Wild Justice starts legal challenge of DEFRA’s general licence GL42.

Our infographic above captures the absurdity of DEFRA’s position on whether birds such as Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges are or are not livestock. It seems they are whenever it suits the shooting industry but not when it doesn’t.

On 1 January, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) issued a new general licence, GL42, which authorises the killing of certain species of birds (mostly of the crow family), in England, to protect livestock from serious damage. Changes to the wording in that licence, that Wild Justice understands were introduced after pressure from shooting and farming interest groups, attracted public concern (see this article in The Guardian and this from George Monbiot). Last week, after receiving legal advice, Wild Justice sent a formal legal letter to DEFRA as the first stage of a challenge of the lawfulness of GL42. Unless we receive a legally watertight and convincing response to that letter we will proceed to seek permission for judicial review of DEFRA’s decision.

The context for this legal challenge is that all wild birds in the UK are protected by law with two main exceptions, both of which are in play in this case: gamebirds and species listed on general licences.

Gamebirds, which include the non-native Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge, can be killed in the open seasons. Around 50 million Pheasants and 11 million Red-legged Partridges are released into the UK countryside every year (Covid, Brexit and Wild Justice’s legal action will have reduced numbers in the last couple of years) and around 30% of these birds are shot while the rest die of disease, starvation and are taken by predators, most notably mammalian predators such as foxes.

General licences permit the killing of certain specified bird species, such as species of crow, under certain specified circumstances with certain specified conditions attached. If you meet the conditions and are acting in the specified circumstances then you are covered by the general licence to kill listed species. You don’t have to apply for your own licence, you are covered by the general licences which are published on government websites.

The 2022-23 version of GL42 appears to broaden the circumstances under which gamebirds can be considered livestock and therefore can be protected from corvids. It does so by introducing the concept that gamebirds can be ‘dependent’ on their human owners or keepers even after they are released into the countryside, at any time in the future and at any distance from their release site.

Wild Justice said:  Any licence authorising killing of wildlife should be clear about when it can be used. DEFRA’s GL42 fails that test. In any case, why is DEFRA fiddling with definitions of livestock while wildlife declines?

Coverage of this story in the Guardian – click here.

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