On Friday we heard that High Court judge, Justice Oueseley, upheld a judicial review against Natural England over its refusal to issue licences to kill Buzzards that were allegedly causing damage to a Pheasant shoot by eating too many Pheasants. Reports by Raptorpersecutionscotland and National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.
There has been an outcry by raptor lovers over this decision but I am not going to join it here. It’s not the best thing that could have happened, but it’s not the worst thing that is happening either. I have hardly mentioned this case (in fact I can’t find any record that I have (but I might have)) on this blog so I can’t say ‘I told you so’ but had I written about it then I would have been able to say that.
Without knowing the details of this case then the principal that licences should be given to cull protected species under particular and strict conditions is part of the law and almost certainly should be. It is not new. And, moreover, it is not unreasonable that in return for making widespread killing of species illegal, there should be the possibility of bumping off a few individuals under carefully defined and special circumstances (which is what the licensing system is supposed to be). It would be surprising if special circumstances did not sometimes occur and the law should recognise that possibility. It’s a pity that this applies to Pheasant rearing – but it does.
It would be remarkable if a gamekeeper, supported by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, had chosen a poor example with which to go to judicial review, so I assume that they had chosen a pretty good example – and it seems that they have. Natural England don’t seem to have played this very well either. But, there you go.
Yes, the Pheasant is a non-native species which is released in huge numbers into our countryside for the sole reason that people want to shoot it, and that seems a pretty odd thing to me, but once Pheasant shooting is part of the legal warp and weft of rural life then the law on protected species will apply to it too. You may not like that fact that a licence can be sought for Buzzard control because of impacts on an economic interest based on a non-native species but that doesn’t mean that the current law allows NE to reject a licence on anything like those grounds. If you don’t like it, then campaign against Pheasant shooting – good luck on that one! – or campaign for a change in the law. Or ask NE to be better at their job.
The judicial review, as I understand it, does not look at the merits of the case from the gamekeeper, it looks at the merits of the process carried out by Natural England to reach their decision. This is a bit frustrating – the decision might be ‘right’ even if the process was ‘wrong’, or vice versa.
This, of course, is an analogous argument to the discussion between George Monbiot and Tony Juniper, and supports Monbiot’s approach. Monbiot might well say, if you use legal arguments (or economic ones) to defend nature then you are leaving the moral high ground and you will often lose – because the people who wrote the laws (and developed the ways that economic arguments are used in our society) won’t let you win.
I would rather that no Buzzards were culled to protect Pheasant shooting, but I can see that an occasional Buzzard death is an almost inevitable part of the system, so we either have to change the system or live with it. And in this case, I can live with it, not happily, in a rather grumpy way, but I can live with it as the benefits of massive legal protection for wildlife far outweigh a few ‘difficult to achieve’ licensed deaths of protected wildlife. And the possibility of licences being granted under particular circumstances should make the penalties for not going through the legal process more demanding too.
So my advice to fellow raptor enthusiasts and nature conservationists would be not to feel downcast and not to go over the top about this. It may be the thin edge of a wedge that never gets any thicker.
My advice to the shooting community would be that if you see this as a thin edge of a massive wedge then you will energise even more opposition to all shooting. Your choice. After misplaying lead ammunition for years, misplaying grouse shooting, you can go ahead and get the public wound up about Pheasant shooting in a way that only you can – go ahead if you want to bring the roof down on your own heads.
My advice to Natural England is that they should up their game. They do not seem to have played this one very well at all. If there is a flood of licence applications for Buzzard control then NE must scrutinise each and every one extremely carefully and reject any that fall in any way short of sufficient evidence, which it is likely that most would.
Of course, the best way to make sure that no licenses are given to protect grouse shooting from Hen Harriers is to campaign to end driven grouse shooting.