Wild Justice legal challenge secures significant changes to General Licences in Northern Ireland

A legal challenge by conservation group Wild Justice has secured significant changes to General Licences issued for bird killing in Northern Ireland.

Last year, Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) was forced by Wild Justice to revoke its General Licences as they were unlawful. Interim licences have been in place since then whilst DAERA conducted a public consultation on revised licences, including questions about which species might be included and when the killing might take place.

Yesterday, DAERA announced its proposed changes to the three General Licences associated with bird killing, which are expected to be in place by the end of this year. Several species have been removed altogether from the licences (e.g. house sparrow, starling, great black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull, herring gull) and other species have been removed from specific licences (e.g. hooded crow, rook, magpie, woodpigeon from TPG1, the licence permitting birds to be killed for the purpose of public health or safety; rook, jackdaw, three gull species, feral and woodpigeon from TPG3, the licence permitting birds to be killed for the purpose of conserving wild birds).

The full proposed changes are tabled here (although note that the carrion crow has been omitted from the proposed list, presumably by accident):

Another significant and welcome change is that TPG3 will only be available during the breeding season (defined as between 1 March – 31 August inclusive).

Wild Justice has written a blog about these proposed changes – see here.

Environmental law firm Leigh Day, representing Wild Justice, has also written a press release, as follows:

Wild Justice is celebrating success in its legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s general licences for the killing of wild birds.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has written to Wild Justice with a new limited list of birds to be covered by the general licences issued under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. Wild Justice has been campaigning for species to be taken off the general licences. The list now provided by DAERA is significantly shorter than in the current licences, bringing Northern Ireland into closer alignment with general licences in England and Wales – where Wild Justice has previously successfully fought for greater restrictions in general licences for bird killings.

Birds affected by changes to the licences are Hooded Crow, Rook, Feral Pigeon, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Jackdaw, Magpie, Rook, and Woodpigeon, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, and Starling. The position of Carrion Crow has yet to be confirmed by DAERA.

Following a legal campaign by Wild Justice, DAERA conceded last year that its general licences were unlawful and replaced them with interim licences pending a full consultation.

DAERA’s self-imposed deadline for a review of consultation responses and the issuing of new general licences was Monday 17 October.

Two days later it wrote to Wild Justice to confirm the licences would be in line with the changes that the environmental group had demanded to comply with legislation.

  • General Licence TGP/1/2021 – killing for the purpose of preserving public health or public safety
  • General Licence TGP/2/2021 – killing for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease and preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber and fisheries
  • General Licence TGP/3/2021 – killing for the purpose of conserving wild birds.

As a result of the challenge, TPG 1 now only covers the jackdaw and feral pigeon, TPG2 now covers hooded crow, rook, jackdaw, magpie, feral pigeon, woodpigeon, TPG3 covers only hooded crow and magpie.

Wild Justice, represented by Leigh Day acting through their agent Phoenix Law, first raised concerns with DAERA about its approach to general licences for bird killings in May 2019, following a successful legal challenge to Natural England’s 2019 general licences.

Wild Justice wrote again to DAERA regarding serious flaws in its 2020 general licences, and asked them to revise those due to be issued in September 2021.

After DAERA issued new licences in September 2021 on precisely the same terms as the 2020 licences, and without any evidence to support the birds species included, Wild Justice sent a formal pre-action protocol letter challenging DAERA’s decision.

Wild Justice, led by Dr Mark Avery, Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham CBE, welcome the decision on new general licences.

Wild Justice said:

“We regard this as a great victory – not just for Wild Justice but also for the other organisations who supported change and most notably those Wild Justice supporters who responded to the consultation. And most of all it is a victory for wildlife.”

Leigh Day Senior Associate Tom Short said:

“Our client welcomes confirmation from DAERA that the new general licences to be issued later this year will be substantially revised in line with what Wild Justice has sought. The changes are being made following Wild Justice’s successful legal challenge in last year. We hope these changes to licensing will significantly reduce the number of wild birds being unnecessarily killed”.

DAERA has also released summary information about its public consultation and it’s striking how many people interested in conservation and/or animal welfare wrote in support of changes to these three licences, in contrast to those interested in ‘countryside sports / land management’:

If you were one of those who responded to the public consultation, thank you and well done!

You might also be interested in this summary document released by DAERA, which provides a breakdown of the common responses to the consultation questions. Note how little evidence was provided by the ‘countryside sports / land management’ respondents who were trying to retain these species on their shooting lists:

7 thoughts on “Wild Justice legal challenge secures significant changes to General Licences in Northern Ireland”

  1. Really pleased to read this and excellent work by Wild Justice. I’m pleased to read that People Power made a difference too. Always can count on my support.

  2. I wish to thank you for the effort put into this subject and so pleased that the outcomes are so pleasing. Great stuff..

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