Farming Today has just covered the new general licences (9mins into programme). Heather Simons gave a good overview of the history and issues.
BASC were interviewed and apparently they love dialogue. This is quite a turnaround. In 2019 BASC welcomed the decision (of which we believe they were a part) to rescind the invitations to Wild Justice’s Chris Packham and Mark Avery to attend the Game Fair to answer questions on Wild Justice’s views (probably mostly on the general licences) when they didn’t seem at all interested in dialogue.
Also, BASC’s dialogue mostly consists of shouting from the wings. As far as general licences are concerned, BASC were adamant that DEFRA should reinstate the licensing situation that existed before the original Wild Justice successful legal challenge in spring 2019 – see here – and yet bit by bit, and rather slowly, between them Natural England and DEFRA have moved away from that position to a new one which is better but far from perfect. BASC are now trying to put a brave face on things and say that nothing much has changed – well it clearly has – see yesterday’s Wild Justice blog.
But BASC seem to have been told, ahead of any announcement so BASC have announced it for DEFRA, that these general icences will apply to protected sites too in future. We’ll see.
BASC haven’t quite got it yet – where ‘it’ is what the law says. It isn’t ‘good practice’ to consider non-lethal alternatives to killing wild birds, it is a prerequisite of the killing being legal. And Wild Justice says that it is the licensing authority which must do that consideration and clearly set out the circumstances under which the licences would be legal. That forms part of the Wild Justice legal challenge of the Welsh licences which will take place in mid-December and which will have implications, depending on the outcome, for these new English licences.
BASC thinks gamekeepers are very busy people and seem to be encouraging them not to bother to keep records of the birds they shoot and the circumstances in which they shoot them. DEFRA should have insisted on record keeping being a condition of the licences.
BASC have to attempt to put a brave face on things – after all they have set up a 7-figure fighting fund to stop all these things from happening and to fight (not have dialogue with) the UK’s smallest wildlife NGO, Wild Justice. And they aren’t making any difference as far as we can see.
Wild Justice, all three of us Ruth, Chris and myself, had a chat with the DEFRA team yesterday afternoon, as will, separately, many others no doubt.
We asked DEFRA some questions and we will be interested to hear their answers;
- how will the new general licences be monitored? We suspect the answer is that they won’t be in any meaningful sense (so, no change there). How can you monitor who is using these general licences, against which species, in which locations, at what times of year and to kill what number of birds (of each species)?
- and with no monitoring how can the law be enforced?
- can a farmer shoot a Woodpigeon in September (or a Jay in November) and rely on the defence that he (or she) was protecting oil seed rape that won’t be sown until spring (or to protect a Spotted Flycatcher’s young when the Spotted Flycatcher happens to be in the Sahel area of Africa)?
- what is the status of non-native gamebirds once they are released into the countryside? Wild birds or livestock?
- will the last bits of the licensing system which have not yet been announced, include provisions for the tagging of cage traps, as in Scotland, so that the operators of such traps can be identified in the event of any misdemeanours?