Pigeon Pie and the General Licences

Woodpigeon. Photo: Tim Melling

Let us take Woodpigeon as an example. Under what circumstances do Woodpigeons cause serious damage to crops – and what constitutes serious damage? And which crops can be seriously damaged by Woodpigeons at which times of year? How is the shooting of Woodpigeons solely for food consumption legal – we suspect it isn’t? Maybe it should be. It seems to Wild Justice very unlikely that all 3.6 million Woodpigeons killed in the UK every year are killed under conditions covered by the General Licences GL04-06.

The above is a quote from the Wild Justice Witness Statement which was part of the claim issued to the court on 21 March (and emailed to Natural England although they will not have had a formal sealed document for some time after that due to court delays, but they had this in their email inboxes).

I’m not a lawyer, but I can’t see anything in the legislation which says that you can go out and shoot a Woodpigeon for the pot. You can, I assume, eat a Woodpigeon that you have shot in order to prevent serious damage to crops.  No doubt, especially having seen our Witness Statement, NE have been thinking about this hard over the last few weeks.  How will NE ensure that Woodpigeon meat on sale in restaurants or supermarkets is procured legally?

Now I like Woodpigeons – I like them as a bird but I am perfectly happy to eat them as a meal too.  I didn’t know that some of those pigeons over the years might have been killed illegally.  I’d be all for making the shooting of Woodpigeons for food legal.  I don’t know whether my colleague Chris Packham (now a vegan) would agree, or whether Ruth Tingay would either, but that is my personal position. 

I see that the British Game Alliance is working with our old friend Ian Gregory of Abzed. Here is a section from their press release:

The pigeon sector is relied on by game processing businesses to keep them going through the ‘closed season’ of the spring and summer when no game birds like grouse and pheasant can be shot. Hundreds of jobs are at severe risk if a solution isn’t found, said Mr Adams.

England has 57 game processors which prepare fillets and oven ready birds for UK supermarkets and restaurants along with a large export trade to the rest of Europe. These small businesses include the Peterborough Game Company which processes more than 10,000 birds a week. Its managing director Peter Bennett said “my staff are worried sick. If the shooting stops tonight we will run out of pigeons by next week and have to lay off ten of them – only the five on the roe deer line would be left.

Press release issued on behalf of the British Game Alliance on 25 April

I thought Woodpigeons were ‘pests’ but now it seems that they are also a resource for an industry. I wonder whether Natural England is going to address this in their new licensing approach.  If they do, then they have a problem – how do they ensure that all pigeons ending up in the human food chain were killed according to the requirements of the existing law? And to change the law will require changes to the Wildlife and Countryside Act by Parliament – Natural England can’t do it, and nor can Defra.  At least, that’s my understanding of the subject.  I might be wrong.

If Parliament were to seek to make Woodpigeon shooting, specifically for food consumption, legal, which I doubt that it is at the moment (but I am no lawyer), then surely NE would want to stipulate that the ammunition used should be non-toxic.

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16 Replies to “Pigeon Pie and the General Licences”

  1. How about adding pheasant to the pest list. That would help game producers maintain activity surely. Oh, no it won't. There are so many pheasants that 'sportsmen (& women) have to 'fly-tip' them by the hundreds.

    Perhaps this simple act of actually looking at the law will continue the great unravelling of killing things for fun?

  2. Wild Justice have done it again! You've staggered me with your brilliance! Of course - there are food safety regulations that wild game hunters and suppliers must comply with! Would a normal pest control company have refrigeration and standard food preparation facilities to hand when killing these pests? I doubt it. I wonder how the FSA have monitored game processing companies in the closed season?

  3. Welcome to the world of the shooting elite who have the audacity to use the excuse that they have been doing it for yonks and getting way with it, have based businesses on illegal activity and yet still play the victim.
    Imagine with this with any other crime and it highlights how environmental laws are treated not as laws but vague rules to be broken whenever possible.

  4. From what I understand it seems that Wood pigeons can only be shot under licence on the grounds you've stated. But I think that the vast majority of wild birds - if not all of them - are likely being shot ilegitametly and licences abused. I've found published articles in The Field and Shooting UK, for pubs, restaurants, boasting of the best Rook pies for instance. They go on to explain what kind of meat should be used. Young Rooks, not yet fully fledged, or branchers as they refer to them, are being shot out of nests and provided to restaurants. Which begs the question - how, can a brancher possibly be a pest, have spread any disease or have caused serious damage to crops ?
    If this continues seemingly without question from NE or the RSPB, what hope is there for all of our wild corvids, getting killed under such licences ?
    As for Woodies. I like them. Wouldn't eat one myself because I've been veggie for over 30yrs. My daughter isn't veggie or vegan, but she wouldn't eat one either, because "What's the point in that ? We don't need to eat them. I don't... If we had more birds of prey, then that would sort any problems, wouldn't it ?" I agree with her. I've never shunned anyone for eating meat, but I will always be curious, wary and sometimes question what, why and how killed. I think we all should.
    As I'm typing/texting this there's a Wood pigeons guzzling at our bird feeder.
    They're scared to land the lawn for cats, plus they've seen what happend to their pals the Collard Doves. RIP. But they're seemingly always around. As much as I love their cooing and sky climbing, wing claps and diving breeding displays (who doesn't?) I do find them occasionally, a bit of an 'inconvenience' - they also poo on my doorstep a lot. But then so do the racing pigeons, who seem to find my garden every year. Speaking of them, I also found in a pigeon racers and fancier's forum, chatting of 'Lovely Rook pie' too.
    We need Wild Justice and I was really pleased when I first heard of this collaboration. I'm glad of their recent triumphs surrounding the relaxing of killing of our birds and I would gladly contribute to them again whenever I can.
    I'm spurned on, whenever I see tweets showing snared and trapped animals and birds. Also branchers hanging from an innocent family's vandalised gate. Also tweets by a certain CA spokesperson. Star Wars oddly comes into mind. The Dark Side rising. The Sith Lord, summoning. Flat capped, tweed caped. Rallying a rabble of troopers. Drawing shotguns ablaze. Declaring war on wildlife and all who stand in his way.
    But we, are the Resistance. The rebellion.
    And we will win !

  5. When I was a lad (in the early seventies) I may have done a bit of egging, but if I did that got me into birding. In my youth starlings would murmurate over St Helens, starlings were considered a bit of a nuisance, they would clean out your feeders, as would spudges, they would wake you up in morning since their nests were in the eaves.

    Now I would welcome murumations back above my town I would welcome flocks of beautiful starlings descending on my garden, I would welcome spudges nesting around my house. Wood Pigeons are beautiful birds. Let’s be careful otherwise there will be nothing left.

    Look for the beauty in the common, a prime example is the dandelion a beautiful yellow flower, that would grace any garden, but graces every roadside verge

    1. ''Look for beauty in the common, a prime example is the dandelion ...''
      Very much so – it’s a flower of all-embracing exuberance at his time of year.
      Woodies are not so easy to enthuse about. But they are highly successful neighbours to all of us. So, in these times of change we should observe them much more closely.

  6. The impression being peddled at the moment by the usual suspects is that all farmers have shotguns, and all either shoot Wood Pigeons themselves to protect their crops or let someone else do it for them. Therefore the suspension of the General Licence will cause chaos by preventing them from protecting their crops by shooting Wood Pigeons.

    However, this is quite contrary to my own experience where I've found that the vast majority of farmers actually don't own a shotgun, never have and most don't allow shooting on their land. I can't seem to find any figures on this, but I suspect that it's under 30% of farmers who own shotguns, or let people shoot on their land. Yes, there is a significant minority of farmers who have an interest in shooting, own shotguns, and either shoot or let others shoot on their land, but it is clearly a minority. What is more most who shoot Wood Pigeons are not farmers, and most appear to do it mainly for sport. This completely destroys the notion that farmers will be in serious difficulty because of the suspension of the general licence, because most never shoot Wood Pigeons or allow it on their land, so it will make zero difference to the majority of farmers.

    Just to clarify this, shooting Wood Pigeons over decoys, which is the only way to shoot numbers of them (and WPs soon catch on to it, and it only works briefly), is very time consuming. Most farmers simply don't have the time for it.

    It is very questionable as to whether shooting Wood Pigeons has much impact on either protecting crops or regulating Wood Pigeon numbers. Most species populations are regulated by ecological carrying capacity, especially food supply year round, which carries that population, not predation including shooting. Most Pigeon shooters wouldn't be interested in shooting with the regularity needed to control Pigeon damage to crops. This is because as I say, birds soon cotton on to what is going on, and those shooting Wood Pigeons for sport are not going to spend fruitless days guarding the same crops and shooting few Pigeons. For Wood Pigeon shooting as a sport you need a fresh site where the Pigeons haven't learned that someone is trying to shoot them.

    Overall this is the paradox. Farmers wanting to protect their crops will put bird scaring measures in such as gas guns, to stop Wood Pigeons gathering or feeding. But this would be of no interest to the Pigeon shooting enthusiast, because they would be able to shoot many Wood Pigeons. Almost certainly the vast majority of Wood Pigeons shot, are shot for sport and not to protect crops.

    1. Or as one such company offering pigeon shooting for "sport" puts it

      "In a Shooting Times Twitter poll the national average bag shot whilst decoying is just twelve, yes 12 birds…we’d hope to do better than that! If you want guarantees to shoot large numbers of birds then please go to Argentina dove shooting!
      For all that, if you’re a ‘hunter’ rather than a ‘shooter’ there’s no bird shooting quite like it."


    2. A lot of farmers take a back hander to allow shooters use their fields to shoot at pigeons. Naturally this income stream rarely ends up on the tax returns.

    3. I believe scientifically minded people view comments like "I can't seem to find any figures on this, but I suspect" as 'fictional writing!? Let us hope we still live in a UK where evidence led debate only is considered worthy of the time taken and such fiction and 'let's pretend' stuff remains the worry of novelists.

      As for 'most who shoot Wood Pigeons are not farmers, and most appear to do it mainly for sport.' - quite right. Farmers are generally too busy to combat the crop damage/losses to wood pigeons, gas guns and scarecrows don't work worth a damn and so are a waste of time and money, so they let guys who are keen on shooting do it. Of course they do it for 'sport', as well the freezer. Most people's hobbies such as stamp collecting, tv watching, train spotting, bird spotting (ornithology for those who like to see themselves as wearers of long trousers), flower arranging, badminton, ballroom dancing, wine making and blogging are done for 'sport'. What is wrong with that?

  7. The situation with wood pigeons and the general licence seems to have evolved into an economy of its own I gather you heard the gentleman this morning With the Pigeon packing factory who will have to lay his work is off.. they apparently rely on getting pigeons from organised shooting parties who go round farms and supply them with the pigeons. Above you quote The Peterborough game company packing more than 10000 Birds a week.

    The idea being that they move the large pigeon flocks round. Whenever they have a pigeon shooting day around here we hear the scattered shots and scattered pigeons flying about hither and thither. Much the same as any day. I doubt they contribute much to any 10000 bird harvest or any reduction in damage. Just a nice day out.

    This seems to be a business for harvesting pigeons from oilseed rape and a leisure activity.

    I don't understand the physiology of the oilseed rape crop and when damage would be significant… (cereals are much simpler). Obviously a lot of birds at emergence before cover is established can cause damage by eating a lot of seedlings and creating gaps..

    I wonder if these shoots actually take place over newly emerged field or over crops where there's a reasonable amount of grazing for the pigeons to be attracted to.

    Once the crop is established I assume a large number of pigeons could eat it patch out, but how are you going to know this will happen to your crop.

    Natural England it's got its work cut out to sort this one out relating the actual presence of the pigeon to potential serious damage.

    1. Oilseed rape final seed yield is strongly correlated with dry matter yield present in late December, in a uniformly established crop. There are many reasons why it should not be uniform - it's a race between seedbed drought, cabbage stem flea beetle and woodpigones. Oilseed rape haters should note the variety of human-edible crops eaten by pigones, once they have run out of rape.


      Authored by Dr D Parrott, I kid you not.
      Note the deterministic

  8. Under the old system, every wood pigeon could be shot- no restrictions. No need to prevent extinction- local or national.
    I wonder if NE actually have some sort of idea of what a minimum acceptable wood pigeon is? At what point would they say.."thats enough"?
    The truth is they wouldnt know and they dont care.

    I guess that under their new system they wont know and they wont care. Its a complete abdication of responsibility.

  9. Given that the wood pigeon fact sheet suggests that shooting may be effective or not ( it is marked as data deficient) but that populations are increasing why do we not just add it to the quarry list with no closed season. This may be very unpopular with some but it seems very unlikely to affect overall population and would qualify as harvesting for food as long as it was killed with nontoxic shot.

  10. I have been trying to live ethically and sustainably and the wood-pigeon is a rare but favorite part of my diet. I abhor "factory" farming and meat features as a very small part of my mixed diet. Roadkill and the occasional woodie shot with a very high power catapult (this is phenomenally accurate and the 10mm steel ball results in instant death) are my mainstay. I do not eat eggs, drink milk or buy new leather, but I do think it is ethical to personally hunt one or two birds (or a rabbit) for the pot - I would not pay anyone to do it for me and if you are going to eat meat I feel you should see the whole process through yourself. I would like to see a law where PERSONAL pot hunting was made a feature of the general license (I would also like to see business pheasant shooting made illegal).


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