Wild Justice’s legal challenge – how the case progressed

Wild Justice and lawyers outside Defra Nobel House on 11 March ahead of meeting Natural England. L to R: Anita Davies (Matrix Chambers), Chris Packham and Ruth Tingay (Wild Justice), Carol Day (Leigh Day) and Mark Avery (Wild Justice).

Wild Justice’s legal success against Natural England had the following chronology:

13 February – “Pre Action Protocol” legal letter sent from Wild Justice’s lawyers to Natural England setting out why we considered the General Licences issued on 1 January, which ‘authorise’ killing of 16 bird species, to be unlawful.  In essence, these birds can only be killed under certain legal conditions and NE has to be satisfied that those conditions are met before issuing the licences.  NE had not satisfied itself of those things and so the licences are not lawful.

26 February – NE respond, a day ahead of the normal deadline for response, asking for two more weeks

27 February – Wild Justice says – no, NE can have one more week.

1 March – NE ask for a meeting with Wild Justice.

11 March – Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay, Mark Avery and some of their lawyers meet Natural England.

13 March – Wild Justice receives confused and ambiguous written legal response from NE which does not concede the legal argument, nor provide evidence for the legality of current system.

15 March – Wild Justice launches crowdfunder on Crowdjustice platform to raise funds for legal challenge – this was the first public mention of what the case was about – Wild Justice had given NE over a month of quiet contemplation to work out the implications of our challenge and its response.

21 March – legal claim forms were issued in the court on behalf of Wild Justice asking for judicial review.

25 March – crowdfunder reaches target of £36,000 in 10 days.

23 April – Out of the blue NE announces revocation of three General Licences on 25 April and that, at least for now, anyone wanting to kill any of the species formerly listed on those General Licences will need to apply for and receive an actual licence from NE.  A review of the General Licences is planned.

Wild Justice is perfectly happy for the full legal correspondence between NE and Wild Justice to be put in the public domain and we may well do this over the next few days.

There are several points to be made about this process:

  1. Wild Justice has not changed the law – we have shown that NE has issued authorisations for killing of wildlife that are unlawful and NE has had to accept that.  They ought to have known or suspected this before we brought it to their attention – surely?
  2. Wild Justice did not ask for the revocation of the 2019 General Licences – only that they would not be issued in the same unlawful form in 2020.  It was NE’s decision to revoke the 2019 General Licences and at such short notice. Wild Justice took such a measured line because we knew that such an action would be an unpopular shock to some interest groups and would cause administrative challenges for NE and we wanted to give NE space fully to consider the legal options.
  3. NE could have made their decision to concede the legal case at any time after 13 February – the fact that it took them nearly two and a half months is a matter for them to explain, not Wild Justice.
  4. NE did not tell Wild Justice what it was going to do in advance and issued its press notice more or less at the time it communicated its decision to us.   

Wild Justice says ‘We are delighted to have won this legal case. What sort of world is it where the statutory body with responsibility for wildlife protection is operating a bird-killing licensing scheme that is unlawful? Millions of birds are killed each year under the terms of the General Licences and many of these deaths will not be justified.  We are grateful to over 1100 individuals who funded this legal challenge and allowed us to take it with the means to progress it through the courts.  NE could have, and in our view should have, conceded the correctness of our case many weeks ago.  This would have reduced the financial costs to the public and allowed farmers and land managers more time to adjust to the news that their bird-killing actions may have been illegal for several decades. This is a mess of Natural England’s making – they have operated an unlawful licensing system and they have dillied and dallied over admitting it’.

Wild Justice – Mark Avery, Chris Packham and Ruth Tingay


54 Replies to “Wild Justice’s legal challenge – how the case progressed”

  1. I must admit I had not fully appreciated the current situation. Looks as if some unintended consequences of the legal challenge are here already.

  2. Bob W – you were duped by Avery’s weasel words and awe-struck by Packham.

    I shan’t read Avery’s latest diatribe above, but I sense an unusual defensiveness and ‘no mea culpa’. The consequences on wildlife, which you claim to wish to protect will be deep, and absolutely the blame lies at your door.

  3. As I watch pigeons devouring our wheat, I’m reminded that the British Trust for Ornithology garden watch has just established that there has been a 1000% increase in these birds since 1979. Our lapwings will now lose their eggs to crows when we stop controlling them. Thanks WildJustice – from everyone who buys a homegrown loaf of bread or wants rare wildlife protected.

    1. If there really is a decline in output…which could accurately be assigned to damage caused by pigeons, and I look forward to seeing the autumn production figures, it would always be possible to feed less wheat to sheep, cows, and beef stock and feed it to people. Which would be better in so many other ways too.

    2. 1) The decline in lapwings is not due to crows or magpies but due to massive changes in the habitat available to them as a result of changing farming practices.

      2) As far as I understand it you are still at liberty to apply for an individual licence to control birds that are having an unacceptable detrimental impact on crops or livestock and where alternative means of control are not effective.

      3) Your implied suggestion that anyone buying a homegrown loaf of bread will notice any impact at all from this decision by NE, either in price or availability, is ludicrous.

  4. You might have also added:

    23rd April – New Head of Natural England, Tony Juniper, starts in post.


  5. Cue howls of outrage from people who can’t be bothered to read the ‘latest diatribe’ and who therefore presumably don’t understand that the law was being broken by the arbitrary issuing of a virtual licence to kill native wildlife that had no oversight, no data collection, and couldn’t stand up to a legal challenge that would have been brushed aside by NE were it not for the fact that Wild Justice was correct. Scrutiny leads to better laws, throwing your toys out of the pram doesn’t.

  6. “Millions of birds are killed each year under the terms of the General Licences”
    do you have any proof of these figures, if so can you post your data for all to see?

    1. Countryman – I have done in the past. Thank you for your first comment on this blog – bit rude though! ‘Please’ would be a nice touch…

    1. Countryman – no I have data (published data from the GWCT actually), and I’ve posted it in previous blogs but you were so rude that I didn’t think that in my busy day I necessarily wanted to make your life easy.

      1. Mark if you are using GWCT data why do you ignore the data they have published in the Appled Journal of Ecology that shows how predator control carried out by keepers on grouse moors increase fledgeling rates in Curlew and lapwing from 23% to 64%? Why have you sought to make the continuation of this self funded work so much harder? You asked someone in a previous post did he believe it was right to kill one bird for the sake of another, this surprised me because as a biologist and previous Conservation Director of the RSPB you will know that this is exactly what the RSPB believe, which is why they kill over 500 crows on their reserves each year. Your actions have sadly made neighbouring farmers contribution to the RSPB’s efforts to protect breeding waders so much harder. As a biologist you surely know that such predator control needs to conducted on a landscape scale so the contribution of neighbouring farmers is vital in this effort made by the RSPB.

        1. owen – I haven’t ignored it. I’ve answered a question about something else.

          Many of the comments on here seem to ignore the fact, admitted by the government wildlife agency, Natural England, that the licensing system allows unlawful killing of birds as well as lawful killing.

  7. Await the images of the lambs left blind having had eyes pecked out by corvids and feel good that you won this case for the good of animals. You shock and sadden me in equal measure.

    1. i have seen this in the last month or so 3 lams have had eyes pecked out 2 of them had both pecked leaving them to be put down by farmer and we have had cars damaged by fallen branches that crows drop from tree only the other week

  8. Why won’t you answer the comment above about the lambs and what the corvids do to new born lambs, please answer the question thank you.

  9. Did you get a pat on the back from packham did he say that he mention your name on TV you have a lot of trouble on your hands

  10. Mark Avery. What would be a suitable licence system in your opinion? Do you believe that these pest species need controlling? Given the effects they can have on wildlife and crop yield? Interested to know what Wild Justice would view as acceptable moving forward?

    1. Ronnie – thank you for your first comment here. Wild Justice accepts that it should be possible to kill birds to protect crops/livestock from serious damage, to preserve human health etc and these are what the law says too. That wasn’t what the General Licences assured though – so that’s why the licensing system was unlawful and that’s why NE has had to change tack.

      We asked NE to put in place a lawful licensing system for next year – we did not ask for the revocation of the current licences. What we thought might happen was that the next few months could be used to come up with a legal system that works well for land managers and better than now for wildlife. That would still be our hope.

    1. elfed – thank you for your first comment here. Who did you have in mind? Not Michael Gove surely? Not very polite!

    2. Yup, you can say that again. But then it always has been hasn’t it. You must therefore be pleased that Wild Justice is standing up for those that cannot speak.

  11. Does this mean that the RSPB will no longer be using the terms of the general license to protect endangered ground nesting birds from predatory species on their own land?
    What course of action do they intend to take instead.

    1. Andy – thanks for your first comment here. Maybe asking them would be the way to find that out…

  12. So, are rats next on the protected list?
    What is the difference between a feral pigeon and a rat? Without the obvious pathetic comments.

  13. Since when did we rename pest species as “wildlife”?
    Corvids and pigeons are at an uncontrollable level in the UK. The damage they cause to other birds and crops is immeasurable. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded and has no idea about imbalance that has been caused by man in nature.
    This is a huge own goal by Packham et al. They have just signed the death warrant on tens of thousands of song birds and other ground nesting birds at a crucial time.
    Does anyone know if the RSPB will continue to actively use Larson traps on their reserves in order to help endangered birds fledge? You couldn’t make this up..

    1. Phill – thank you for your first comment here. Surely the question is ‘When did we start calling some wildlife pests?’. And if they are at an uncontrollable level then there is presumably no point in controlling them – I guess that isn’t what you meant was it?

      1. Mark – why are you so supercilious in many if your responses? Is it because the disastrous consequences of your actions to wildlife in general have just dawned on you?

  14. Lapwings have declined because of the draining of fields and general intensification of agriculture: more herbicides and pesticides means less insects for young. This affects many birds with catastrophic declines : yellowhammer, turtle dove, yellow wagtail, tree sparrow, Reed bunting, cuckoo and also reptiles amphibians flowering plants. Crows are convenient scapegoats for abuse of nature

  15. I’m sad to see that Mark Avery is not open to legitimate discussion leaving his prejudice against pest control behind him. This is a short sighted approach to wildlife and habitat preservation, control of pest species is not just about maximising farming profit.
    It seems that you are ignorant to true conservation if it does not fit within your concept of it.
    A blinkered approach by narcisistic individuals with no real knowledge on this subject beyond their short sighted data gathering.

    1. Dave try googling ‘The Predation of Wild Birds in the UK’ RSPB, read it, see who wrote/compiled it then tell us you don’t feel very silly or owe Mark Avery an apology? I don’t believe the state of nature in the general countryside outside of nature reserves is a great advertisement for those that loudly claim they really know about conservation. If they did they wouldn’t have to do any braying, the plentiful wildlife would prove it. It isn’t and thereby doesn’t.

  16. It’s a shame you didnt make cats illegal as their ownership kills millions of often scarce songbirds that are not a nuisance or a pest. Farmers who are hugely financially under pressure now must watch as their crops disappear into the crops of wood pigeons and uncontrolled corvid numbers put songbirds under more pressure by raiding nests and eating chicks. For every positive you may have for the ban there are several negatives, mainly for our wildlife and farmers.

  17. Totally out of touch and inept protecting both non native invasive species and vermin at the same time! God help both native and endangered species and eco system as a whole also farmers and crops !! Another knee jerk uninformed act which as seen otters run amok and cormarants decimate the river , canals and lakes !

  18. Are rats next on the list for you to target ? If not, why not ? Why are they different ?

  19. What were the results of the impact assessment of this action by Wild Justice that they must surely have initiated prior to embarking upon this catastrophic course of action for Wild life in general?

  20. Thank you for your reply. So what will a lawful licence system look like in WJ opinion? Given that the control of these birds is essential?

    1. Ronnie – it might look different for different species. And I wouldn’t accept that culling of all of them is essential.

  21. Mark, I’ve done crop protection for 30 odd years, a few days a week. I’ve always used non lethal methods first, flags, spinners, bangers etc…then as a last resort the gun comes out.
    Now I do not condone for instance shooting a Canadian Goose that floyd’s over head whilst it’s not anywhere near say some Milling Wheat.
    I’m somewhat shocked that at a time of year when farmers have Lambs out, fresh drillings going in, that this came into play.
    At home, we have 20 acres, which through my management is now teaming with wildlife, I cannot control the Corvids eating my land ladys animal feed, and I’m not exaggerating…but I’m literally sat here watching Magpies demolish song birds nests. Do people not see the bigger picture?
    I’d also like to add, I do not like Hunt Sabs giving out names & addresses of people who shoot etc, the same as people giving out Chris Packhams address. People on both sides need to see the bigger picture, the real FACTS,and this needs resolving very very quickly! I also work in a gun shop, so watching business slow down isn’t what I need either.

    1. Justin – thanks for your first comment here. I agree with much of what you say, and you seem to be well aware of the law. NE has caused this uncertainty and I hope they are going to remove the uncertainty and introduce a better system of licensing very soon. We’ll see.

  22. The rise in corvid numbers, foxes, rats and other “pests” is a direct result of man’s practices from harmful farming methods to a desire for a “tidy” environment, air pollution, climate change and sheer greed [golf courses, caravan parks etc] All these have created an increase of species tolerating disturbance and degraded habitat, to the detriment of more sensitive species [including plants, insects, lichens etc. as well as birds]. Until these practices are fixed and we stop thinking the planet is all for us [and in terms of cost benefits] we have to use more brutal methods to conserve threatened species.
    Also some more in-depth education might help.

  23. Well it looks like we are getting our licences back, so with bit of luck in the next few days we will be out shooting just as before, your move.

    1. Countryman – if you were doing all the things that the law requires – that’s fine. If not – then you will be a criminal with a gun. Go on, tell me which you are.

  24. Don’t be silly Mark, if I was a criminal with a gun I would not have licence, and yes I will comply with the rules in the new GL.

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