General Licence 31 – Woodpigeons and serious damage to crops

This general licence was published yesterday evening by Natural England – the next ones look as though they will be published by Defra.

I’ve had a quick look at it.

Noticeable is this passage;

This appears to be a recognition of the point raised on this blog last week (and raised in the Wild Justice witness statement which was sent to Natural England on 21 March) which is that shooting Woodpigeons for sport, or even for the pot, is not something covered by the revoked General Licences nor by the wildlife laws the General Licences were supposed to be putting into effect. And to my knowledge, though I am not a lawyer, that type of shooting is not authorised by any other legislation. So, my guess is you can’t shoot Woodpigeons solely for sport or for the pot – and you never have been able to do that legally – unless also covered by the conditions relating to serious damage to crops.

Now, as raised on this blog, I think there would be an argument for legalising the shooting of Woodpigeons for food but that is my personal opinion and not that of Wild Justice and my personal opinion might change after the benefit of legal advice. But at the moment any supermarket or game dealer wanting to sell pigeon meat should surely be starting to think about how they can ensure that the pigeons whose meat they are selling have been killed lawfully under the terms of the General Licence 31.

If there is to be a change in the legal status of the Woodpigeon then, as I understand it, that would require legislation. If the government legislated to allow shooting of Woodpigeons for ‘sport’ or food, in addition to preventing serious damage to crops, then it would surely want to ensure that non-toxic ammunition was always used for any food going into the human food chain.

Another interesting feature of GL31 is this …

… where the peak breeding season is defined as ‘taken to be the period from May to September’. The previous GLs did not, as far as I can recall, have any mention of this period. It’s not quite business as usual is it?

Let us move on to serious damage, where serious damage is …

That looks a bit feeble to me. The licence is clear that ‘serious damage’ is more than ‘mere nuisance, or minor damage or normal business risk’ but then appears to accept that any feeding, on any of a large number of crops, at any time of year, under any circumstances, has the potential for ‘serious damage’. That’s like saying that we all have the potential to be murderers (which we do) and then assuming that we are all murderers (which we aren’t). Seems to me to be worth looking at in a bit more detail, that’s all I’d say for now.

I see that BASC has put out an interesting and vaguely sensible document on pigeons – interesting that it isn’t the NFU (farmers) but BASC (shooters).

There are some differences between what BASC (shooters) say about pigeon damage and the best ways to prevent damage compared with what the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board 2014 report on the subject says (even though it is possibly the report that BASC unsatisfactorily cites). For example, whereas BASC say that AHDB say that damage is 10-40% that was based on the perceptions of growers (and they wouldn’t exagerrate would they?) contacted by a telephone survey but the same report states that measured losses of yield (albeit measured in 1989 when overall Woodpigeon populations were lower in the UK) were in the order of 9%.

The AHDB report also has interesting things to say about methods of shooting and scaring that don’t appear to have been taken fully on board by BASC (who represent ‘sport’ shooters as well as farmers who sometimes need to shoot, remember) and some of which don’t seem fully integrated with GL31 – but I’ll read all of this stuff again over the weekend (particularly if it rains).

My discussions with some local farmers over the last few days have been along the lines of; they want to be able to shoot Woodpigeons as an aid to scaring, and they’d rather not have to fill in forms, but that most of the damage to crops is in very narrow periods of the year Jan-Mar (usually, in these parts, for oil seed rape). I get the impression that farmers will be easily satisfied by sensible regulation but that people shooting for fun may be more irate, and will be praying farming in aid of what are basically sports shooting motives. But hey, we’ll see.

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22 Replies to “General Licence 31 – Woodpigeons and serious damage to crops”

  1. As far as non-lethal means for discouraging woodies ,I see a growing problem in my neck of the woods with increasing anger and intolerance of farmers using 'Gas guns' to keep birds off crops. As our village has seen development of somewhat expensive houses on the fringes I ( and others) come up against irate newcomers grizzling about bird scarers and even suggesting that it lowers the value of their big houses!! In the past there was a trend of stringing black nylon thread across even large fields to discourage birds,, which in my own experience resulted in lapwings and golden plover being tangled in the thin black cord. It seems to have fallen out of favour in this area, but I do wonder what types of 'non-lethal' control will be deemed appropriate, effective and acceptable.

  2. I get the impression that farmers will be easily satisfied by sensible regulation but that people shooting for fun may be more irate, and will be praying farming in aid of what are basically sports shooting motives.

    Remember, farmers get a sneaky backhander for selling the right to go out and shoot pigeons on their land to sports shooters. It is undeclared income that the treasury never sees, so it goes straight into the farmer's back pocket. That is why farmers will not accept sensible legislation but will rage and rant until the spittle flies in order to get unrestricted shooting.

    That is why farmers use discredited and obsolete arguments, they cannot come out and give the real reason that any restriction loses them income, because they've never declared the income in the first place and the treasury (while it has turned a blind eye due to the NFU being embedded into the main political parties, especially the Tories) will show up and ask for a lot of back taxes and audits. And the idea of audits really terrify farmers, because every single one of them is on the fiddle and putting personal expenses through the business books.

    Plus there are the little lords of the manor who just like the idea of being some sort of quasi feudal lord who gets to do what they want when they want, and who farms based on gut feeling rather than any evidence, and those guys just hate the idea of having to follow any rules at all. That is the sort who are probably behind Chris Packham's hanging crows; the sort who when the Foot and Mouth travel restrictions came out, went and deliberately moved animals around for no reason other than they were not supposed to; the sort who allow badger baiting on their land because badger baiting is illegal, etc. Yes that sort of person exists in every walk of life, but they seem more prevalent per capita in farming than in anything else save merchant banking.

    1. Is your assertion that all farmers are defrauding the Treasury based on actual evidence Random22, or prejudice? I am sure that some are on the fiddle (as is doubtless the case for other economic groupings, including employees) but your frequent portrayal of all farmers as some sort of personification of evil seems to me to be both delusional and unhelpful.

      There is no doubt that modern agricultural practices have been disastrous for wildlife and are in dire need of reform but I doubt that many farmers, if any, have deliberately set about eliminating wildlife from our countryside. On the whole they have farmed as they have been trained to do and as they perceive it necessary to keep the bank manager from seizing the farm. Of course, farmers and the organisations that represent them are often blinkered about the impact they have on the environment, resistant to change and hostile to criticism but that is not surprising or untypical of any group who feel - rightly or wrongly - that their livelihood is under attack. American coal miners, for example, (both the 'suits' that own and run the companies and the men who actually go underground) are pretty hostile to any discussion of climate change or what we may need to do to rein it in or mitigate it.

      If we are to address problems facing wildlife in the British countryside it will always be necessary to challenge current practices, and robust criticism of farmers and farming practices is both necessary and justified where these practices are harming the environment. That is not the same thing as knee-jerk, unqualified hostility towards all farmers which to my mind does not seem to offer the prospect of much progress.

    2. I live in Wales and don't know of any farmers (and I know dozens) who 'charge' people to shoot pigeons to protect crops. They are glad of the help. They get some pigeons to eat and crops are protected. I wonder if you're confusing this with the letting of game shooting rights? Farmers have a tough time as it is without being condemned for something many of them don't actually do. Obviously I can't speak for them all.

  3. "... I think there would be an argument for legalising the shooting of Woodpigeons for food..."
    Agree, Mark. And yes to then stipulating that this has to be done with non-toxic ammo.

    The only concern might be for Stock Doves being mis ID'd

  4. Can I ask why wild justice wanted public money in donations to bring about this challenge ? You are very rich people in you own right do you not feel strongly enough on the protection of birds to use your own money ? Why have you gone after farmers and shooters who help them out in crop and their livestock protection rather than the owners of the millions of pet cat owners who according to reports in the press are responsible for millions of bird deaths every year ? Are they the same people , the so called townies who believe all the stories you tell ? That you don’t want to upset ?

      1. Badly written or not would you like to reply to my questions I’d like to know that’s why I asked. Thank you.

        1. Steve - I'm not a very rich person so your question falls at the first hurdle. And there is no question that it was badly written, thank you.

          1. And could you answer the second hurdle ,I’m not having a go at you or wild justice I am genuinely interested to know why you went after the shooting community and not the cat owners whose pets are responsible for millions more bird deaths , cats which are neither licensed or whose bird murdering habits have no alterior motive ie pest control or putting food on the table

          2. St - We didn't go after the shooting so-called community. We didn't really go fter anyone - we sought to get the law applied correctly. Not the most anarchistic of actions really.

            How can you take a legal case against cat owners? Describe it for me please.

          3. As I said I’m not having a go at you and no I have no idea about putting a legal challenge to a cat owner I was interested why you wanted to raise money from people , you say you’re not wealthy but you’re associates most certainly are and why you chose the general license that was all , thank you for your replies although I’m not that much clearer

          4. Steve - I don’t think anyone would call Ruth wealthy. She might be loaded for all I know but I doubt it. So we raise money by crowdfunding because we couldn’t pay for this type of case ourselves. It’s also a good way to demonstrate popular support for a cause and give people a chance to feel empowered by being part of a larger group.

  5. Just read that so you read all these and approve them ? So if you don’t agree with what someone thinks or has written it’d be in the bin ? That’s fair !

    1. Steve - hardly any comments here are deleted. A handful have been over the years but very, very few. It is a condition of being published here that commenters use a valid email address. Some are edited to remove rudeness, irrelevance or repetition. You can see these because they are always clearly flagged. Comments posted here clearly aren't al;ways ones with which I wholly agree - some are ones with which I wholly disagree.

  6. I think BASC represent recreationally shooter rather than sport shooters.

    What's the difference you ask well recreationally shooters are shooters who love being in the countryside, use their spare time protecting crops what ever the weather to ensure maximum yield and in doing so help keep the price of food low and most will ensure the shot pigeons are used to make a nice meal.

    Sport shooters suggest shooing for fun these shooters don't need to shoot live pigeons they can have fun and enjoy the sport of clay pigeon (target shooting) which is shooting for sport and represented by the CPSA.

  7. It may simplify the matter if Wood Pigeon were allowed to be shot for food, and given a close season,
    to cover the peak breeding period.
    Licences could be applied for, to cover this much shorter time span.

  8. I will admit that people do take pot shots at pigeons while walking around the farm (I have myself) most pigeons taken in this manner (now illegal) are usually consumed by the shooter or given to friends, we are not a bunch of gun touting blood thirsty murders out to shot everything that moves, I will admit that there will be a few bad apples in the barrel but that’s true in all groups of people, as a shooter and someone who spends a lot of time out in the countryside (not just shooting) I see at first hand the damage done by pigeons and the predation of “songbirds” by corvids, unfortunately man as created an ideal environment for some of these birds, its not about trying shoot these birds into extinction but keeping there numbers at a manageable level, if these birds are allowed to breed unchecked their numbers will grow and we might end up with the need for mass killing to redress the balance.
    The new GL for pigeons is unworkable for most, the wording is poorly written and open to interpretation, its possible that under this licence shooters/farmers could find themselves open to prosecution.
    I only hope that DEFRA can now sort this mess out (which I doubt) and bring out a licence that works for ALL concerned, if this does not happen then I think we may see a move to have some of these birds removed from the EU protected list if possible, not a good thing in my opinion as it would leave the door open to uncontrolled shooting by the bad apples.

    1. Countryman - not 'now illegal' actually 'always illegal' but the licensing authority had not made that clear and so little blame attaches to those acting in good feith. But the law has not changed.

      Nobody, at least not I, said that you were a bunch of blood-thirsty murderers.

      There isn't an EU protected list - all birds are protected.

      I agree, Defra need to sort it out. They do seem to be taking a rush at it though.

    2. And out comes the same old tired rubbish about "songbirds". I recently asked a self-styled "countryman" (who, like several other rabid fanatics, was abusing Chris Packham and the RSPB on social media) to...

      1. Name the actual species of "songbirds" that had declined nationally as a direct result of predation by corvids (a process he also claimed to have witnessed "at first hand").

      2. To show their population trends.

      3. To provide a link to any published, peer-reviewed evidence to support his assertions.

      Guess what happened next!

  9. So am I correct in thinking that when I see a chap all set-up in an empty crop field, during the winter, with his shotgun, his elaborate camo tent and screening, his plastic pigeons pegged-out in front, with more on a constantly rotating contraption and with his dog in waiting, he will no longer be acting legally? Because it is not the breeding season and there's nothing there to protect. Is that correct?
    It has always looked to me like he is there for his pleasure and recreation. The number of his accessories add to the impression that this is a past-time, a hobby and the fact that the farmers crop field is empty. Every single shot he fires makes me feel sick and ruins my day.


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