What they are saying about the General Licences

Woodpigeons and crows can no longer be legally killed in England – The Guardian Wild Justice’s Mark Avery quoted ‘It’s not every day that three part-time conservationists overturn decades of unlawful bird-killing‘.

BASC website – Peter Glenser BASC Chair ‘Natural England’s decision to withdraw the open general licences will cause chaos and uncertainty in the rural community. To take such a step without consultation and proper notice is utterly unacceptable from a statutory body and leaves many people at risk of breaking the law at a crucial time of the year when their need to control pests could not be more pressing.‘.

Countryside Alliance website – Tim Bonner Countryside Alliance Chief Executive ‘Whatever Natural England’s legal advice, the withdrawal of Open General Licences at incredibly short notice is completely impractical and irresponsible, and will result in thousands of people unknowingly breaking the law. … To withdraw the historic ability to manage these species without individual licences at 36 hours notice is a recipe for disaster. Many of those involved in pest control will be unaware of the changes, and this decision will only serve to bring the law into disrepute.The decision to bring in a new set of licences without consulting stakeholders or the public is even more bizarre.’.

NFU website – Guy Smith, NFU Deputy President ‘The NFU has significant concerns about the abrupt withdrawal of these general licenses. They are absolutely necessary at this time of year when crops are particularly vulnerable to pests. For example, a flock of pigeons could decimate a farmer’s field of crops.‘.

Farmers Weekly – quotes Tenant Farmers Association Chief Exec George Dunn saying it was unacceptable that ‘such precipitous action should be taken without proper consultation, risk assessment and due regard to the businesses that will be affected‘.

So, quite a lot of criticism of Natural England and the way they have handled it. I certainly have some sympathy with that.

Tomorrow, judging from the people to whom we have spoken, you may well hear more about this subject on Farming Today and Today and you may read about it in The Daily Telegraph.

See earlier blogs on this subject today:

Statement by Wild Justice.

Wild Justice’s legal challenge – how the case progressed.

Wild Justice’s legal challenge – what happens now?


25 Replies to “What they are saying about the General Licences”

  1. There can be some reasonable annoyance on the part of BASC et al that the NE decision was made at such short notice – after all WJ were actually seeking for change for the 2020 General Licences onward which would have given everyone more time to adjust to the new situation. Having said that Tim Bonner’s comment:”Many of those involved in pest control will be unaware of the changes, and this decision will only serve to bring the law into disrepute” seems to me to bely the oft made claim that gamekeepers are professionals. If this is so why on earth should they be unaware of the changes? A professional is expected to keep up to date with the law surrounding his or her profession. It is surely the responsibility of those bodies such as Bonner’s that represent shooting to ensure that their members and their members’ employees ARE aware of the changes.

  2. Mark, having said I was finished with any dialog on this blog since it proved so one sided this is exceptional.

    From what I’ve heard today from fellow farmers they are furious that this has been landed on them with only a few days warning and several have expressed how they feel that it really just proves how little regard you have for them. Some expressed their views about you and CP in slightly more forthright terms which I’m sure you not be surprised about.

    Farming is an embattled industry at the moment and your chances of further dialog and cooperation took a serious blow today. You might feel that your old NFU enemy got one but actually in the process but you, as always, failed to see that actually we are all not NFU diehards. Some of us are trying out best to run a business with regard to the environment however you couldn’t resists playing to the gallery at the expense of a working minority and you appear content with it; I find that hard to stomach.

    My apologies for such a forthright comment.

    1. Julian – way off the mark. I don’t mind at all you being forthright, but being wrong is a bit silly. Did you read the blog ‘How the case progressed’/ Where is it that Wild Justice behaved other than sensibly?

    2. So farming survival is dependent on the General Licence is it Mr Swift ? I think they’ll survive, so spare us the ’embattled’ guff. Our environment on your terms as usual.

  3. Okay Mark, you go and convince all those farmers that you and CP had nothing to do with this and that actually you respect their position. Headline in all this is you went after the General License and NE gave in.

    1. Julian – headline is GLs were unlawful licensing system and NE couldn’t but agree.

  4. Also on a practical point, just a few miles from you there are acres of lost oilseed rape crops, decimated first by the neonic ban and CSFB then finished of by pigeon grazing. I’d estimate several hundred areas of lost crop both sides just past the 1815 barn. No GM crops, no access to insecticides, no Roundup ban them all and now no pest control ? Just how long do you think UK ag can survive this and how does this constant attack on our trading ability help conservation on farms ? How please explain how this is joined up thinking ?

    1. Oh come on, Julian. You can farm profitably without resorting to GM, roundup, neonics and pest control. People have farmed without these things for several thousand years! Maybe modern farming needs to shift its baseline back to where it once was and let the countryside recover.

    2. Julian, keeping pigeons off the crops does not – and should not – rely on simply killing them at will. I do somewhat agree that farming is under a lot of pressure but you are taking aim at the wrong target. Quite simply, we don’t pay enough for what you produce. If we, as a society, want better management of the countryside (and all that that implies) we have to stop the endless drive for squeezing every last drop from every last square inch of agricultural land. To achieve that, we must pay the real cost of food, including the cost of extensive farm practices. In general, I don’t blame farmers for what has happened to our countryside. We (as a society) ask for ever more, ever cheaper food, we supply farmers with all the tools, both mechanical and chemical, to achieve that. We must stop that spiral.

  5. Why is there all this outrage at the new requirement for those wanting to kill birds to apply in writing to Natural England for an individual license? If the terms of the general licenses were being complied with before then why is the additional task of filling a form demonstrating that compliance such a problem? Natural England has had time to prepare for the influx of individual applications that should result from this case.

    This simply demonstrates how Natural England has accepted the industry line on how to ‘protect’ our wildlife. It shows how widespread breaches of the terms of general licenses have been. It highlights how the laws supposedly protecting these specific birds have been routinely flouted and ignored.

    Well done Wild Justice! Let’s get these industries to show accountability for their actions and impose some constraint on the killing. The casual disregard for the welfare and lives of wildlife sickens me. Personally, I can’t wait to contribute to the next legal challenge. Keep up the great work.

  6. In reply Mr Stevenson, actually I don’t think UK farming has a viable future General Licence or not. I’m not alone in that view the pressures are too great now. Once the subsidy goes that will be the end of small and medium producers and the gap will be filled by imports. In effect we have exported our environmental problems to others. Do you think that UK food manufacturers care about the loss of the UK oilseeds sector due to the Neonic ban, down 20% this year and next probably a steeper decline. No, they just use Palm Oil and Soya, all imported. That’s what this ridiculous scatter gun approach from environmental campaigners does. None of it is thought through it all just done by picking off the low fruit with no regards to the outcomes………exactly what has occurred this time with this GL case.

    1. So British farming is reliant on killing pigeons and crows? I’m going to be forthright here—- Bollocks utter bollocks. It is the decision of NE to end the general licence so abruptly not the fault of Wild Justice who having challenged the legality of the GL situation were clearly aiming at the coming year of 2020. Blame NE but then this could easily be a ploy on their part to shift the blame for the abruptness to WJ rather than accept the blame for years of illegality and you accept that ploy.
      As to neonics and Gylphosate those decisions are made by EFSA and DEFRA based on good science not conservationists. Neonics may have killed the pests but they also killed the beneficial insects we are all reliant on.

  7. Oh come on Andrea do you really think UK farming is profitable ? A 100 hectare or 250 acre arable farm might make £15,000 in a good year for including the subsidy of £22,000 so in effect a loss of £7000 without support. That’s why we import an increasingly large proportion of our food and export our environmental problems to others.

  8. It seems to be that farming lobbyists and shooting interests are completely misconstruing what has happened here. They are interpreting this as an attack on farmers and shooters, by conservationists.

    Let’s get it clear as to what the situation is. The problem was that although Natural England had very clear conditions attached to the General Licence, that:

    1) Those killing these otherwise legally protected birds supposedly under the terms of the general licence, where actually making no attempt to comply with the conditions of the General Licence. In other words they were not first trying to use non-lethal methods and were not necessarily killing these birds for valid reasons set out in the terms of the GL.

    2) Natural England were not making any attempt to enforce the terms of the General Licence, or to ensure that those killing these birds were complying with the terms of the General Licence.

    In practise what was happening was that these birds were being shot and killed as if they had no legal protection, and could be shot or trapped at the whim of the landowner or their employees/agents.

    All that’s happened is that Wild Justice has asked for the law to be followed, and Natural England has essentially conceded that the General Licence was being abused, and no attempt was being made to enforce the law. In other words the law and position hasn’t changed, only the way of ensuring compliance with the law. Landowners now have to apply for a licence.

    NE have had to change their position because the current system was not complying with the law. Whilst NE must take some responsibility for this, so must landowners and shooting interests. They were not complying with the law, and were just acting as if they had a general right to kill these birds whenever they wanted, when they didn’t. If landowners and shooting interests had being complying fully with the terms of the General Licence, it would not have been necessary for Wild Justice to take NE to task on the failing to ensure compliance with the terms of the General Licence.

  9. Dear SteB,

    I really don’t think that the farming community has the time or inclination to delve into the complexity of this and yes you are right they are seeing it as an attack on farmers and shooters especially given the fact that those who implemented the process have a track record of such attacks.

    As far as the production of some crops is concerned we are now at a point where their viability is in question. Oilseed Rape and to some extent Sugar Beet are now at serious risk of being dropped from many farm crop rotations.

    Where is the overall strategy in all this ? What is the ultimate aim ? Are we just going to export our problems to others ?

    At every turn, whether its this issue with the GL or the RSPB withdrawing their support for the Voluntary Initiative for pesticides or the campaign to ban Neonics or the attack on Roundup use, its just an uncoordinated attack on sectors of the industry with no regard for the consequences and no long term attempt at any viable outcome.

    It’s just chaos at the moment with many farmers seriously concerned about the future long term viability of their businesses and to what end ? We have cheap food, we are a wealthy population relative to others so why are we allowing are farming policy to be driven by these headline grabbing, random and ill through through campaigns which export our environmental problems to others while we fail to address our own food production issues ???

    1. Julian – the chaos is of NE’s making. That is actually what the NFU, Tenant Farmers Association, BASC and evven my great friends in the Countryside Alliance are saying – and they are right.

      When we started this legal challenge we could not know when we would win nor whether we would win – but we are very glad we won. We had thought we might be fighting a court case in the autumn so get a bit real in flinging around the blame.

    2. Thank you for responding and confirming my point about your clear misunderstanding of the situation, along with others making similar criticisms. Firstly, as Mark has pointed out the changes to the General Licence and it’s suspension is entirely the doing of Natural England and is nothing to do with the demands of Wild Justice. Wild Justice simply made a legal challenge because the way the General Licence was being administered was not consistent with the law i.e. NE were making no attempt to enforce the legal terms of the General Licence. The whole problem has been caused by NE not enforcing the law as regards General Licences, which is why they’ve had to hurriedly amend the whole process after a legal challenge. If the law had been upheld on the terms of the General Licence there would have been no legal challenge and no need for NE to suspend them.

      Are you suggesting that the law should be ignored when certain vested interests find it an inconvenience?

      The simple fact is that culling doesn’t work like the advocates of it think it does.

      Concerns have been raised about neonics because of their impacts on pollinators, insects in general, and even soil invertebrates. None of this is in the long term interests of farmers. It’s not an attack on farmers. Likewise the problems with glyphosate and it’s formulations such as Roundup are well documented, and Monsanto/Bayer now face paying out gigantic levels of compensation because they ignored and covered up up the health hazards of using it. In the US it is thought that Roundup is a major factor in the massive decline of Monarch butterflies which are thought to be heading towards extinction.

      It really does not do the images of farmers any good at all to characterize these evidence based and very serious problems as attacks on farmers. It makes it appear as if farmers just don’t care, which simply isn’t true because many do.

  10. Dear SteB,

    Your reply just encapsulates the two sides of this debate perfectly. Its not a binary argument.

    Neonic insecticides are the only effective active for the control of larvae CSFB in oilseed rape and the only effective control available for Virus Yellows in Sugar Beet. They are also have a negative environmental profile as you rightly point out. So we just ban them and import Palm Oil then ? Its obviously not a coherent argument.

    Roundup use and GM crops again is presented as an environmental loss leader for the industry but the alternative proposed by a ban which is increased cultivations is not environmentally benign. Soils are depleted and more carbon burnt with the increased use of fossil fuels. Again this is not a coherent argument.

    This is what results from this “scatter gun” approach to the farming environment without any joined up approach to a common goal of food production in the best environmental way we can devise.

    Unfortunately the polar views on each side of this debate are more interested in the headline grabbing one off issues than they are in a solution.

    (just for the record I didn’t mention the effectiveness or not of culling or the breaking of any laws you must have confused my post with someone else’s ?)

    1. Julian,
      I have come across some very enlightened farmers but I am saddened that your view seems to be to continue with the likes of neonic insecticides despite a realisation that they could pave the way to the collapse of pollinating insects and wider impacts on the environment – and all to ensure the profitability of farming. You are turning a deaf ear to the stated need for us to pay farmers and provide safe custody of the environment.

  11. I have a great deal of sympathy with farmers. It is a hard full time activity but the remuneration systems using subsidies has many drawbacks and mediates against innovation.

    Other approaches are being tried and we see the success of Knepp and Hope Farm for example.

    This quote from Michael Gove is interesting:

    “That message was backed up in the UK by the environment secretary, Michael Gove, who warned that the country is 30 to 40 years away from “the fundamental eradication of soil fertility”. He added: “Countries can withstand coups d’état, wars and conflict, even leaving the EU, but no country can withstand the loss of its soil and fertility.”

    The apocalyptic nature of the threat was underlined last month by a report that revealed that excessive use of pesticides had depleted the Earth’s soil and contributed to a drastic decline in insect numbers that threatened a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”.

    It relates to a system of maintaining the soil structure by ditching ploughing and has produced good results throughout the world including the UK. The link below gives an insight to the scheme:


  12. Dear Mike,

    Obviously in my attempt at brevity I haven’t explained myself well. I’m not in favour of Neonic or Roundup used indiscriminately or in the event that a better alterative can be found, at all. What has through happened with Neonics is that a ban was introduced, there is no alternative therefore we import replacement edible oils to replace the drop in UK production and thereby just export our environmental problem to others. How can this be right ? Surely we should have given the industry the time to adapt and find a compromise solution.

    On the wider issues of the farming environment what isn’t understood is how highly geared UK farming is financially. The risk profile is immense and this drives the overuse of fertilisers and pesticides more than any other factor. Unless some way can be found to link environmental credits (for instance) to inputs (ferts and sprays for instance) to reduce this high gearing profile no solution will be found. There is precedence in the support levels for organic production for instance. Personally I would strip away everything, Stewardship, RPA, BSP and NE and start again. Link support to environmental credits which recognised the risk profile associated with production on a balance sheet basis.

    My view, as expressed before, is that this single issue approach is pointless. It just dislocates the problem and pushes it down the line. It solves nothing long term.

    1. Julian – you really aren’t doing very well at boycotting this blog. But that’s ok with me – welcome back.

  13. Hi Richard,

    Thank you for that, very interesting. We stopped ploughing in 1998 and have been involved in cover crops and direct drilling since 2008. Currently we are working with British Sugar on cover crops before sugar beet and strip tillage. No of this seems to impress anyone though these days and we get very little encouragement financially. We have had various environmental campaigners on farm, some have been less than impressed, others quite supportive. We also have employees from Hope Farm RSPB who monitor above and below ground invertebrates within our crops with interesting findings. I’m quite sanguine about the whole thing at the moment, trying to manage my expectations in the face of opposition to what we do from NGOs. When Roundup goes, which it will, our modest usage in zero till will mean a return to ploughing. Given the success of these campaigns I fully expect that we will have to return to cultivations at some point in the near future.

Comments are closed.