DEFRA confuses wildlife with livestock in latest iteration of General Licence

DEFRA has published its latest General Licences which permit the killing of some bird species for some approved purposes, such as protecting crops, protecting livestock, for public health and for nature conservation.

This time the General Licences (for England only) have been extended to two years instead of one, and DEFRA has applied some dodgy licence conditions that allow the killing of some wild, native bird species in order to protect gamebirds (non-native pheasants and red-legged partridge, of which approx 61 million are released into the countryside every year to be shot). DEFRA reckons that these gamebirds can be classed as ‘livestock’ at certain times (when it suits the shooting industry) and as ‘wildlife’ at other times (also when it suits the shooting industry).

Conservation campaign group Wild Justice has been at the forefront of challenging the lawfulness of General Licences across the UK for the last two years with some success. Today they’ve published a blog (here) about DEFRA’s latest General Licences and Wild Justice’s intention to take legal advice, again, on whether DEFRA’s definition of gamebirds as livestock/wildlife is lawful.

Wild Justice has also produced this helpful flowchart:

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. If you’d like to make a donation to support their work please click here. If you’d like to receive news directly from Wild Justice please sign up for their free e-newsletter here.

23 thoughts on “DEFRA confuses wildlife with livestock in latest iteration of General Licence”

  1. If I released 61 million chickens into the wild would my responsibility for the damage they cause end when they leave my property? And common sense suggests that ‘wild birds’ are those that are hatched in the wild in natural nests? Is it me or does DEFRA seem a bit biased in favour of the shooters?

  2. I think the game bird wildlife/livestock legal chimera has always(?) existed but that Defra are now trying to codify it into the General Licenses.

  3. Pheasants IF they are livestock – which they are not -why are they not treated like other farm livestock and be taken to abattoir and be killed humanely instead of being blasted out of the air in a so called perverted “sport”???

  4. Can WJ win a case against DEFRA. Legal opinion.
    Is the judge a shooter? Yes. No chance!
    Is the judge into nature? Yes. Go for it!

  5. The biggest issue here is that as livestock under British Law they have to be slaughtered humanely. Not by shooting

    A couple of years ago I argued with Natural England issuing licences to kill buzzards to protect pheasants

    At the time I was told categorically that pheasants etc were not non natives being released into countryside but livestock so I posed the question about humane slaughter and I never got a reply

    They make the rules up to suit themselves

  6. I understand this definition of livestock will only apply to game birds which are kept in an enclosure and reliant on food, shelter and water provided by the keeper or estate. Secondary feeding will not be sufficient, so this suggests birds such as grouse or pheasants roaming wild in a wood or on a moor will still be classed as wild birds, but I suspect there will be those who believe this designation of game birds kept as livestock will be all the excuse they need to kill every crow, magpie, rook or jackdaw which happens to fly over their land?

    But, if gamekeepers and shooting estates want to classify game birds as livestock, then surely they must also accept the various responsibilities and obligations which go with that definition?

    Firstly shouldn’t they accept liability when their birds stray onto roads and other public places and cause harm or damage to another person or another persons property, such as when a pheasant flies out into the road and causes a road traffic collision?
    In order for the owner of game birds to be identified, then shouldn’t all gamebirds deemed livestock be tagged with a unique identification number so that the owner can be traced?
    Livestock, such as cows and sheep are all tagged!

    I also believe that due to the current outbreak of avian flu, there is a requirement to register all poultry (which includes game birds) if the bird keeper has 50 or more birds.
    I also understand that an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) came into force across Great Britain on the 3 November 2021. This was extended to include housing measures across the UK on the 29 November 2021, and it is a legal requirement for all bird keepers across the UK (whether they have pet birds, commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock) to keep their birds indoors and follow strict biosecurity measures to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease.
    Surely, this must by definition must include any game bird deemed livestock?

    According to Gov website
    The AIPZ in England means that bird keepers must:

    -house or net all poultry and captive birds to keep them separate from wild birds
    -cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing
    -reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept, to minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and use effective vermin control
    thoroughly cleanse and disinfect housing on a continuous basis
    -keep fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all farm and poultry housing entry and exit points
    -minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds.

    So are DEFRA /Natural England going to inspect all the areas where keepers are claiming their game birds are livestock to ensure these requirements are being met?

    The regulations seem to indicate that any game bird deemed livestock is required to be kept indoors at the present time.

    So if the game birds which are deemed as livestock are currently being kept indoors, then this would suggest that there will be no requirement to kill other wild birds (crow, rook etc) in order to protect them.

    I wonder what will happen in a few months time when its nesting season?? If the avian flu control measures are still in force, then I can’t see how the changes to the GL will permit the shooting of certain wild birds to protect game birds deemed livestock, as these birds will still be housed inside?

    What is Defra/Natural England’s advice on this?

    1. This is the advice provided in Defra’s accompanying guide ‘ Biosecurity and preventing welfare impacts in poultry and captive birds’.

      Click to access biosecurity-poultry-guide.pdf

      p12 Pheasants, partridges and other game birds

      “Birds should be housed wherever possible or kept in fully netted areas where practical. All feeding and watering should take place under cover. Specialist advice is available from representative organisations and the Animal and Plant Health Agency. For overwintering birds kept for the restocking of game, where housing or netting is not possible, other methods of preventing contact with wild birds, such as providing feed and water under cover and other methods of deterring wild birds, should be used.”

      So, it seems to me, shooting estates are, as ever, offered opportunities to implement much less stringent measures for their over-wintering re-stocking game birds compared to farmers and other owners of birds during the Avian Flu outbreak and the “where possible” caveat for other game birds creates lots of difficulties for regulators.

  7. I have not seen so much rubbish in my life time. Pheasants, Partridge – livestock. Balderdash. Anything to keep the shooters happy. DEFRA are not fit for office.

  8. It is good to see that the list of target species in GL42 does not include jays, though a surprising inclusion is rooks which are listed as a direct attacking species in addition to their agricultural misbehaviour. My brief researches show that they are direct attackers of earthworms and leatherjackets, so hardly a threat to pheasants etc.. Jays are not entirely out of the wood, though, as they are listed in GL40 which protects species of woodland conservation concern as cited on Defra’s list of such species. I cannot tell what these species are as the link in GL40 takes me to a ‘Page not found’ dealing with Covid 19! This begs the question as to how it is possible to tell for what purpose a larsen trap, set in woodland which includes pheasants, has been set. Is it legal under GL40 or not so under GL42 (WCA S.11). Clearly some form of labelling indicating who the trap is operated by and under what legal provision is called for.

  9. The flowchart could also include pheasants being caught up during the shooting season and moved to another part of the shoot and re-released. This is not everyday practice but neither is it a rare occurrence – especially on big (geographically speaking) shoots late-season, where for whatever reason there is an excess of birds on some drives but the others are becoming too empty. I know it is said to be the keepers ‘art’ to feed the birds correctly to hold them in the right places, but when this fails – pragmatism takes over, rather than suffer losses. It also occurs where somebody is running several shoots maybe a few miles apart and it ends up that there are too many birds on one shoot but not enough on the other. Again, they will just catch them up and move them to the shoot that needs them.

    1. If these birds are a food stock (I.e. livestock). If they catch them why not just take them to an abattoir so they can be killed without contamination with lead.

      Oh of course, they aren’t food stock they are just live targets.

      1. Angus means that birds are not moved to another part during the season, if theres a lot in one part then more shooting would take place on that part. On some shoots the minority some pheasants are caught alive and held in large laying pens, to take eggs from them and then hatched by incubator.

        1. Hi Angus, I suspect you are one of those genuine, decent and moderate individuals who supports shooting and who likes to believe that the ‘best practice’ oft repeated by GWCT is the typical practice on shoots across the country. It isn’t true I’m afraid, not when money and exigency come into it. The sad practice of catching-up and relocated mid-season is as I said not common but it does occur and always has, although in fairness it is true that a lot of shooting people would frown upon it.

          Below is an example on a related theme. Here birds released initially on one side of the Pennines are being caught-up post-season and transported to be released again on a sister shoot on the other side of the Pennines. I agree this example is not as ethically bad as catching-up mid-season – those shoots that stoop that low wouldn’t likely put it on their blog would they? But it does make you wonder about the designation – wildlife, livestock…or purely commodity?

          “As you will no doubt be aware our 2020/21 season has been cut short due to Covid-19 and this has left us with a large stock of birds on the ground. We are working hard to catch up and relocate birds from our old Stobgreen Shoot to Holm Hill. We will be feeding hard at Deepdale and Holm Hill through to the early summer to help retain these stocks and they should help ensure we have a bumper start to the season”


          1. Hello Spagnum, thank you, I hope I am. I had a look at the link, if im right in thinking a lot of the shoot in Holm Hill belongs the the Church Commissioners for England, rather at odds with religion ??
            regards Angus

  10. A few years ago the Government launched a Law Commission review into wildlife law, partly due to leaving the EU and therefore not governed by habitats & birds directives. The review never saw the light of day and amongst a range of issues it seems that the status of reared gamebirds was a key issue leading to its being dropped. As any politician or civil servant knows new legislation is potentially full of risks and very clearly this Government wasn’t going to expose the status of gamebirds to the threat of serious scrutiny – for reasons this brilliant blog could hardly make clearer !

  11. This is on a par with the new provisions exonerating hunts from the depredations of their hounds. This government is just focused on protecting the sick hobbies of themselves, their families and their friends and they couldn’t give a monkey’s about our wildlife.

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