Campaign launched to ‘take back control of wildlife licensing’

Rural campaigning organisation the Countryside Alliance has launched its latest e-lobby campaign.

The campaign calls on MPs to urge the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), George Eustice, to “take back control of wildlife licensing from Natural England”.

Thousands have already signed the online lobbying email, which states:

“As my MP, I am asking you to contact the Secretary of State for DEFRA to ask that he addresses this issue as a matter of priority, and to ensure that the current fiasco is brought to an end.

“Aside from the widely publicised crisis caused by Natural England’s withdrawal of several key General Licences in April 2019, at which point DEFRA did step in to take control.

Natural England has since continued to preside over a chaotic system. One example is the handling of individual licences which are required for lethal control of pest bird species on any European Protected Site.

“These cover our most important areas for wildlife and biodiversity, and also for species that are not listed on the general licence anywhere in the country.”

‘Ongoing chaos’

A recent joint paper ‘Wildlife Licensing in England: Chaos, Crises and Cure’, was produced by the Countryside Alliance, National Gamekeepers’ Association and the Moorland Association.

It highlighted the “ongoing chaos” surrounding wildlife licensing, and the need for DEFRA to take back control from Natural England.

It concluded that the current situation is “untenable and it is having catastrophic consequences for wildlife and livestock”.

A recent parliamentary question revealed that Natural England has received approximately 160 applications to control corvid species on, or close to, European protected sites since January. To date, 26 of these applications have been granted, eight were rejected, with 126 still to be determined or which have been withdrawn.

Corvids are exceptionally damaging to rare species, raiding nests and killing chicks. They can decimate a population with ease.

The campaign goes on to say: “When land managers are unable to protect curlew for example, the species of highest conservation concern in the UK, because Natural England will not issue individual licences to control predatory corvids on protected sites, something has gone very wrong.

“The combined population of predatory corvids, including jackdaw, jay and rook, was 4.63 million breeding pairs/territories in 2016, with the population of jackdaw alone being 1.55 million, a trebling over the previous 16 years.

“None of the 26 licences issued by Natural England allowed for control of jackdaws or rooks, and only one for jay.”

Sam Carlisle, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, welcomed the statement, saying: “We welcome the DEFRA’s Secretary of State’s recent commitment to ensuring that we have a robust long-term licensing system which balances the needs of users and our wildlife has been welcomed by the Alliance.”