Wild Justice’s legal challenge – what happens now?

NE say they are going to consult on the General Licences.  In the meantime, NE has decided that anyone wanting to kill any of the species listed on the three General Licences which will be revoked on Thursday 25 April will need to apply for an individual licence giving grounds and evidence, as the law requires, for why lethal means are necessary because alternative options are not available.

This will not affect lethal control of mammals such as Foxes and Stoats.

It should not affect air safety as airports are perfectly familiar with applying for individual licences under such measures for control of other species of bird.

It will affect gamekeeping where killing of Crows etc will rarely be authorisable to protect livestock as free-flying gamebirds are not livestock and will rarely if ever be authorisable to protect songbirds as the science does not support any role of species such as Magpie or Carrion Crow (let alone Jay or Jackdaw) in songbird declines.  There is a big question mark over the legality of gamekeeping as currently practised and NE will be under the spotlight on this subject.

Some conservation organisations currently carry out predator control under the General Licences – they will need to apply for licences if they wish to continue.

In the longer term, by the end of 2019, NE says it will consult on options.  Wild Justice will be keen to play a positive part in that consultation.  We would have been content for that to take place with the 2019 licences still in place – it was NE which decided to terminate them early.

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


42 Replies to “Wild Justice’s legal challenge – what happens now?”

  1. I am off to town for a bunch of helium filled party balloons, I will string them up over the few remaining Lapwing nests.
    Should this be unsuccessful, I will apply for a licence to Larsen trap the local Carrion Crows in time
    for the repeat layings.

  2. Trapit, instead of looking to destroy the wildlife why not campaign locally for the creation of some habitat for the lapwings?
    Lapwings used to breed on nearly every farm in the country.
    Crows and magpies are not the cause of the declining lapwing population.
    And anyhow, no matter how many you trap or shoot more will just move in to the area.

  3. My guess is that, if necessary, the law will be changed so that things carry on pretty much as they have been.

    There is no doubt that we have too many generalist predators like foxes, magpies and crows. Part of the reason for this is the illegal killing of raptors. There is also no doubt that many sporting estates are managed far too intensively. It’s a mess. I don’t know what the answer is but, as far as conservation is concerned, I think the legal challenge will have little, if any, positive effect.

    1. Bob – it’s always great to get your thoughts. Have you thought about your pragmatic position on accepting millions of unlawful birds being killed yet?

      1. Mark – I always appreciate your responses!

        The people who have been doing the killing thought that it was lawful and had every reason to think so. Whether it was proportionate will depend on the individual circumstances. When the general licences were first issued it was presumably accepted that they were OK. I am happy that they are to be reviewed – times and circumstances change – but I hope it will be a pragmatic review, informed by science and focussed on outcomes. I believe passionately in conservation and in animal welfare; I have no interest in “animal rights”.

        1. Bob – thanks. I’m a bit confused about animal rights myself. I think I probably want the review to be a pragmatic review too – but let’s see. The current legal system is quite clear about what conditions need to be met.

    2. Surely Bob, the reason we have too many generalist predators ( we apparently have the highest densities of crows and foxes) is not the lack of raptors ( Goshawk for crows and Golden Eagle or Eagle Owl for fox) because by and large predators do not limit prey populations but the excess of easy food for them. Easy food increases winter survival especially of young birds and gets them in good breeding condition, then when there are young mouths to feed that food is at its lowest! The easy food is carrion pheasants, mainly as road kill. If pheasants weren’t released populations of these species would probably crash in winters.

      1. Thanks Paul. The wider point behind what I said was that generally we have an “unnatural” countryside – one heavily modified by man – in which some top predators are absent. Wolves, Bears and Lynx can never be reintroduced to most of England and we know why we don’t have many big raptors. So, we need to play “god” to some extent. That’s what I think we should do, in a responsible humane way, as well as doing all we can to stop illegal persecution of course.

        Historically, the wonderful countryside here in south Suffolk is largely the product of sporting estates, and they keep it that way. The ones I know don’t seem to release pheasants in the quantities you encounter and most of those that are released aren’t around for that long. I appreciate the situation is different elsewhere. A couple of years ago in Scotland I came across a load of pheasants, like chickens, on and next to a road. A honeypot for raptors I thought, but then I don’t imagine there were many left in that area.

        I appreciate the point you are making about predators and prey but would just add that generally, the closer you look at what is happening in nature, the more complicated it seems to be.

        1. It would be interesting to know the actual density of the pheasants reared on your local estates – the data certainly seems to suggest very high levels of release in Suffolk. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/314715/pub-avian-gbpr13.pdf

          And given that only about 30-40% of released birds are taken out as bags after being shot, that leaves an awful lot of biomass in the environment, either as prey or carrion for foxes, crows and more.

          1. Rebecca, mine are just casual observations. I suspect that the estates near me in south Suffolk are mainly family/friends shoots rather than money-driven commercial operations, but that’s just a guess. There are gamekeepers of course. I don’t see much evidence of foxes but we have lots of badgers. There aren’t many crows, and magpies are a rarity.

  4. Mmmmmmmm seems a little hypocritical. The RSPB are known to shoot “pest birds” to protect other birds within their reserve boundaries obviously by using the general licence conditions. I wonder who the current Vice President is

    1. C – thanks for your comment. But Chris isn’t against all lethal and legal predator control. Nor am I. Nor is Ruth. So, what’s your point? Are you in favour of an unlawful licensing system? Because NE have admitted that their system is unlawful.

    2. Mark what is the science that says corvids are no threat to songbirds surely you as a bird watcher knows that where there is a lot of corvids they predate on songbirds which is why the RSPB controls them on some of their estates

      1. Geoff – thanks for your first comment here. No it isn’t why the RSPB controls them on very few of their nature reserves.

      2. Scientists don’t collect evidence for things not being the case, it doesn’t exist.

        1. Agreed, but what we can say is that for those song-bird species that are declining the most there is scientific evidence for what factors lie behind the decline and that evidence is not pointing to crows or magpies.

  5. I’m a simple Yorkshire bloke, I don’t roam the countryside like Rambo blasting everything and anything as most of you folks believe, what I do is conserve the local wildlife by targeting crows and magpies with lethal force, bird scarers and gas cannons do nothing to intimidate these pests.

    which unbeknownst to you lot do actually kill songbirds and ground nesting birds.

    can I ask where the figures came from for the “millions” of birds that are killed each year?

    And if these millions of birds are saved from death what are they to feed upon?

    Pigeons eat crop. There goes your vegan diets, grain prices will rise. Livestock will be at risk of desease, and these rare birds your all giddy about will cease to exist in this country.

    1. Graham – thank you for your comment. MAking quite a lot of assumptions about ‘us lot’ aren’t you? Who exactly do you mean by ‘you lot’?

  6. You’ve just signed the death warrant for millions of song birds in the UK. I have seen myself the devastating affects of crows on native bird eggs.

    Sadly you’ve just screwed our farmers over too.
    Some farms are estimated to be losing upto £200 a day to pest birds such as crows & pigeons.

    Once again farming industry hammered. Prices of crops are going to be affected massively

    1. One wonders what nature did before we started killing generalist predators about a millisecond ago in evolutionary terms. There is also no good scientific evidence AT ALL that corvid predation has any population level effects on song birds.

    2. Nobody has yet said that in future no birds will be killed. Just that a review is taking place to ensure that any killing is lawful.

      I’ve no comment on the ‘death warrant for millions of song birds’ but I’m interested in the £200 per day lost to crows and pigeons. How is this made up?

  7. There is deep, deep culture behind all this. It is deeply traditional that if an animal causes rural people a nuisance lethal control – killing – is the first resort. Beyond that, there’s a fine tradition that if something you can do nothing about – the weather, the Government etc – is annoying you the best remedy is to go out and kill something. Basically, it goes back to the development of the first sporting guns in the 18th century. It really is time to stand back, not least because in an increasingly urban society these traditions are not something urban people understand. Yes, there is need for lethal control – but, as when RSPB carry out control, it surely must be because there really is no alternative. The debate has also highlighted the increasing preponderance of ‘generalist’ species like crows and pigeons in a countryside increasingly stripped of the habitat detail which used to give other species a chance of survival.

  8. The shop has sold out, they’ve had a rush on apparently.
    What proof is necessary, that scare tactics have not worked ,video evidence ?,a site visit?, or a box of
    sucked egg shells?.

  9. Given the number of angry conservation signallers who have today been claiming to have them breeding on their land the NE press release appears to have had the effect of increasing the breeding population of Curlew and Lapwing five-fold or more overnight!
    A few more press released please NE! Then we might have the breeding population levels back to where they were before landowners trashed all the hay meadows.

  10. Lots more wonderful comments here! All this drivel about the only thing stopping our wildlife from going down the pan is the dedicated work of people out there killing wildlife. I especially enjoyed the one in the previous thread about ‘since when did we start calling pest species wildlife?’ Just brilliant.
    With a very few exceptions, there is little evidence to suggest that the declines in native wildlife have been due to predation. Farmers and shooters endlessly bang on about predator control for two main reasons:
    1. As a smokescreen to obscure the truth that it is the intensification of farming that has been by far the greatest driver of wildlife declines, and
    2. To pretend that there can be an ethical dimension in terms of conservation to the otherwise unpleasant practice of killing animals for pleasure.
    But it all makes for enjoyable reading.

  11. Dear Mark

    Why have you not mentioned in any of your “newsblasts” the millions of songbirds that are killed by the domestic cat each year given the fact that one of you is the current vice president of the RSPB and what should be done to address this issue

    Maybe its because a lot of your supporters are cat owners or perhaps I am being cynical?

    Also it is a known fact that corvids predate on songbirds and take their eggs from their nests

    Also why is it that Mr Packham ( who cares ” passionately about wildlife” ) never mentions the issue of cars that run over, injure and kill millions of species of wildlife every year on our roads but is quick to air his anti hunting views on national TV / in the press

    1. Karen,
      I struggle to think of 100 different species run over by cars in this country or see the connection with hunting! Bird populations suffer; cars and cats take their toll, and we acknowledge that impact but why criticise a move to reduce the death toll by indiscriminate killing under a license scheme which was a carte Blanche? Nothing is changing to stop the real need to control – just that a license should address control where there is a need and not simply allow anyone with the means to go out and kill. The science shows that some of those licensed ‘pests’ are not really the pest they are painted to be and the science shows that corvids do predate song birds – but not in significant population impacting numbers.
      Chris P, Mark and Ruth are targeting a genuine issue which you seem to be blinkered from understanding and your criticism is not justified.

  12. I fully understand that predation is not the driver behind farmland bird declines.
    However, where scattered pairs of Waders exist, in too small numbers to breed successfully in the face of constant harrassment by corvids, help must be given, or come the day ??, when agriculture
    becomes more wader friendly, it will be too late in many areas.
    One could be forgiven for thinking, that with the ideal conditions created on RSPB reserves, predator
    control should never have to be considered .

    1. Trapit – I’m glad you take the point about farmland bird declines being largely driven by farming changes rather than predation.
      As Mark has said numerous times, his actions were designed to put a stop to presumption that the ‘casual’ killing of wildlife is officially sanctioned. If there are specific cases where there is good evidence that a particular wildlife population is being reduced by, say, harassment by corvids, then Mark and his colleagues agree that it should be possible to ask for a license to do something about it. If other methods have been tried and failed and your case is judged to be sound, this could involve a limited licence to kill the problem species. But not blanket permission to kill as many as you like of almost whatever you like.
      However, you should always remember that according to recent GWCT research, corvids, along with pigeons and rats, are the major beneficiaries of the huge amounts of grain put out each year by the shooting industry to feed pheasants. And, of course, that foxes and other generalist predators are major beneficiaries of the 60% or so of the many thousands of tons of pheasants that are released every year but which are not shot. I suspect that many of your problems are of your own making.

  13. Amazing you just made the last 7 weeks of work a complete waste of time . I really hope there are some part time conservationist that actually care about breeding waders but it was a lovely photo of you outside the high court ,guess it’s just some self promotion so you and Chris packham can flog some more books.
    Because that what conservation is to you about to you about making money .

    1. Bob – thanks for your first comment here. I shall treasure its errors of spelling, grammar and fact.

    2. Bob,
      Whatever is it, Bob, that you have been doing in the last 7 weeks that you wouldn’t be able to continue doing if you applied for a license? Come to that I’m pretty sure, judging by the illegal persecution that goes on, that no-one will suddenly take action if you carry on doing what you’ve been doing in the interim. That aside you really should go back to school to understand the basic population ecology principles which govern if you are to help breeding waders in the future.
      As for making money from flogging books – try finding out the reality, or check back on this blog where Mark makes public the reality.

  14. Mark – you lot at Wild Justice are absolutely brilliant!

    When I read your comment about the game industry being seriously impacted by this change in the law I thought that pheasants in pens might provide an excuse for the game industry to claim they’re protecting livestock but, of course, at that stage they’re in open topped ‘release pens’ that the birds can and expected to simply fly out of. In effect, they’re no longer livestock being held in a captive state but wild birds because they can fly away. They’re no longer under the direct control of the gamekeepers.

    The shooting estates are stuffed!

  15. Well done Wild Justice on your first victory. Keep up the pressure on NE to ensure that whatever scheme eventually replaces the current shambles does actually reduce the needless slaughter of our birds.
    As someone who made a (small) contribution to the legal challenge I was wondering what will happen to that money if it is no longer needed to take NE to court. I would definitely like my contribution to be kept by Wild Justice to help fund their next legal challenge if this is possible.

    1. matthew – thanks. It will take a while before the financial matters are sorted out. NE will be paying Wild Justice’s legal costs up to a certain cap determined by the Aarhus Convention. The money donated through the Crowdjustice website never comes into Wild Justice’s bank account -it is (depending on timing) either held by Crowdjustice or in a client account of our lawyers. Money raised surplus to requirements of one case will be used over the next year (starting from the date when this case is formally settled) on other Wild Justice legal cases. I think that’s right – and it certainly is in essence – but we will update everyone once we know exactly what is happening (and that may take some time).

  16. It never ceases to amaze me that in spite of all these thousands and thousands of people who are apparently roaming the English countryside blasting and killing everything that moves or flies the corvid and wood pigeon population has continued to increase year on year. It will be very interesting to see the effect this stop on control has on the coming explosion. I doubt if any of you have ever seen the effect of 2000 woodies descending on a field of kale or rape £200 a day seems on the light side. I will be out tomorrow in the countryside I love keeping an eye out for those hordes of armed killers. I will let you know if I find them. I do hope my grammar and punctuation etc. are up to your very high standards as you appear to be obsessed with trivia especially when you are loosing the argument .

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