In February 2019 a new conservation campaign group, Wild Justice, launched its first legal challenge against the casual killing of millions of birds, as authorised by statutory agency Natural England under the guise of General Licences.
These General Licences have been published at the start of each year and have permitted users to kill unlimited numbers of birds such as Carrion Crows, Rooks, Magpies, Woodpigeons, Jackdaws, Jays and Ring-necked Parakeets.
[Common Jay photo by Andy Rouse]
General Licence users don’t have to apply to use the licences, don’t have to justify why killing the birds is necessary, don’t have to explain why alternative non-lethal measures such as scaring or proofing are ineffective or impracticable, and don’t have to report on how many birds are killed. All a person needs to do to ‘qualify’ to kill unlimited numbers of these birds is to claim to have read and understood the relevant General Licence.
Wild Justice believed the system was unlawful and argued that, amongst other things, it was Natural England’s responsibility to satisfy itself that killing was an appropriate last resort. Natural England disagreed so Wild Justice applied for permission to seek a Judicial Review.
Shortly afterwards, Natural England finally acknowledged the General Licences were indeed unlawful and pulled them at ridiculously short notice. DEFRA then removed the licensing authority role from Natural England and took it on itself, issuing temporary General Licences last year and this year, whilst having to conduct a scientific review, survey and consultation of the entire system.
The new General Licences that have been published today will become enacted on 1 January 2021. On a first glance through, they are certainly different – some species have been removed from the kill list of some of the General Licences (e.g. as of 1 January 2021 it’ll be unlawful to kill rooks or jackdaws under the guise of conserving bird species) and other species have more restricted terms of how and when that species can be killed (e.g. as of 1 January 2021 General Licence users will be able to kill Jays to protect Honey Buzzards – yep, that’s what the new licence says).
Further licence conditions relating to trapping regulations and killing birds on protected sites are due to be published before 1 January 2021.
Of course, these new General Licences will be the subject of close scrutiny, certainly by Wild Justice and no doubt by the shooting organisations, and are still open to further legal challenge if necessary.
The new General Licences for England can be viewed here:
Conservation licence GL34/GL40: here
Public health & safety licence GL35/GL41: here
Serious damage licence GL36/GL42: here
Wild Justice is also currently challenging the General Licences issued in Wales by Natural Resources Wales and the court hearing is due in mid December 2020 (see here for background to that case).