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SACS CONCERNS AND CALL TO ACTION ON GENERAL LICENCES

The new Natural England General Licences are starting to be rolled out. The first is one for carrion crows. SACS has identified important changes between the old and new licences, especially in the advised need to keep records of pest control activities, both non-lethal and lethal, and a need to continue non-lethal methods when a decision has been taken to use lethal methods of control.

SACS CONCERNS AND CALL TO ACTION ON GENERAL LICENCES

On behalf of our members we have significant concerns about the new GL issued last night. We also have significant concerns about what happened last week under Natural England's new leadership. We will cover that at the end.

Key differences

In both the 2016 and 2019 (revoked) GLs there was no need for any record keeping. These previous GLs had a simple statement that "These conditions include the requirement that the user must be satisfied that legal (including non-lethal) methods of resolving the problem are ineffective or impracticable."

In the newly issued GL26, which replaced GL04 and is now specific to carrion crows (other similar GLs will be issued for other pest bird species), there is wording about which SACS is deeply concerned. We have added our own comments below in square brackets.

Extracts from the new GL are in bold italics.

"This licence may only be used:
1. for the purpose of preventing serious damage to certain specified livestock by this bird species,
2. if serious damage is occurring or is reasonably expected to occur in the absence of licensed action, and
3. where reasonable steps to prevent predation by lawful methods have been and continue to be taken."

[SACS comment: The important thing here is a requirement to continue to undertake non-lethal control methods even when they have been demonstrated to be ineffective. This is political expedience, which panders to antis and is clearly drafted by those with limited understanding of the rigours and limited resources of farming, pest control and gamekeeping daily life.]

"Recording & reporting
Users are advised to keep a record of problems and the use of non-lethal methods, but do not need to submit records to Natural England."

[SACS comment: record-keeping in some way is sensible best practice in a grey legal area. We cover this later in more detail.]

When this licence can be used:
a) Only as a last resort to prevent serious damage*.
b) Before using the licence reasonable endeavours must have been made to resolve the problem using the lawful methods identified in Table 1 (unless their use would be impractical, without effect or disproportionate in the circumstances) and any other lawful methods that may be appropriate in the circumstances.
c) Reasonable endeavours must continue to be made to resolve the problem using such appropriate lawful methods alongside use of the licence.
d) Only undertake lethal control of birds during the breeding season if lethal control at other times or use of other licensed methods (e.g. egg destruction) would not provide a satisfactory solution.
e) Any person using this licence must be able to show, if asked by an officer of Natural England or the Police:
(i) what type of livestock any action under this licence is protecting;
(ii) what lawful methods have been, and are being, taken to prevent predation of such livestock by carrion crow or why the lawful methods have they have not been taken;
(iii) what measures have been and are being taken to minimise losses to that livestock from other predators and causes; and
(iv) why the threat of predation from carrion crows is sufficiently serious to merit action under this licence.
Licence users are advised to keep a record or log of predation and of efforts to address problems by legal methods.

[SACS comment: In the new GL there is information on suggested non-lethal methods. From a GL that was previously 6 pages long, including legal jargon, we now have a GL that is 11 pages long and will be repeated for each individual bird species to be controlled. Many users may be unable to follow the detail of this new licence.

Table 1 at page 7 onwards talks about non-lethal methods including good husbandry, scaring etc. Some of it is sensible, straightforward and obvious and useful to have this included. SACS has yet to go through this table with a fine comb.

On the other hand, Table 2 on page 11 stands out as being over-bearing and clearly designed to restrict, burden and potentially scare folk into not using the General Licence at all, with particular reference to 'Evidence' requirements and game bird losses. See below.]

"TABLE 2 – ‘serious damage’ for the purpose of this licence

Reared gamebirds and wildfowl
Reared gamebirds are regarded as livestock while they remain in the release pen and while they remain significantly dependent on people. During their transition to wild living it is expected that some birds will be predated. The goal is for these birds to live as wild birds alongside native wildlife which – naturally – includes predators, so this is to be expected. Shoots typically expect to recover about 40% of released birds – which means about 60% are predated, die of other causes or survive beyond the end of their first shooting season. Evidence suggests that typically about half this number will have been predated. This is ‘normal business risk’. The loss of some released game birds to crow predation is therefore not ‘serious damage’, it is an element of the normal business risk. Where other causes of losses are being effectively minimised (e.g. through good husbandry and control of other predators), then if crow predation were to reduce, or to threaten to reduce, the number of birds recovered by shoots to below 35%, then that would constitute serious damage.

Evidence
As explained in condition 8 of the licence, any person using this licence must be able to show, if asked by an officer of Natural England or the Police, what type of livestock licensed action is protecting and why the threat of predation is sufficiently serious to merit action under the licence, notwithstanding the use of appropriate lawful methods to contain the threat. Relevant evidence will include examples of actual or attempted predation during the present year or in recent years."

SACS' opinion:

The whole idea behind the General Licences as a derogation from the original EU Wild Birds Directive, where all wild birds are protected, is that there are species of wild bird evidenced to do significant damage, either by their high population, invasive nature or the manner in which they degrade other species, livestock, crops or endanger public safety and health. As a consequence there are strongly evidenced arguments for their control, not just at a local, but a national level.

For all the species listed on the GLs there are no conservation concerns. In actual fact, there are significant conservation concerns for other wild species if those highly populous and damaging bird pest species listed on GLs are not controlled. That is an irrefutable fact.

By trying to cover Natural England's legal backside, what NE seem to have done with the new GL is to create a more burdensome system, adding significantly to the workload of farmers, gamekeepers and other conservationists and a time of the year when they are hardest-pressed. This new GL appears to be worded in a way to deliberately put people off from lethal control.

In SACS' view, rather than making it more difficult and onerous to control corvids and pest birds, Natural England and other Government agencies across the UK should be incentivising this control for the greater public good, meaning both natural heritage benefit and related human needs.

SACS has a long history of pulling apart General Licence wording across the UK. As an example, in Scotland, the current GLs issued by SNH use a format designed by SACS. We do this work to:

  1. Keep our members within the law.
  2. Ensure our members or the persons they control birds for, are able to protect their businesses or conservation efforts and effectively control pests causing damage or harm.
  3. Ensure future generations don’t have to go to the Natural History Museum to see what waders and other endangered wild birds looked like because of lack of effective predator control.
  4. Ensure the UK’s food security. It is vitally important that the UK is able to meet the food and water needs of its increasing and ageing population. A bigger picture in General Licences is ensuring that all of us have affordable and sustainable food.
  5. Ensure conservation and natural enhancement at a national level. SACS dislikes the word 'conservation'. If all we are currently doing is 'conserving', then our environment really is not protected. What we, at a landscape-scale national level, need to be doing is ENHANCING, not just conserving. Amongst other things and relevant to General Licences, this requires a joined-up and mature approach to predator control, both mammal and bird. It also requires competent Government agency leadership, which in the last few days we have seen precious little of.

We will continue to analyse the new GLs and will be communicating our concerns to Natural England.

For many of us this has been an extraordinarily busy week. Little sleep, hundreds of phone conversations and emails and enormous amount of concern from our members and those for whom they control pest birds. But now is not the time to take our eye off the ball. We need to work better together to ensure that, via these new overly-burdensome General Licences, our natural environment and food security is not damaged and our members, as effective environmental custodians and managers, are not placed in legal jeopardy.

The call from SACS is simple and clear: for the benefit of our environment and people, UK Governments should incentivise and simplify the control of pest birds, not make it more difficult through trying to keep a bunch of environmental fanatics happy.

ALLEGED COLLUSION

SACS is aware of sector concern about allegations of collusion. Whilst we have no evidence of this we will leave you with a thought:

Wild Justice is the Chris Packham backed group that legally challenged Natural England. They are on the record as saying: We are not asking for the 2019 General Licences to be withdrawn, but rather that Natural England does not issue further General Licences and instead develops a legal system for regulating and monitoring the killing of birds if lethal control is absolutely necessary as a last resort."

So, if Packham et al didn't want the GLs revoked, is it a coincidence that Natural England revoked the principle lethal control General Licences, with just 36 hours notice for users, on the day their new former-Green Party environmental-activist chairman took up his post?

Daily Telegraph (we're aware of mixed views on this paper!) extract:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/04/26/new-head-natural-england-fire-links-activist-brought-legal-challenge/
"When Tony Juniper was interviewed for the job of Natural England chairman, he vowed to leave decades of eco-activism “in the past". The former Green Party candidate is now facing questions, however, over whether he may have broken that promise on his very first day."

We need a full review on what has happened and until then SACS will view the new and burdensome GLs and new Natural England chair with suspicion.

We will let you know as we know more.

Alex, SACS
27.04.2019