Wild Justice launches legal challenge against general licences in Northern Ireland

Wildlife conservation group Wild Justice has today launched a legal challenge against the Northern Ireland Executive’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) for issuing what Wild Justice believes to be scientifically and legally flawed general licences.

If you subscribe to Wild Justice’s newsletter, you’ll already be aware of this news (you can subscribe to the newsletter, for free, here). Here is an excerpt from this morning’s newsletter about this latest case:

Today we have launched a legal challenge against the general licences issued by the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. This follows legal action we have taken over the last two and a half years against such licences in England and Wales.  Those challenges have led to significant reforms and improvements (though there is more to do). 

A recap on general licences: all wild birds are protected by law, that is the sensible starting point. Only for specific purposes (eg public health, protecting livestock, nature conservation) can authorities issue licences for killing species. Such licences, general licences because they are not person-specific, are published each year in each of the four UK nations.  They specify which species can be killed for which purposes and what non-lethal means should be tried before lethal control is lawful.  The conditions of the licences are rarely enforced and Wild Justice regards these licences as casual licences that permit casual killing of otherwise protected species on an unlimited scale. We’ll soon be letting you know how you can respond to the consultation by Natural Resources Wales on their general licences – we believe they are moving, too slowly, in the right direction. 

DAERA’s general licences: DAERA’s general licences are, in our opinion, the worst in place anywhere in the UK. We have corresponded with DAERA since spring 2019, but most particularly several times and in detail this year, about the scientific and legal flaws in their licences. We were encouraged when DAERA issued a consultation on new general licences in July (see Wild Justice newsletter 68) but that consultation was mysteriously removed for reasons that have never been made clear. It looked to us as though DAERA was planning to make sensible changes to their licences and then abruptly changed their minds. We wonder whether they were put under pressure by vested interests. 

What we have done: we have given DAERA every warning that they would face a legal challenge if they persisted with flawed licences. This week we have sent them a pre-action protocol letter in advance of seeking permission for judicial review of the legality of the licences. DAERA has two weeks to respond and in the absence of a satisfactory response we will move swiftly to lodge papers with the courts.  We feel we have a strong case and this is an area of science and law in which we have been active for some time – we will pursue this case very robustly‘.

Wild Justice is a not-for-profit company and its three Directors (Chris Packham, Mark Avery, Ruth Tingay) work voluntarily to take legal cases and advocate for a better deal for wildlife. A crowdfunder has been launched to help support the costs of taking on this latest case. If you’d like to find out more about the challenge and help by making a donation, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

Thank you.

UPDATE 4th November 2021: Wild Justice secures funds for legal challenge of Northern Ireland’s General Licences (here)

7 thoughts on “Wild Justice launches legal challenge against general licences in Northern Ireland”

  1. Very well done Wild Justice, more of the same please, a real breath of fresh air.
    And whilst you’re in the litigious mood….
    there is an extremely strong case imo for the law on the use of Spring traps to be reviewed in the light of the impact upon protected species.
    In fact there is no law to prevent the unlimited use of these contraptions across England and Wales, potentially eradicating Polecats, Pine Martens and hedgehogs on shooting estates.Such a review, and a far more restrictive law, would also protect Stoats and Weasels.When was the last time you saw one of these?

    1. Hi Steve, on the trapping I am often thinking about that too. Anyone who thinks that the recent changes represent ‘job done’ is kidding themselves. In my own mind I have it narrowed down to about 4 issues (1) there are far too many badly set Fenn 4’s still in use – this could be cleared up if the law is in real terms enforced – but it doesn’t seem to be. (2) estates should have to buy the trap complete as ‘one unit’ with it’s approved tunnel system from the manufacturer, and not be permitted to bodge their own tunnels with entrances deliberately made way too big. (3) estates should be limited to a total number of traps they can operate at any given time eg 2 traps per sq/km would give a 10,000 acre estate 80 odd traps, instead of the current 150 – 250+++(my estimate). (4) any protected species on the locality = trapping not permitted, sorry but keepers will just have to get off the quads and walk the walls with the terriers and shoot their stoats instead. Lets all continue to chip in a few quid to Wild Justice and see what a good ten years or so of pressure might bring on this and other things.

      1. Your item 4 is the Achilles Heel for shooting estates. According to the Vincent Trust, Polecats( protected since near eradication by keepers) are widespread throughout England and Wales.Despite this they are routinely killed in Spring traps.The law as it stands permits this, unless the Polecat is deliberately targetted( ha.. who’s gonna admit that😏)
        The Law has to be changed to provide for RECKLESS killing of Polecats, not deliberate.This way existing use of Spring Traps would become illegal, with ramifications for all targeted species…….

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