I’d written the following blog post before hearing that Defra are announcing new, or not so new, general licences overnight. Wild Justice will be looking carefully at these and consulting with our lawyers over the next few days.
One of the things that has really struck me about the whole business of reforming the general licences is that maybe they aren’t fit for purpose even if they can be made lawful. This isn’t where I started, but it is where I am tending to go.
Why am I thinking that?:
- Natural England does not seem to have a clue about the evidence needed to justify such licences. Because of the extreme pressure put on them by shooting, and to a lesser extent farming, interests they seem to have been frantically trying to please these stakeholders rather than take a deep breath and see what the law says and what the licences should do. There is an alternative licensing system, which applies to all other bird species, which entails applying for an individual licence for a specific issue in a specific place. If Natural England can’t make general licences work then they can fall back on specific licences. This would be unpopular, especially if Natural England decided to charge for licences, but it is a clear alternative approach.
- Many owners of shotguns appear, if social media is anything to go by (which maybe it isn’t), completely clueless about what the current law is and what they should be doing, and what they should have been doing for decades. I was told of a conversation in Suffolk with a landowner who thought, it appears genuinely thought, that if it was his land and he had a shotgun licence then the law allowed him to shoot anything he wanted. Wild Justice has not changed the law. It’s a poor state of affairs when people are killing birds in the countryside and not knowing what their responsibilities are. Issuing lawful general licences won’t solve this problem if the users of the licence don’t understand them. Are the NFU, BASC, Natural England, Defra and others going to mount a massive, a really massive, education exercise to ensure that their members and the public are compliant with any new general licences which are issued?
- I fear quite a lot of deliberate law-breaking. It’s one thing, a bad thing, to be unaware of what the law says but it’s another thing entirely to know what it says and deliberately break it.
- Then there is the issue of bird identification. Rooks and Carrion Crows look quite similar and the old adage of ‘A flock of Crows are Rooks and a single Rook is a Crow’ is way out of date. Jackdaws (and Ravens) are black too. I’ve been told by farmers that Rooks are attacking their lambs and Carrion Crows are attacking their crops and in both instances I think these nth-generation farmers simply didn’t know which species they were looking at. Few farmers know the difference between a Stock Dove and a Woodpigeon too. Of course some do, but many don’t.
- Enforcement – how will any future general licences be enforced?
- Monitoring – how will any future general licences be monitored?
I’m quite often asked what Wild Justice wants the new system to be – and I always say I don’t know exactly and it’s Natural England’s and Defra’s job to sort that out. I say that I hope they come up with something that is lawful, reduces the amount of casual killing of birds in the countryside, stops any killing of Rooks, Jackdaws, Magpies or Jays for the purpose of protecting wild birds, and allows landowners to use lethal control of (let’s call them) pest species as the law allows. That’s where we will be if Defra takes the opportunity that Wild Justice has given them to reform the licensing system within the law.