Licensed to kill

Yesterday’s Guardian story about the scale of licenses given out by Natural England for killing otherwise protected birds builds on the earlier revelations in the blog of Jason Endler.

The number of birds, eggs and nests involved (170,000) does look eye-wateringly large and the public reaction has been similarly large.

My view, as expressed here back in December, is that

I don’t have a problem with the principle of issuing licences to kill protected birds. That may surprise you, but I don’t. And that is because you have to think back to when the legislation came in (presumably the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981).  If you are drafting legislation which gives full protection to a bunch of bird species, over three decades ago, then you are going to think ‘But there might be some cases, and I’m not sure what they are right now, when rare exceptions should be made to this general rule of protection’. That seems prudent. And the legislators then thought ‘Well if there are exceptions they might be for this range of reasons’ and then attempted to write down those exceptions which cover things like damage to livestock, impacts on human health, impacts on air safety etc. That list exists and it’s quite a sensible list. And the legislators then thought that the way to maintain protection, but to allow some exceptions where appropriate, was that anyone who thought they had a genuine reason for killing a protected species must apply for a licence where their case can be judged.


This seems to me to be a perfectly good system in principle, and it may be a perfectly good one in practice too.  My bet would be that it works reasonably well most of the time – but that is a guess.
What would working well look like? A good licensing system would require applicants to describe the problem and what steps they have taken to deal with the problem with non-lethal means (eg scaring the birds away or catching them and releasing them alive). I think a good licensing system would reject frivolous or unwarranted applications and that is an area which I reckon it would be worth exploring in these days when landowners and farmers appear to be the key stakeholders of our statutory conservation agencies. The licences would be issued proportionate to the problem so that mass culls wouldn’t be allowed for a problem caused by an individual or small number of birds. There would be checks on the compliance of the licensee with the conditions of the licence and licencees would have to report on what they had done and how many birds had actually been killed.


I suggest that rather than these issues being revealed through FoIs the statutory agencies should publish this information annually in the interests of openness. Why not?
And should there not be a fee involved in applying for such a licence in these days of reduced budgets? I have to pay for a new passport, why don’t landowners have to pay for the costs of processing a licence to kill Linnets?  And why should the applicants’ names be withheld?

The last part, about transparency, is important to me. It seems strange that the licensing of an otherwise illegal activity on such a scale is not reported upon by the public body responsible for the licensing system and responsible for nature conservation, that is why I was quoted in the Guardian article as saying;

Avery called for Natural England to be more transparent and publish all its licences every year. “Why don’t they tell us what they’ve done each year, or are they ashamed of it?” he said.

Saturday cartoon – Ralph Underhill


Independent or simply refugees?

At the time of writing, 11 MPs have joined the Independent Group: eight from Labour and three from the Conservatives.

They haven’t yet formed a political party but they are a fascinating grouping who have little in common except starting off as Remainers. But have you noticed that there are seven women and just four men involved so far (63%, whereas Parliament as a whole is 32% female. That’s a big difference (although based on a small sample))? I think that there may be some significance in this. The leading drivers for Brexit have been men, some of them less-than-honourable men (and Theresa May). But also, I would conjecture that women are a bit less tribal and a bit better at working with ‘the other side’ than are men.

The three Tory women, Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry are, to my mind (as a Labour Party member remember) of a higher calibre than the eight Labour break-aways. They include two of the most impressive Conservative MPs in parliament and I am growing to like the feisty Anna Soubry too.

The grouping doesn’t have a huge amount of environmental expertise, but then, any 11 MPs plucked at random wouldn’t look any better, actually rather worse. And they look more like a group of refugees from oppression rather than a group of like-minded, like-thinking politicians.

I’ve just checked and see that my annual payment to Labour of £69 is due in late July. I’ll leave it for a while to see whether I want to remain a member or not, and whether I want to join any other party or not, or whether I will increase or decrease my annual payment. Five months is a very long time in politics – and the next five months will certainly be eventful.


Slow progress with EDM #1963

Caroline Lucas’s Early Day Motion to ban the use of lead ammunition is making leaden progress (see Caroline’s guest blog here)

There are now 22 MPs signed up including one former Labour MP now a member of the Independent Group (Mike Gapes) and the latest addition is the SNP’s Deidre Brock.


RSPB press release

Warm Saharan breeze brings swallows and martins home weeks early
Travelling ahead of the ‘Saharan plume’ many birds usually seen in spring are starting to arrive back in the UK after spending a warm winter in Africa.
The RSPB is already receiving reports of swallows and house martins being spotted in Cornwall, Devon and south Wales weeks ahead of when they would usually be expected to be seen back in the UK.
Every year the tiny swallow escapes the worst of the winter by flying to South Africa. An amazing 6,000 mile journey where they fly over 200 miles a day, often arriving back in the UK at the end of March.
House martins also fly to warmer countries for winter, with many journeying to Nigeria, Senegal and other parts of west Africa before making the return trip to arrive back in April.
And these are just the first two of many bird species that make an epic journey to arrive in the UK in time for our spring and summer every year.
Sian Denney, an RSPB wildlife expert said:Everyone enjoys the sights and sounds of our birds returning from Africa, it is a good sign that the worst of winter has passed and spring is on its way. Last year’s storms delayed the arrival of many of our birds, so clearly they are taking advantage of the ‘Saharan plume’ to reappear in our skies, countryside and gardens earlier than usual.
After flying such an amazing distance the birds returning from Africa will be hungry and looking to make a home, so now is a really good time to make your garden inviting with food to welcome our spring birds back. And, as more birds return to the UK, everyone can welcome them back by growing insect-friendly plants or creating suitable nesting sites, such as swift boxes which will really help them after their long flight.’.
To find out more about the birds in your garden and what you can to do help, please visit: