensure that they are able to satisfactorily identify Ravens, s it is an offence unless an individual licence is possessed.

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