Wild Justice launches two new legal challenges: gamebird releases (again) & the burning regulations

Campaign group Wild Justice (Mark Avery, Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay) has begun the process of launching two new legal challenges in England.

Pre-action protocol letters have been sent to DEFRA laying out the legal arguments for both cases. DEFRA has to respond within a short timescale and depending on the content of those responses, Wild Justice will consider whether to proceed with the cases and seek permission from the High Court to take judicial reviews.

Case 1: Gamebird releases

This case is a natural follow-on from Wild Justice’s successful legal challenge last year on the legality of large-scale gamebird releases on or near sites of high conservation importance (see here and here).

In that case, DEFRA was forced to agree to conduct a review of the harmful ecological impacts of released gamebirds on and near protected sites and to establish a licensing scheme to regulate such releases.

DEFRA has recently (May 2021) issued a new general licence (GL43) in an attempt to meet its obligations but Wild Justice submits that the licence is unlawful in that DEFRA is ‘permitting and licensing the release of gamebirds within European sites and within 500m of European sites, without having properly ruled out the risk of harm of the release of gamebirds in the numbers, densities, and locations permitted under GL43, and has failed to take the necessary steps to prevent the deterioration of European sites.

[Some of the 61.2 million non-native gamebirds released in to the British countryside every year, for shooting]

Case 2: Burning regulations

This new case builds on the e-action that was supported by 123,000+ people after it was launched on Hen Harrier Day 2020 (see here) where Wild Justice asked, among other things, for regulation of burning of vegetation on peatlands. 

DEFRA has recently brought in measures which limit, to some extent, burning of upland vegetation but the measures cover, at best, only 40% of the resource (see here for details of the faults). 

The DEFRA proposals have been roundly criticised by non-governmental organisations, by a parliamentary committee and in a special debate in the House of Lords (see here). 

Wild Justice submits that the new Burning Regulations are unlawful on a number of counts:

  • Ground 1: Unlawfulness arising from the Burning Regulations frustrating their own purpose
  • Ground 2: Demonstrable flaw in the reasoning or serious logical error in the reasoning leading to the making of the Burning Regulations
  • Ground 3: Breaches of the Habitats Regulations 2017
  • Ground 4: Failure to take into account Material Considerations, in particular the requirements to act swiftly to limit the emission of greenhouse gases.

Wild Justice has asked DEFRA to make urgent amendments to the Burning Regs. 

[Photo: muirburn on a North Yorkshire grouse moor. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

If you’d like to be amongst the first to know about what Wild Justice is up to, including progress on these two cases and a number of others in the pipeline, you might want to consider joining 40,000+ others by subscribing to the free Wild Justice newsletter (here), delivered directly to your email inbox.

Many thanks to the readers of the RPUK blog who have shown such enthusiastic support for Wild Justice’s work. There’s more on the way….

9 thoughts on “Wild Justice launches two new legal challenges: gamebird releases (again) & the burning regulations”

  1. The list of things to challenge and test the law on are endless. Near to me this years lowland young Rooks have started moving up en masse into the upper valleys & many an upland keeper and chums, and general shooting folk, like to spend a few early mornings decoying for them much like with pigeons. And it still puzzles me, where does this fall within the General Licences? What harm can Rooks do in June? And can they be shot as the first resort? Do DEFRA / NE give a monkeys about such things?

    1. Your observations show what a complete farce the current General Licences are; and how little monitoring and enforcement of the conditions which are required to be met before an exemption under the GL can be claimed, are carried out by the authorities.
      It is time the police started to challenge those who engage in shooting wild birds, and where an exemption under the GL can not be claimed, then a prosecution should be brought under the Countryside and Wildlife Act for illegally killing a wild bird.
      Rooks have been removed from GL 40 and GL41 and may now only be killed under the exemption provided by GL42, which provides a detailed explanation of the conditions which need to be met before this exemption applies.
      It would appear there are far too many people who own shotguns and go out shooting certain species of birds under the misbelief that they are allowed to do this, due to to their failure of understanding the law. Perhaps a way foreword to solve this problem would be for applicants who wish to apply for, or renew a shotgun licence, to also have to take a written exam regarding firearms legislation, environmental and wildlife protection legislation, and the conditions applicable to General Licences.
      This would simply be a pass or fail exam and a lack of knowledge about when it was legal to shoot something- would result in a shotgun licence not being issued, and surrender of weapons.
      This would hopefully put shotguns only in the hands of those who know how and when to use them lawfully.
      Bearing in mind that a shotgun by definition is a firearm and a lethal barrelled weapon capable of killing a human, then I would suggest this is a perfectly reasonable suggestion; especially when considered that in order to drive a motor vehicle, an applicant has to pass a theory and practical driving test.
      At the moment an applicant for a shotgun licence only has to tell the police they wish to own a gun for sporting purposes, answer some medical questions, pass a background check to ensure they have no relevant criminal convictions and buy a gun cabinet.
      Is it any wonder so much wildlife is being illegally killed??

      1. I would take that a little further John L. As part of their licence application ‘test’ applicants should take and pass an exam in bird identification. Also, they should bear the full cost of the licence themselves. I see no valid reason why I should have to subsidise them! They want to shoot – they pay.

        1. Replying to my own post above, the pass mark for the Bird Identification exam must be 100% – no less! Some hope!!

        2. “As part of their licence application ‘test’ applicants should take and pass an exam in bird identification”

          That’s pretty dumb for anyone shooting clays.

          1. Not at all. If clay shooting was to be exempted, then everyone applying for a licence would simply state that they were only going to shoot clays.

          2. There is no requirement to hold a shotgun licence to shoot clays if the shooting ground has permission from the Police under Section 11(6) of the Firearms Act 1968. This will allow those who want to exclusively shoot clays to participate in this pastime without actually having to own a shotgun, and I understand most clay shooting venues include the shotgun as part of the clay shooting package. Obviously there will be those who want to compete in clay shooting as a sport and own their own guns, and I am sure the legislation could be suitably amended to cater for this. The main issue is taking shotguns out of the hands of those who are killing wildlife, not in accordance with the full conditions and to the letter of the law!

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