Guest blog – Natural England licences; a cover up? Part 2 by Bob Berzins

Bob Berzins is a campaigner and activist. His novel Snared is available now.

His previous guests blogs here all focus on the management, or mismanagement of upland areas such as the Peak District, Walshaw Moor and the North York Moors.

Continued from Part 1 – click here.

Continuing my efforts to find out what individual lethal control licences were issued on six Peak District grouse moors my comments to the Information Commissioner highlighted concerns that Natural England may have issued a licence that was embarrassing or unlawful and that was the reason for refusing to publish the licence. I don’t think I was far wrong. This is the valid area for the licence:

Natural England Ref: 19020225

Between: the date of issue [4 May 2019] and 31st December 2019 (inclusive)

 Area valid in: all counties of England (landward of the mean low water mark).

So an individual licence issued to Wakefield Lodge Estate is valid over the whole of England and allows the licence holder or “Authorised Persons” to;

(i) kill or take any of the wild birds listed below, to take, damage or destroy their nests or to take or destroy their eggs:

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone), Jackdaw (Corvus monedula), Jay (Garrulus glandarius), Magpie (Pica pica), Rook (Corvus frugilegus)

 (ii) by means of:

  • Shooting with any firearm, including semi-automatic* firearms, shotguns or air guns
  • Pricking of eggs
  • Oiling of eggs using paraffin oil (also known as Liquid Paraffin BP or light/white mineral oil)
  • Destruction of eggs and nests
  • Cage traps
  • Falconry
  • Hand-held or hand-propelled nets
  • By hand

And in the Conditions:

2. The licensee may authorise other persons to kill or take protected wild birds in accordance with the terms of this licence…..

and

4. For protected sites with interest features that include bird species, no shooting is permitted to take place within those sites or within 300 metres of the boundary of such site. See Note 7 for information on the location of these sites. For the avoidance of doubt, this restriction applies to:

 (i) all Special Protection Areas (SPAs);

(ii) any Ramsar site with Qualifying Features that include bird species; or

(iii) any Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for which a bird species is a feature of special interest

What this licence allows is the licence holder to authorise any number of people, anywhere in England to kill unlimited numbers of the listed corvids.

So Licence 19020225 is in effect a General Licence covering the whole of England.

The restriction on shooting on protected sites is no hardship – one of the most common and “effective” ways of killing corvids is to use a small cage trap (Larsen) measuring around 1 metre square and 50cm high. A call bird remains in the trap for weeks or months and attracts catch birds. An authorised person then removes the catch birds and traditionally kills them by hand, by whacking on the bonnet of a vehicle or by using a club. Natural England is promoting this barbaric method on sites where birds are a special feature and have special protection.

Is there justification for including all the corvid species on the licence?

Natural England gave the following response to the Defra call for evidence July 2019 (see here);

4.19 Natural England gave statutory advice to the Secretary of State, which is discussed in more detail in Section 5. In terms of species to be covered by the general licences, NE disagreed with six of our proposals:

 • Non-crow corvids for conservation purposes: NE supported including carrion crow on the conservation licence but assessed that there was insufficient evidence to include the other corvids (jay, jackdaw, magpie and rook).

But Defra said: None of these species are of conservation concern and previous inclusion of these species on the general licence has not had an impact on their conservation status. The Secretary of State therefore concluded that the removal of jay, jackdaw, magpie and rook from the conservation licence risks unforeseen impacts;

So the experts at Natural England don’t agree that all the corvids listed should appear on a conservation licence and this is most apparent with Jays where Defra’s own study concluded there was insufficient evidence to assess the impact of Jays in overall predation. See: Parrott, D. (2012) Reviews of selected wildlife conflicts and their management. Annex A: Impacts of jays on game and other interests: A report to Defra. The Food and Environment Research Agency.

And this is borne out by my own common sense experience where I see Jays in woodland and not on grouse moors such as Midhope. And yet Jays continue to be killed:

Jay in stink pit in an SPA area of Moscar Estate, March 2020.

The police told me the estate does have a licence to kill these birds.

Is licence 19020225 lawful?

The short answer is this could only be determined in a court of law. But I think we can highlight some of the important features.

On 10th May 2019 (six days after licence 19020225 was issued) Natural England published its conclusions after taking legal advice and one of the key findings was:

to ensure that Natural England was satisfied that the licences would only by used when there is no other satisfactory solution” And lethal control “can only be a last resort”.

But this licence only requires:

Any person using this licence must be able to show, if asked by an officer of Natural England or the Police, evidence or records of the problem and of the use of non-lethal methods.

 So can a gamekeeper waving his arms at Crows for five minutes legitimately say for the rest of the year that non-lethal methods have failed? There is no requirement for ongoing use of non-lethal methods and no requirement to keep any records of birds killed.

Natural England also highlight “the need to respect the protection accorded to certain areas”. This refers to protected sites where there is insufficient evidence of the effects of removal of some of these species, such as Jay. Given the licence is valid throughout England with unlimited killing and no record keeping – there is a failure to ensure that the licence has no impact on European sites (protected areas). It’s standard that a Habitat Regulations Assessment is completed to determine if any activity on a European site will be detrimental – there is no requirement to complete HRAs in this licence and I would hazard a guess that this failure alone would make the licence unlawful.

I’ve written at length about Midhope here but I do feel utterly powerless to discover if any of the other estates I enquired about have individual licences. So I’m in the hands of the Information Commissioner to find out more and to determine what wrongdoing, if any, might have taken place. I’m determined to follow this up as far as I’m able and I’ve asked a law firm if they can give an opinion of the legality of the Midhope Licence. In itself this won’t mean anything but I hope it will give added impetus to the ICO enquiry.

Individual licences are secretive and impossible to monitor. If I’d had all the information, I would have been on Midhope estate last year trying to find evidence if they were unlawfully shooting corvids. The fact that opportunity has been lost is a reflection of a set up designed to fulfil the needs of grouse moor owners, not to uphold the law.

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5 Replies to “Guest blog – Natural England licences; a cover up? Part 2 by Bob Berzins”

  1. We owe a debt of gratitude to Bob Berzins. Without his tenacity we would never know the half about what goes on. Thank you.

    All this frenetic NE activity takes place in our name, using (ostensibly) our laws and our taxes but for what? Simply to facilitate the killing of OUR birds and mammals in support of the unsustainable and cruel hobbies of a minority.

    It is time for greater public scrutiny of the whole process of licensing including the nature of the relationship between NE and the shooting estates. It is laid bare in the correspondence issued under FOI; It is cosy and close. The very wording used by NE is unprofessional and not of the type one would expect between the regulator and the regulated.

    It’s time for change. Greater transparency and accountability. Now.

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  2. I absolutely agree with Alick's comment above and am also very grateful to Bob for his work on this.

    That said it is of course an absolute disgrace that Bob should have to spend so much time and effort trying to expose something that NE should have been open and transparent about in the first place. Sadly the picture presented is one where NE lean over backwards to help the shooting estates and the police are kept fully aware of the situation through chats at Moorland Association meetings but it takes a member of the public over a year to discover that a licence has been issued. Oh and DEFRA reverse the precautionary principle so that, in the absence of any evidence, its better to go on killing Jays on the grounds that it has been done in the past so stopping now might have a deleterious impact.

    Is it known whether a new licence along the lines of 19020225 covering the whole of England has been granted for this year?

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  3. So in effect the holders of licence 19020225 were made a de facto licensing authority themselves if they could use it to authorise anyone anywhere in England to "control" corvids???

    It is utterly incomprehensible how on Earth anyone could have issued a licence containing such terms without being perfectly aware that they were stretching the legislation far beyond breaking point.

    Thank you Bob for your tenacity and perseverance in bring this to light.

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  4. Bob have you written to George Monbiot? He obviously gets flooded with correspondence but he seems to get around to reading and replying.

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  5. Thanks Bob for all your hard work,I know how tenacious you have to be when requesting F.O.I's from N.E.
    Thanks too for getting to the bottom of what is allowed on protected sites . That explains the sudden explosion of Larson and Ladder traps I have observed on the S.P A/S.A.C that I monitor.
    We know the Estates will do whatever it takes to continue business as usual and N.E and Defra seriously need to get into step with what the vast majority of people,who they are supposed to serve and be answerable to would like to see happen. They should not put the needs and desires of the Driven Grouse shooting industry above everyone else's.

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