Author Archives: MarkAvery

  1. Wildlife groups challenge government on lack of action for wildlife

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    Palace of Westminster Image: Shutterstock

    Wild Justice is one of a large group of environmental organisations taking a legal challenge against the Westminster government’s failure to act effectively to meet wildlife recovery targets – click here for BBC coverage. Wildlife and Countryside Link sent a Pre-action Protocol letter to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs back in May.  Wild Justice has been centrally involved in this initiative. 

    This legal action, the first by Wildlife and Countryside Link, shows that wildlife groups, from the big guys such as RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust to the many much smaller organisations including Wild Justice, River Action and the Wildlife Gardening Forum, are determined to use the law to make governments honour their commitments. 

    With the calling of the general election, it is a little unclear who will be in government on 5 July (although the odds on the Conservatives being the party with most seats are currently 35/1) but the task of responding to any evolving legal challenge will fall to that new government. We may hear fine words about wildlife conservation during the election campaign (although we haven’t heard much yet) but it will be action after the election that really matters.

    We will scrutinise the manifestos of all the major political parties to assess their promises on environmental matters. 

    Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: 

    In the Environment Act, the previous Government established a groundbreaking legal framework for nature recovery, and it is positive to see politicians of all stripes pledge to halt wildlife decline. Yet time after time, environmental targets are missed.

    The Office for Environmental Protection [OEP] says that once again delivery is falling short. It’s time for the culture of non-compliance with environmental law to end. When plans to restore biodiversity and stop pollution aren’t delivering, we can’t afford to stand by. Environmental charities are ready to take legal action where any Government falls short of its own promises for nature.

    As we approach polling day, we’re calling on all parties to set out what they’d do for nature if elected. Environmental charities large and small have written to all party leaders to challenge themto explain to the voting public how they would restore our natural world and pass on a country rich in nature for future generations.

    Wildlife and Countryside Link is represented by Leigh Day whose Ricardo Gama said:

    The government set ambitious targets for itself in the Environment Act 2021, as well as setting up an independent regulator, the OEP, to monitor whether it is on track to meet those targets. The OEP’s most recent assessment is bleak, finding that the government is ‘largely off track’ to meet the targets that it set for itself. Link are rightly asking the government how it can carry on with a business as usual approach and still meet its targets in light of the OEP’s findings. A pre-action letter has been sent asking that question. If the government don’t give a satisfactory response then Link will consider issuing a claim for judicial review in the High Court.

    Wild Justice’s Mark Avery said:

    The next government needs to act to restore wildlife in our lives. Fine words won’t do. Promises need to be delivered and as Wild Justice has shown in our work, legal action is a potent force to make politicians keep their promises.”

  2. If you are mounting a legal challenge…

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    Six years ago, before Wild Justice came into existence, two of us, Ruth with the Scottish Raptor Study Group and Mark as an individual, were embarking on legal challenges of the licensing of killing ravens in Scotland and the licensing of removal of Hen Harrier chicks from nests in England. Our experiences were instrumental in the setting up of Wild Justice. Much of our work, and a very large proportion of our expenditure, is involved with legal challenges of the decisions of public bodies such as agencies and government departments.

    We believe that our successes, and sometimes our failures too, have motivated others to seek legal advice and challenge the actions of public bodies and we applaud that.

    Sometimes we are asked to support such challenges, and sometimes we do – we’ve previously provided help to Open Seas and their challenge surrounding scallop dredging, and Whitewebbs Park and their campaign to preserve a greenspace in Enfield. Sometimes this support is financial, and sometimes we support others’ work by sharing their campaigns and petitions.

    We thought that it would be useful for us to lay out some of the aspects of a legal challenge that increase the likelihood of Wild Justice lending our support to your work. We are working on much more comprehensive ideas – so this is simply a starter.

    Here we are thinking about individuals or organisations who have already sought and received legal advice, and who are going ahead with a legal challenge. We are not lawyers (but we know some people who most definitely are) and we are not in the business of giving legal advice.

    But if you’ve done that, and are starting to raise funds, then here are some pointers to things which are likely to increase your chance of our support:

    • Fundraise through the Crowdjustice platform https://www.crowdjustice.com/ : this is set up to deal with legal cases where the money you raise will go to pay some lawyers to take the case on your behalf. We have dealt with Crowdjustice a lot and find them good to work with, but more importantly, the money, if not all spent on your legal case, will remain in the system and can eventually be allocated to other legal challenges. That’s the type of thing Wild Justice wants done with our money. To be facetious to make the point – we don’t want our contribution to be spent on a big party afterwards!
    • Choose good lawyers and tell the world who they are: Crowdjustice allows the legal firms involved to be named on the fundraising page eg see an old page of ours – click here
    • Make it very clear what you are challenging and what might be the outcome of a successful challenge: we, and anyone else, needs this information in order to decide whether or not to offer support.
    • Contact us nearer the beginning of your fundraising than the end: we make decisions quickly but it still takes time to transfer money and to tell our supporters about your case so that they can contribute as individuals if they wish.

    If you take notice of these suggestions it will make it easier for us to decide whether we can help you – the answer still might be ‘no’, of course.

    Wild Justice is keen to operate collaboratively and supportively amongst different campaign groups and organisations – we’re stronger together after all. In the near future we’ll be looking to pull together some more comprehensive advice for individuals or groups who are looking to challenge the ways our environment and wildlife are being damaged. As well as helping other groups, we want to to help encourage campaigns to be independent, confident and efficient in their own right. Watch this space.

  3. Woodcock survey shows decline still in place

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    The results of a British Trust for Ornithology/Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust national survey of Woodcock numbers have just been released – click here.

    There were increases in some regions since the last national survey in 2013, but also some big falls in other areas. Overall the British population has declined further in the last decade and has declined by 35% since 2003. Here is a map showing the declines:

    https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/woodcock-survey/results

    Wild Justice initiated and promoted a UK Parliament petition calling for a change, in fact a shortening, of the Woodcock shooting season because the current dates (from 1 September in Scotland, from 1 October in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) allow shooting at times of year when the main targets must be British breeding birds, because the influx of European, and indeed Asian, Woodcock does not occur until late November/December. See previous blogs on this subject click here, click here, click here.

    We don’t think that shooting pressure is the main cause of Woodcock declines, but nor do we think it can be ruled out as a factor.

    We have seen no progress from any UK administration on changing the shooting season dates, even though a review was promised and the change does not require parliamentary time and so is administratively quick and easy. We believe the review has taken place in England and we believe that a shortening of the shooting season has been recommended but that ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are sitting on it and leaving it for a future government to bring into place. This will almost certainly mean delay until the 2025/26 shooting season. That isn’t good enough.

  4. Game meat with high lead levels still being sold

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    BACKGROUND

    Lead is a poison and has been removed from many formerly common uses such as for water pipes and fishing weights, and in petrol and paints. But it is still legal to use lead ammunition to shoot gamebirds such as Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge and Red Grouse (amongst others). Maximum lead levels are set for meats such as beef, pork, chicken etc but not, utterly bizarrely, for game meat. The maximum legal lead level for most meats in the UK is 0.1mg of lead per kg of meat, measured as wet weight.

    Four years ago in February 2020, nine UK game-shooting organisations made a massive apparent U-turn after years and years and years of defending the use of toxic lead ammunition, and said they wanted to drag the industry into the 21st Century by making a five-year voluntary transition away from using lead ammunition for shooting game birds (ref 1).

    To test progress (and in some cases, compliance with trading claims), for the last four years Wild Justice has bought game meat from supermarkets and online stockists and had them tested for lead levels by experts at the Environmental Research Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands, Thurso. See results from samples bought during the 2020/21 game shooting season here (refs 2, 3), 2021/22 season here (refs 4, 5, 6), and 2022/23 season here (refs 7, 8, 9, 10).

    So far, partridges sold by Yorkshire game dealer Holme Farmed Venison during the 2022/23 season have been the only product that did not contain any samples with high levels of lead above the maximum legal limit for non-game meat (ref 9).

    This winter (2023/24) we bought more game meat samples (including Pheasants, partridges [unknown species] and game mix casseroles comprising venison, Pheasants and partridges) from the following stockists: Holme Farmed Venison (HFV), The Wild Meat Company (WMC), Eat Wild (EW), Marks and Spencer (M&S) and Waitrose. Unusually, Sainsbury’s did not stock any game meat this season.

    As in previous years (see methods statement in ref 2) we removed all visible pieces of shot prior to sampling and these were subjected to chemical analysis to determine their metal composition.

    Here we report on the results except those from Waitrose – we will tell you about them soon.

    RESULTS 2023/24 SEASON

    Game meat from all outlets contained some samples with lead levels higher than the maximum legal level allowed for non-game meat (the horizontal line at 0.1mg/kg ww Pb limit) although there was variation both between outlets and between the type of game meat sold.

    For example, eight of the ten oven-ready Pheasants and nine of the ten oven-ready partridges sampled from Holme Farmed Venison (HFV), and seven of the ten whole Pheasants sampled from The Wild Meat Company (WMC) contained high levels of lead above the maximum legal level for non-game meat, whereas only one of the ten stuffed partridges and three of the ten stuffed Pheasants sampled from Marks & Spencer contained levels above the maximum legal level for non-game meat.

    Holme Farmed Venison

    Holme Farmed Venison (HFV) is a Yorkshire-based game dealer that previously supplied game meat to Sainsbury’s. In the 2022/23 shooting season, partridge breasts were the first (and only) samples that we tested that didn’t contain lead levels above the maximum legal level for non-game meat (ref 9).

    In the 2023/24 shooting season, we ordered ten oven-ready Pheasants and 20 oven-ready partridges from HFV online but they could only supply us with ten Pheasants and ten partridges. No explanation was provided for failing to fulfil our order. We also bought 10 pork loin steaks from HFV to act as controls.

    Both the Pheasants (8/10) and partridges (9/10) contained high levels of lead, above the legal maximum for lead in non-game meat. The median lead level for the 10 Pheasant samples was 0.46 mg/kg ww Pb, 4.6 times the maximum for lead in non-game meat, and the highest level was 1.99 mg/kg ww Pb, just under 20 times the maximum for lead in non-game meat, For the 10 partridges the median lead level was 0.76 mg/kg ww Pb, 7.6 times the maximum for lead in non-game meat, and the highest level was 12.92 mg/kg ww Pb, over 129 times the maximum for lead in non-game meat,

    We couldn’t find any health warnings on the HFV website about consuming toxic lead, nor on the game meat packaging. In previous years, HFV has failed to respond to questions we posed about lead levels in the game meat it supplies (ref 11).

    There is little evidence to suggest that HFV is actively seeking to source its game meat from shoots that use non-toxic ammunition, which seems to be a backwards step from the previous season.

    The Wild Meat Company

    The Wild Meat Company (WMC) is an online stockist whose strap line is, ‘Healthy natural meat from the Suffolk countryside direct to your home’ and claims its products are “healthy and delicious” (ref 12). We haven’t previously tested game sold by the WMC but were keen to do so this year due to the company’s shockingly complacent attitude towards protecting its customers from the effects of consuming lead-contaminated game meat. The following quotes are from the WMC website (ref 13):

    “[WMC] remain satisfied that our customers should not be concerned about eating game that has been shot with lead”;

    “We would like to reassure our customers that our support for a voluntary transition away from lead does not mean that we feel eating properly prepared game shot with lead ammunition poses a risk to human health”;

    “The FSA [Food Standards Agency] currently advises that toddlers, children, pregnant women and women trying for a baby should minimise their consumption of lead-shot game. This is because of concerns that children who are growing are more likely to absorb lead than older children and adults. Our own children, of course, have all eaten game from a young age with no ill effects. However, decisions about what to eat or feed your children are, of course, entirely your own, and we leave them up to you!”

    We bought ten whole feathered Pheasants from WMC (5 x males, 5 x females). We also bought 10 free range pork chops to act as controls.

    7/10 Pheasants contained high levels of lead above the maximum legal level permitted for non-game meat. The median lead level for the 10 Pheasant samples was 0.38 mg/kg ww Pb, 3.8 times the maximum for lead in non-game meat, and the highest level was 1.05 mg/kg ww Pb, just over 10 times the maximum for lead in non-game meat, Unsurprisingly, given the commentary on its website, there is little evidence that The Wild Meat Company is actively sourcing game birds that haven’t been shot with toxic lead ammunition.

    Eat Wild

    Eat Wild promotes itself as the ‘development board for wild meat’ (ref 14). Previously it was the British Game Alliance, then British Game Assurance, involved in auditing shooting estates for sustainability and good practice but in autumn 2013 that role transferred to a group called Aim to Sustain (ref 15), leaving Eat Wild to focus on the marketing and promotion of game meat.

    In November 2023, it was still possible to order game meat directly through the Eat Wild website (however, this is apparently no longer possible and the website now simply points consumers directly to game meat stockists). We have previously sampled game meat from Eat Wild (Pheasant breasts in the 2022/23 season, where 6/13 samples contained high levels of lead, ref 9) so we wanted to test more samples this season.

    We ordered 12 x Pheasant breasts and 12 x partridge breasts. However, Eat Wild only sent six Pheasant breasts. When questioned about our missing items, Eat Wild told us there were stock issues and copied Holme Farmed Venison into the correspondence!

    We didn’t find any health warnings about consuming lead-contaminated meat on the Eat Wild website or on the packaging.

    Three of the six Pheasant breasts contained high levels of lead above the maximum legal limit for non-game meat. The median lead level for the 6 Pheasant samples was 0.10 mg/kg ww Pb, on the maximum for lead in non-game meat, and the highest level was 1.00 mg/kg ww Pb, 10 times the maximum for lead in non-game meat,

    Marks and Spencer

    Marks and Spencer (M&S) made a bold claim in its 2023 Code of Practice for Game Species Production (ref 16), declaring:

    M&S only source game that has been shot with non-toxic shot as of 2022, removing lead shot completely from our supply chain’.

    We know this wasn’t true for all the Pheasants M&S sold during the 2022/23 shooting season because we tested some and found many still contained lead (ref 9) so we were keen to test again during the 2023/24 shooting season to see whether M&S, despite its trading claims, was still selling game meat contaminated with toxic lead ammunition.

    Game meat was only available for a very limited period just before Xmas 2023 and had to be pre-ordered online for collection in store on a handful of dates. We ordered ten stuffed Pheasants and ten stuffed partridges and collected them from the Glossop store on 22 December 2023. Ten chicken breasts were bought in store on the same day to be used as control samples.

    We didn’t find any health warnings about consuming lead-contaminated meat on the game meat packaging.

    One of the ten stuffed partridges and three of the ten stuffed Pheasants contained lead levels above the maximum legal limit for lead in non-game meat. The median lead level for the 10 Pheasant samples was 0.04 mg/kg ww Pb, below the maximum for lead in non-game meat, and the highest level was 0.50 mg/kg ww Pb, 5 times the maximum for lead in non-game meat, For the 10 partridges the median lead level was undetectable and the highest level was 0.22 mg/kg ww Pb, just over twice the maximum for lead in non-game meat, There is evidence that M&S has tried to move towards lead-free game meat but it is not adhering to its trading statement that it has removed lead shot completely from its supply chain.

    DISCUSSION

    Despite being four years into its five-year voluntary transition away from lead ammunition, the game-shooting industry still cannot guarantee its game meat does not contain high levels of toxic lead shot. Not one of the outlets from whom we bought game meat samples during the 2023/24 shooting season has been able to provide products that don’t contain lead levels higher than the legal maximum limit for non-game meat. If these products were chicken, pork, lamb or beef their lead contamination levels would render them illegal and unsafe for human consumption. The game shooting industry is getting away with putting public safety at risk simply because the Government has failed to set a maximum legal limit for toxic lead in game meat.

    Even the premier supermarket Marks and Spencer who says it has made great efforts to find suppliers who will guarantee non-lead game meat are failing to deliver on that commitment and their customers are having to play Russian roulette each time they purchase game meat from these stores. Marks and Spencer has now sold lead-contaminated game meat for two seasons since claiming to have gone lead-free. Trading Standards may well be interested in pursuing these false declarations.

    Why these companies can’t spend a few hundred pounds to test their products prior to selling is a mystery. Instead, it’s been left to a tiny organisation like Wild Justice to do this work.

    REFERENCES

    1. https://basc.org.uk/shooting-and-rural-organisations-take-responsibility-of-move-away-from-lead-ammunition/

    2. https://wildjustice.org.uk/general/sainsburys-game-meat-has-high-lead-levels/

    3. https://wildjustice.org.uk/general/waitrose-game-meat-still-has-lead-in-it-but-signs-of-improvement/

    4. https://wildjustice.org.uk/lead-ammunition/lead-contaminated-game-meat-found-for-sale-on-sainsburys-shelves/

    5. https://wildjustice.org.uk/lead-ammunition/high-lead-levels-in-waitrose-and-harrods-game-meat/

    6. https://wildjustice.org.uk/lead-ammunition/more-high-lead-levels-in-waitrose-game-meat/

    7. https://wildjustice.org.uk/lead-ammunition/ngda-members-selling-game-meat-with-high-lead-levels/

    8. https://wildjustice.org.uk/lead-ammunition/pheasant-breasts-sold-by-lidl-contaminated-with-lead-levels-up-to-85-x-higher-than-legal-limit-set-for-non-game-meat/

    9. https://wildjustice.org.uk/lead-ammunition/lead-levels-in-supermarket-game-meat-latest-results/

    10. https://wildjustice.org.uk/lead-ammunition/are-lead-levels-falling-in-game-meat/

    11. https://wildjustice.org.uk/general/sainsburys-game-meat-and-why-we-tested-its-lead-levels/

    12. https://www.wildmeat.co.uk/

    13. https://www.wildmeat.co.uk/pages/is-lead-shot-game-safe-to-eat

    14. https://eatwild.co/why-eat-wild/

    15. https://aimtosustain.org.uk/management-of-game-assurance-scheme-transferring-from-bga-to-aim-to-sustain/

    16. https://corporate.marksandspencer.com/sites/marksandspencer/files/marks-spencer/agriculture-and-supporting/Our_Approach_to_Animal_Welfare2023_FINAL.pdf

  5. GWCT caught up in unlawful licensing by Defra

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    After being caught up in unlawful licensing by Defra, GWCT seem to shrug.

    Last week we won a legal challenge, after Defra finally conceded that the issuing of some of their 2023 gamebird release licences was unlawful. We were very pleased, particularly as it took us some digging to uncover.

    The process by which these dodgy licences were granted was rather murky and unclear (see cartoon here) – but we know that Therese Coffey was personally involved (she was Secretary of State for Defra at the time). We also know, that she chose to involve other organisations when rejecting Natural England’s recommendations – recommendations given to protect vulnerable bird populations during a catastrophic outbreak of Bird Flu.

    Coffey was keen to take advice from the pro-shooting Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) but didn’t seek advice from expert organisations like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) or the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). The minister who signed most of the licences was Lord Benyon, a land owner who shoots and who has been, when not a minister, a trustee of the very same GWCT.

    Since our win, we’ve already heard from Therese, who apparently wasn’t too happy with Defra (Suffolk MP Coffey attacks DEFRA lawyers after legal cave-in). We’ve now also heard from GWCT, who’ve issued a statement:

    “As one of the UK’s leading wildlife research charities, Defra called on the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) to provide independent advice on gamebird management and releasing in 2023.

    The GWCT has undertaken decades of peer-reviewed research in this field and the advice it gives is based on research evidence and expertise.

    The Trust was pleased to have been consulted by Defra on technical matters relating to gamebird ecology and management as part of the ministerial department’s decision-making process.”

    What does their statement say about being caught up in unlawful licensing by Defra? Not an awful lot except that GWCT seem chuffed to bits to be Defra’s mates and completely unbothered about the unlawful decisions made by their mates which favoured the shooting industry from which GWCT get much of their funding.

    The current chair of GWCT, Sir James Paice, was a Defra minister, alongside Lord Benyon in the early years of the coalition government, Another former Defra minister, Sir Robert Goodwill MP, is also a trustee of the GWCT and is chair of the influential Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee which oversees the work of Defra.

    You might be forgiven for thinking that the shooting industry has had an awful lot of influence on government since 2010. And you might reflect on the lack of progress that Defra has made on regulating intensive grouse shooting, clamping down on illegal killing of raptors, banning toxic lead ammunition and reducing the harmful impacts of massive releases of non-native gamebirds on the environment.

    Where there has been progress on regulating the shooting industry it has often been (eg in general licences and licensing of gamebird releases) through legal challenges mounted by Wild Justice.

  6. Badger consultation period – last minute extension

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    With our friends and colleagues at the Badger Trust we wrote to Defra about their consultation on 22 March – click here – and Defra told us that they would respond by Friday 19 April, ahead of the closing date of the consultation of Monday 22 April. Defra did indeed respond yesterday, our lawyers received a response at 17:07 yesterday.

    Defra has extended the consultation period to 13 May – a three week extension. This is already clear on some parts of the Defra website, for example https://consult.defra.gov.uk/bovine-tb/bovine-tb-consultation-wildlife-cattle/ :

    But not on the page at which you are more likely to arrive if you simply search for the consultation https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/bovine-tb-future-badger-control-policy-and-cattle-measure-proposals :

    Lengthening a flawed consultation is something, but our original concerns with the validity of this consultation remain (and also see our more recent blog – click here). We will be having urgent discussions with our legal team and our friends in the Badger Trust early next week. Watch this space!

  7. The confusing Defra Badger consultation

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    On Friday morning we asked you to spend about 20 minutes reviewing the current Defra Badger cull consultation. We are very grateful to 1082 of you who completed that task: 715 on Friday, 145 on Saturday, 108 on Sunday, 107 on Monday and 7 on Tuesday. Here are the summarised results which we will be making available to Defra later today. Defra has said that it will respond to the letter sent by Wild Justice and the Badger Trust criticising the consultation by Friday so this is further input to their cogitation.

    Question 1 – we asked about your motivation to respond to the consultation.

    Question 2 – we asked whether you were keen on Badgers

    Question 3 – we asked about your views on bovine tuberculosis

    Question 4 – we asked about what factors would be important to you in assessing bovine tuberculosis control measures

    Question 5 – we asked about your overall impression of the consultation

    That’s the easy bit! The responders to the Wild Justice questionnaire were highly motivated to respond to this public consultation, they were keen on Badgers, keen to see a reduction in bovine tuberculosis in wildlife and cattle, thought that there were many aspects of the issue that would influence their views and thought the consultation looked very difficult to engage with.

    Question 6 – the Defra consultation asks (in its question 5, on p17 of the consultation document) whether you agree with the ‘stated objective’ of a targeted badger intervention policy without stating what the stated objective might be:

    We asked our respondents to look through the Defra consultation document and tell us on which page they believe that ‘stated objective’ was stated. 919 of you responded (92 skipped the question)

    The commonest response was ‘Can’t find it’ – 462 respondents (50%)

    Of those who indicated they found the ‘stated objective’ on a single page the breakdown was as follows:

    Page 1………………….2
    Page 4………………….3
    Page 5………………….1
    Page 6………………..23
    Page 7………………..11
    Page 8…………………3
    Page 10………………14
    Page 11………………..5
    Page 12………………51
    Page 13………………82
    Page 14………………..4
    Page 15………………..3
    Page 16………………..2
    Page 17……………….32

    Of those who indicated they found the ‘stated objective’ on multiple but adjacent pages the breakdown was as follows:

    Pages 3, 4, 5 and 6………………..1
    Pages 4 and 5……………………….1
    Pages 6 and 7……………………….1
    Pages 6, 7 and 8……………………1
    Pages 7 and 8……………………….5
    Pages 10, 11 and 12………………1
    Pages 12 and 13………………….17
    Pages 12, 13 and 14………………2
    Pages 12, 13, 14 and more……10
    Pages 13 and 14…………………..3

    An additional 11 respondents identified multiple non-adjacent pages as the location of the stated objective.

    To summarise:
    • half of our respondents could not find the ‘stated objective’ referred to in Defra’s question 5
    • the other half of our respondents identified all but two (pages 2 and 9) preceding pages of the Defra questionnaire as being the location of the ‘stated objective’ i.e. pages 1,3,4,5,6,7,8,10,11,12,13,14,15,16 and 17.
    • Wild Justice would plump for the top of page 13, in fact section 5.7, as being the ‘stated objective’ and if we are generous in including page 12 alongside page 13 as the ‘right’ answer then around 150 of our respondents agree with us – 150 is 16% of those who answered the question. This means that 84% of our respondents either could not find the ‘stated objective’ or thought that it was somewhere other than where we believe it might be.

    This is not a sound basis for Defra to rely on the responses to their question 5.

    Question 7 – we asked our respondents whether, having looked at Defra’s question 5, and looked for the stated objective, how easy would they find it to answer Defra’s question 5, right now.

    Question 8 – we asked our respondents where the issue of costs was addressed. Most responses, to keep it brief, were highly critical and pointed out that the mentions of economic benefit and Value for Money did not state costs, and did not provide analysis of the figures given, nor comparative figures for alternative actions. One respondent stated that they were ‘losing the will to live’ after a quarter of an hour of trying to understand this public consultation paper.

    Question 9 – we asked our respondents where the issue of humane killing was addressed. Most responses, to keep it brief, could not find any mention of it. Some pointed out that there were mentions on pages 19 and 20 of the consultation paper (and a few other scattered mentions) but that these were statements simply stating that the Chief Veterinary Officer regarded the current cull methods as humane (many of our respondents disagreed) or that culling would be humane.

    Summary:

    • The Wild Justice questionnaire did not deal with all unsatisfactory aspects of the Defra consultation paper. We did not ask about factual inaccuracies, misrepresentations or important omissions. We concentrated on whether the Defra consultation was understandable and represented a fair series of questions that could be answered by a motivated member of the public. We concentrated on Defra’s question 5, which we believed was important as it asked whether respondents were in favour of Defra’s plans, against them or needed more information.
    • Defra’s question 5 asks respondents views on the ‘stated objective’ without being clear about the stated objective. The questions was asked on page 17 and our respondents thought that they had found the ‘stated objective’ on a wide selection of the 17 pages of the consultation preceding and including the question, but half of our respondents reported that they could not identify the ‘stated objective’. Our guess is that the stated objective had to be hunted down four full pages preceding the question about it – a horrendous way to structure a consultation.
    • After being invited to think about Defra’s question 5 in our questionnaire, 63% of respondents said they would find it very difficult to answer Defra’s question 5 and another 24% reported that it would be somewhat difficult to answer. Thus almost nine out of 10 of our respondents would find Defra’s question 5, a crucial question one might think, difficult to answer even after being directed to it specifically.
    • By inspection of the free text responses it is clear that this is partly because half of our respondents did not feel that they identified the stated objective, but also because the stated objective in section 5.7 has an element of ‘reducing bovine tuberculosis’ (which most people support) mixed up with increased Badger culling as the mechanism (which many people do not support). How is the public supposed to answer Defra’s question 5 if they want to reduce bovine tuberculosis but do not want badgers to be killed by free shooting OR do not want badgers to be killed OR do not think that badger killing is effective OR want to know the costs OR have a wide variety of other concerns.
    • Wild Justice would not know how to answer Defra’s question 5 ourselves nor would we know how to recommend that others answer it. Defra’s question 5 cannot deliver useful or reliable information.
    • The consultation lacks any meaningful information about other aspects of Badger culling eg cost and humaneness that are important to the decision making of many members of the public.
    • We note that if a respondent doesn’t care much about Badgers and wants more culling, the Defra consultation is relatively easy to complete. This will create a massive bias in the responses gathered.

    Wild Justice thanks over 1000 respondents to our questionnaire.

    Wild Justice will make these findings available to Defra later today.

    PS Thank you for all your message of support and donations following yesterday’s news of our legal victory over Defra over gamebird releases.

    PPS The link to our questionnaire – click here – is open so that people can inspect the questions but we will not be adding any further responses to our analysis.

  8. Defra gamebird licensing found to be unlawful. Wild Justice wins legal challenge

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    Last week, after months of spinning things out, Defra finally conceded that the issuing of licences for gamebird releases in the Deben Estuary and Breckland in 2023 was unlawful. This is what Wild Justice has argued for months and months. Defra is paying Wild Justice’s costs up to the Aarhus threshold of £35,000. Yesterday, the court sealed the consent order, which means we can now begin to tell you more.

    Here is the consent order:

    It was a Wild Justice legal challenge back in 2020 that forced Defra to strengthen protection for wildlife and important habitats from the mass releases of non-native gamebirds for recreational shooting.

    In 2023 we were seeing a huge outbreak in bird flu, and so Defra used this legislation to require landowners to apply for individual licenses if they wanted to release gamebirds in or near certain designated sites. This didn’t please the shooting industry – the UK has one of the least-regulated recreational shooting industries in Europe.

    The process for granting or refusing these licences was particularly murky (see cartoon above) – something we blogged about last year. Through some digging, we managed to find out that licenses for the Deben Estuary and for 27 sites in Breckland were granted despite being protected areas – and we wanted to know why.

    The crucial aspect of this case is that Defra ministers did not follow Natural England’s formal advice on issuing these licences. Instead, Therese Coffey and Richard Benyon adjusted the terms of the licences to weaken the protection that they would give to wild birds and these changes made life easier for shooters.

    Wild Justice challenged the lawfulness of these licences on three grounds. Defra has now conceded on the first ground and admitted that the issuing of these licences was unlawful because the ministers involved could show ‘no cogent reasons’ why Natural England’s advice was not heeded. We interpret Defra’s words on Ground 2 as a concession too. We also believe that had this case gone to court then we would have won on the Ground 3 too – but we’ll never know.

    Let’s be quite clear here – Defra ministers did not adhere to the legal requirements of the Habitats Directive and the advice of their own conservation agency. Not only that; they were unable to give good reasons for why they didn’t.

    Does it matter? Yes, it always matters if politicians act unlawfully. Yes, it matters when the most powerful politicians running government departments act unlawfully. And yes it matters very much if there is any suspicion that ministers are ignoring the law in order to please particular interest groups.

    Wild Justice is pleased to have taken this legal challenge, and very pleased to have won it! This victory helps to remind all public bodies that they are subject to the law, not above the law. When a tiny organisation like Wild Justice (working with brilliant lawyers) faces down a powerful government department this helps to create a landscape of fear in Whitehall, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. Respect for the law is always helped by strong enforcement. This outcome was only possible because of a legal challenge.

    We will reveal some of the documents relating to Defra’s decision-making over the next few weeks.

    Wild Justice said:

    Defra had ‘No cogent reasons’ to disregard Natural England’s expert advice. So to find out that Therese Coffey and Richard Benyon have licensed releases of pheasants and partridges into what are supposed to be some of our most precious places, against that advice – and during a catastrophic outbreak of bird flu – it frankly reeks of both recklessness and arrogance. It seems to us they may have had more regard for the interests of the shooting industry than those of the environment in this matter.

    Natural England has faced legal challenges by Wild Justice in each of the past five years, but in this case we support them and have stood up for them.

    We challenged these decisions because government is bound by the law, just as the rest of us are. We shall expose more about this reprehensible behaviour over the next few weeks..

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  9. Badgers – we write to Defra

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    Statement by Badger Trust and Wild Justice

    We jointly instructed Leigh Day solicitors to send an urgent request to Defra on 22 March 2024 on their recently published consultation to evolve badger control policy and introduce additional cattle measures.

    We feel at the present time there is insufficient evidence about what is proposed and the basis on which it has been brought forward.

    We have asked Defra to respond by 28 March 2024 (it is a very short consultation process) with this missing information to allow sufficient time to respond to any additional information.

    We have also drawn attention to the fact that the Northern Ireland Executive consultation on bTB measures was recently found unlawful for a number of omissions.

    We are awaiting the response from Defra before deciding on further action.

    Our supporters are angry at this further planned assault on a much-loved native species.

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    Our letter to Defra is below.

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  10. Phasing out toxic lead voluntarily STILL isn’t working…

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    In February last year we shared news of a study showing that voluntary phasing out of lead ammunition by the shooting industry isn’t working. Twelve months later, and we can report that not much has changed – phasing out use of lead shot STILL isn’t working.

    Wild Justice has spoken about many times about lead contamination of game meat. Lead is a known toxin, it’s bad for humans and wildlife alike. Its widespread and longstanding use by the shooting sector has contaminated areas of the countryside and has caused the deaths of millions of water birds who ingest it accidentally. It also crops up in food – both for humans in the form of game meat, and even in dog food.

    Other countries in Europe have completely banned the use of lead shot, and there’s been a call for an outright ban in the UK for decades, which has been strongly resisted by shooting organisations and businesses.

    In 2020, nine major UK shooting and rural organisations pledged to completely to phase out lead shot in UK game hunting by 2025. Today, another study from SHOT-SWITCH and scientists at the University of Cambridge has been published in Conservation Evidence Journal . It shows that whilst a small decline in the use of lead shot appears to have happened, a huge amount of work still needs to be done to see the transition complete successfully.

    In late 2023 and early 2024, researchers obtained Pheasant carcases from supermarkets, butchers, farm shops, online retailers and shoots (a number of which Wild Justice helped locate). Of the 340 they managed to get hold of, 93% were found to have been killed using lead ammunition. This has reduced only slightly from 94% of samples tested in 2022-2023. And, if we look at the rate of reduction since the pledge was made, we can see it’s very unlikely to succeed before next year; in 2020-21 and 2021-22 over 99% of pheasants were shot with lead. At this rate of decrease, it’ll take another half a century to phase out the use of lead shot completely.

    In February 2020, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust emphasised how important a move away from lead by the industry is. In a statement announcing the five year voluntary transition, they said:

    “This is a vital step we must make together to safeguard our wildlife and the wider environment.””

    It may have been vital, but now 80% of the way through their transition period, it’s clear it’s not been working. We think it’s about time an outright ban on using lead shot be brought into place.

  11. Good news for hedgerows. You made a difference!

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    Back in the summer we asked you to respond to the Defra hedgerow consultation. We said that it was dull but important and we know that many of you responded to the consultation (see below).

    Defra has now published its response to the consultation – click here – and it amounts to pretty much a reinstatement of what have been the regulations for decades. We will read them several times more to be sure but they look pretty good to us – and we see that others have praised them too. 

    There is a problem though – at the moment those regulations are not in place, they lapsed at the end of 2023 and Defra needs parliamentary time to reinstate them. So hedgerows currently lack legal protection. We shall have to hope that farmers act responsibly and do not harm wildlife just because of Defra ineptitude – this late consultation was sent out in the Therese Coffey period as Secretary of State.

    There are hopeful signs that most farmers will act responsibly because many farmers were in favour of maintaining the protections that have now, albeit temporarily, lapsed.

    But do just keep an eye out for farmland hedgerows being cut between now and the end of August. If you see such management and are able to take a quick photo of what’s happening then we’d love to see them. There are some limited circumstances under which management of hedgerows was legal during the bird nesting season so please do not accuse any farm worker of wrong doing – you might be wrong. If you see farmland hedgerows being cut then please send details, including a photo and geographic location, to admin@wildjustice.org.uk. In our recent questionnaire (more on that probably next week – but thank you to over 4000 respondents) there was a strong request (obviously only from some of you) to be offered tasks that you could do outdoors. Well, this fits that bill. Thank you.

    You could also write to your MP saying that you are glad that eventually these regulations will be reinstated but that you are concerned that they are not in place right now. Ask your MP to ask Defra when the regulations will be reinstated and ask for their support for government to find time to rectify this loss of environmental protection.

    If you read the government response to the consultation responses – click here – you’ll see that both the RSPB and Wild Justice are credited with asking their supporters to respond to the consultation. Of the 8,692 responses received, Defra reckoned that 354 came from the RSPB members and 1939 from Wild Justice supporters. The RSPB has an income of over £100m/annum and a membership of over a million, Wild Justice has an income of less than £250k/annum and a subscriber base of c35,000 to this newsletter. We’ll just let you digest that comparison.

    Every single response you made was counted and influenced the Defra decision – you helped send a strong message to government. We think our supporters are wonderful (and we are sure that your responses to the Lead Ammunition consultation will have been important too).

    One of our aims is to give you more and more opportunities to have your say. We won’t tell you what to say but we will give you suggestions and guidance, which you can take or leave. We are in this together and you will get more support from Wild Justice to make your views known than you will from many other larger wildlife organisations.

    We think you’re great! If you think we’re OK too then please consider making a donation to encourage us through PayPal, bank transfer or a cheque in the post – see details here.

    Thank you! 

  12. Wild Justice partners with League Against Cruel Sports to fund development of new test to detect medicated grit

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    Wild Justice has partnered with the League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) to fund the development of a new laboratory test which can detect the presence of medicated grit (Flubendazole) on grouse moors.

    The new test has been used to analyse grit samples collected by the League from a number of moorland estates across Scotland and has revealed that some grouse-shooting estates are not adhering to the industry’s voluntary ‘best practice’ guidelines, raising questions about the prescription process, the administration of the drug, withdrawal and disposal issues and the potential impact of this drug on both environmental and human health.

    Toxic medicated grit is used by grouse moor managers to tackle parasites in Red Grouse. Photo: Ruth Tingay

    We have published a joint briefing document (see below) and met with officials from the Scottish Government and its statutory nature conservation agency, NatureScot, last week to discuss our concerns.

    Robbie Marsland, Director of League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: “Medicated grit is used by the shooting industry in a bid to treat parasites that reduce the numbers of Red Grouse to be shot for sport. Before we undertook this research, no one knew the extent, concentration or the prescription process behind this chemical which is known to be toxic to people and animals.

    “It turns out that tonnes of medicated grit litter the Scottish landscape at levels of up to 2.5 times the recommended dose. We found the chemical at times when we would have expected it to have been withdrawn under statutory requirements and we found it both in trays with drainage holes or directly strewn on the ground.

    “We have also uncovered the fact that this chemical isn’t even licensed for use on Red Grouse in the UK. It is prescribed using an emergency procedure that is supposed to be used on a case-by-case basis to ‘avoid unacceptable suffering’.

    “With this new information, Ministers in Scotland need to urgently consider the potential dangers of medicated grit to the environment and to humans – especially to human health.

    “An urgent and detailed review needs to be carried out into how such vast amounts of medicated grit are prescribed and used and, in the meantime, the Scottish Government should introduce a moratorium – a suspension – on the use of Flubendazole on grouse moors.”

    Dr Ruth Tingay from Wild Justice said: “Wild Justice was pleased to co-fund the development of a test to detect the presence of the veterinary drug Flubendazole on grit placed out on grouse moors. The use of communal grit trays has already been linked to the rapid spread of a highly contagious disease in Red Grouse (Respiratory Cryptosporidiosis), which leads to serious welfare and conservation concerns, especially the threat of cross-contamination to other red-listed species in the area. To date, the statutory agencies are not adequately monitoring either the use of the drug nor the environmental consequences of its use. The report’s findings also lead to an important ethical question about this dubious widespread drugging regime of wild birds, simply to provide an opportunity for those birds to be shot later by a privileged few”.

    Scottish Government officials told us that the issue over the prescribing of medicated grit is a reserved issue to the Westminster Government. However, they reassured us that the use of medicated grit will be included in the Grouse Moor Management Code of Practice currently being drawn up to accompany the Wildlife Management & Muirburn Bill (we had previously heard that some organisations from the grouse-shooting sector were trying to have it excluded from regulation). If grouse moor managers are found to be in breach of the Code of Practice this could be grounds for having their new grouse shooting licences revoked.

    We have been invited to provide input to the draft Code of Practice on the use of medicated grit. Our recommendations will include the requirement for all medicated grit users to provide a copy of their veterinary prescription to NatureScot; that NatureScot can randomly sample grit from moors to test for the presence of Flubendazole or other anthelmintics (especially during the period when there is a statutory requirement for the drug to be withdrawn to prevent it entering the human food chain via shot Red Grouse) – this testing can now be facilitated by the newly developed laboratory test; that medicated grit should be administered in such a way that it is not allowed to leach in to the environment, and that medicated grit should be disposed of as a toxic substance.

    An exclusive article about our joint project featured in The Herald yesterday, here.

    Our briefing report can be read/downloaded here:

  13. Wild Justice donates a further £5,000 to support forensic investigations into alleged raptor persecution crimes

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    Wild Justice has donated a further £5,000 to the PAW Forensic Working Group (a sub-group of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime) to help support police investigations into alleged crimes against birds of prey.

    You may recall we began this funding initiative in 2020 with an initial budget of £10,000. Those funds were donated by Wild Justice, Northern England Raptor Forum, Tayside & Fife Raptor Study Group, Devon Birds, and a number of individuals who wished to remain anonymous.

    Since then the fund has been used to help secure the conviction of at least four gamekeepers.

    The first one was gamekeeper Hilton Prest who was found guilty in December 2021 of the unlawful use of a trap in Cheshire (see here). The second one was gamekeeper John Orrey who was convicted in January 2022 of beating to death two buzzards he’d caught in a trap in Nottinghamshire (here). The third one was gamekeeper Archie Watson who was convicted in June 2022 of multiple raptor persecution and firearms offences on a pheasant shoot in Wiltshire (see here). The fourth one was gamekeeper Paul Allen who was convicted in January 2023 of carrying out multiple wildlife, poisons and firearms offences on a pheasant shoot in Dorset (here).

    All this work had almost depleted the forensics fund so we’re delighted to have been able to contribute another £5,000. Rare Bird Alert has also recently donated £6,000 so the fund currently stands at approx £11,000 which will enable this important work to continue.

    Dr Lucy Webster, Chair of the PAW Forensic Working Group said:

    The additional funding provided to the Forensic Analysis Fund has demonstrated the benefit of supporting early-stage investigations where no crime has yet been proven. Veterinary examinations at this stage allow crimes against birds of prey to be quickly identified, giving an investigation the best chance of progressing to a prosecution. The PAW Forensic Working Group welcomes these further donations to the Forensic Analysis Fund which will allow this early-investigation support to continue and help tackle bird of prey persecution”.

    The fund is solely administered by the PAW Forensic Working Group and is open to any regional or national statutory agency in the UK, specifically to support forensic testing in raptor crime investigations. For further details please visit the PAW Forensic Working Group website here.

    Wild Justice would like to thank its friends and supporters who have donated to this work.

    Separate to this forensic fund, Wild Justice also recently provided funding of approx. £800 to cover the cost of DNA testing in the case of a Hen Harrier found dead with shotgun injuries on a grouse moor in Northumberland. The DNA results were used by the RSPB to demonstrate a genetic link between the shot Hen Harrier (a breeding male called ‘Dagda’) and his offspring who were at an early nestling stage in a nest on the adjacent RSPB Geltsdale Reserve. It is believed that Dagda was away hunting on the neighbouring grouse moor when he was shot, although so far police have been unable to determine who was responsible. See here for further details of that case.

  14. Wild Justice’s Books for Schools Project

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    The six titles sent to schools in 2023/24 by Wild Justice; Dara McAnulty Diary of a Young Naturalist, Gill Lewis Swan Song, Ollie Olanipekun & Nadeem Perera Flock Together: Outsiders, Chris Packham & Megan McCubbin Back to Nature, Jess French Book of Brilliant Bugs, and Gill Lewis Eagle Warrior.

    In spring 2020, Wild Justice decided to supply schools and libraries with some books, choosing titles relevant to wildlife and conservation. Little did we know how challenging that would be with the pandemic emerging! However, with lots of patience and effort, we persevered. 

    For our first project, we focussed on schools and libraries in areas proximate to driven grouse moors; supplying free copies of Sky Dancer and Eagle Warrior by the wonderful Gill Lewis, and Inglorious Twelfth by our own Mark Avery. In this year we supplied 395 books to 39 libraries and 41 schools.

    The following year we completed this endeavour again; this time opening up further and focussing on community and voluntary libraries (including one on the Isle of Man). We wanted to support these due the strains of the ongoing pandemic on volunteer staff, plus they offer a wider range resource – they’re invaluable places. To compliment, we also selected community and rural schools, for similar reasons. 

    We had such a positive response to the 3 titles in 2020, we chose to offer these again, and in 2021, we supplied 405 books again to 41 schools and 39 libraries.

    For 2023 and 2024 we decided to throw this project open to our newsletter subscribers and see what happened. What a response we received with nearly 400 nominations – outstanding!

    We had to narrow this down a bit, so we selected schools according to a couple of factors. Firstly, schools in England were selected by the highest pupil premium rates – all of which were over 50%. For Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where such data doesn’t exist, schools were instead selected to reflect a broad geographic distribution across each country.

    This time we chose to offer 6 titles:

    • Chris Packham & Megan McCubbin Back to Nature 
    • Ollie Olanipekun & Nadeem Perera Flock Together: Outsiders 
    • Jess French Book of Brilliant Bugs 
    • Dara McAnulty Diary of a Young Naturalist 
    • Gill Lewis Eagle Warrior & Swan Song 

    The 2023/24 project will be completed this month and we’re delighted to share the news that 97 schools across the UK (including a school on the Isle of Man) will receive 2 copies of each title – that’s 1,164 books!

    Map showing distribution of nominated schools selected to receive free copies of wildlife and nature books.

    We remain sincerely grateful to our wonderful supporters, who not only fund this project, but this time have given the opportunity to so many worthy schools and most importantly, young people, access to these titles – thank you!

  15. Nutrient Neutrality – we challenge Defra

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    We’ve started another legal challenge. We recently asked our lawyers to send this Pre Action Protocol (PAP) letter to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. You might remember that last year, the government tried to amend the Habitats Regulations in a way that could have allowed lots of unchecked nitrate and phosphate pollution by housing developments.

    Whilst that was shot down, some new guidance has been issued in January this year. We suspect it might be attempting to achieve the same relaxation of rules by house builders as the proposed amendments last year, but by the back door.

    You can find a press release about this below from our lawyers at Leigh Day. We should get a reply soon, and we’ll keep you updated.

    Wild Justice challenges second bid to relax water pollution rules 

    Wild Justice is challenging a bid by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (SSEFRA) Steve Barclay to change water pollution rules to permit house building in sensitive water catchment areas without enforcing measures to protect them from sewage pollution. 

    Wild Justice says a notice to planning authorities and water companies published 25 January 2024 is an unlawful attempt to use guidance to introduce a change that was defeated in the House of Lords last year when Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove proposed an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURA).  

    The amendment was voted down after the Chair of the Office for Environmental Protection said it would “permit certain environmentally damaging activity to proceed without appropriate assessment”. 

    Now the SSEFRA has published a “Notice of designation of sensitive catchment areas 2024” in accordance with section 96C of the Water Industry Act 1991. The notice requires water companies to upgrade sewage infrastructure to improve pollution control measures for the removal of nitrogen and phosphorus from discharges into sensitive catchment areas by 1 April 2030. Wild Justice welcomes that.  

    However, the notice also says that planning authorities considering proposals for developments should assume that that those pollution control measures will be in place by the deadline of 1 April 2030, even though there is no guarantee that the measures will be in place.  

    Wild Justice says the notice would have the same effect as some of the LURA amendments that were defeated in the Lords. 

    Represented by the environment team at law firm Leigh Day, Wild Justice has sent a pre-action protocol letter to Steve Barclay, signalling the start of the judicial review process, challenging the lawfulness of the notice. The group is challenging the notice on four grounds: 

    Ground 1: unlawfully requiring competent authorities and other local planning authorities to disregard matters which they are required to have regard to in accordance with the Habitats Regulations and planning law generally. A competent authority is required to have regard to any potential adverse impacts which a proposed development may cause to a European site, and is prohibited from granting planning permission for such a development. By requiring authorities to assume that the relevant nutrient pollution standard has been met, the notice would require the authorities to ignore potential impacts to sensitive catchment areas in situations where the relevant pollution standard has not been met. 

    Ground 2: unlawful fettering of discretion: By purporting to prohibit competent authorities from considering that a relevant nutrient pollution standard has not been met, the notice unlawfully fetters authorities’ discretion. 

    Ground 3: ultra vires the statutory power: The notice is made “in accordance with the power in Section 96C” Water Industry Act but the act does not give the Secretary of State power to direct what planning authorities may consider in determining a planning application. Those matters are governed by the Habitats Regulations and planning legislation.   

    Ground 4:  Irrationality: The notice has the perverse effect of lowering the level of environmental legal protection afforded to the nutrient sensitive catchments. In that sense, the notice is self-defeating and therefore irrational.  

    Wild Justice said:  

    “This appears to be a con. Did the new Secretary of State really read this passage which tells regulators to assume the unlikely and unproven will be true? We think Defra is not to be trusted, and quite honestly, we don’t trust them. This is a legal fight that is worth having.” 

    Leigh Day solicitor Ricardo Gama said: 

    “After a huge outcry from environmental groups and a defeat in the House of Lords last year our client thought that the government had quite sensibly given up seeking to remove legal protections for internationally important habitats. The latest notice appears to try to achieve the same thing through the backdoor.”  

    ENDS

  16. Wild Justice’s 2023

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    Here’s a very quick run through some highlights of 2023. It’s been a good year for our legal challenges.

    The changes to the Northern Ireland general licences occurred in January but we started considering and working on our legal challenge from early January 2021. You could actually say that we started working on this from our very first day in the public eye when we challenged the lawfulness of Natural England’s general licences. But the trigger was when one of us sent an email to our lawyers in Leigh Day saying ‘Do you do NI? This looks pretty ropy [with a link to the existing Northern Ireland general licences].’ and received the reply ‘It is definitely possible for us to help with a case in NI, and that licence looks like a real shocker!‘. The reply took 23 minutes to arrive – that’s how on-the-ball Leigh Day are and then things started to happen quickly at our end but slowly at every other stage during the legal process. It took two years to get the result that should have been offered by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland, right from the start. Their general licences were ‘real shockers’ in legal and biological terms. But we got there in the end.

    We had another win in Northern Ireland, on Badger culling. This was a sweet success, with the Northern Ireland Badger Group (who were just brilliant) and we won a judicial review where the process followed by DAERA was judged to be unlawful and they will have to repeat a public consultation in a very different way if they even consider going ahead with a cull. We wonder whether they will as the science has changed in that time.

    The NI Badger case started with an email from us to our lawyers early on a Monday morning and a response, within the hour, in September 2021 and led to our eventual victory in October 2023. These things take a while, and are taking far longer than they used to take, and longer than they should take.

    We sometimes get a bit of moaning from public bodies about how much time, money and effort goes into fighting our cases. We have some but rather little sympathy for this view. They are a lot of work for us too – we’re volunteers! The solution to not spending time on defending legal challenges is not to make dodgy decisions which can be challenged as unlawful. But if you have taken some unlawful decisions then we suggest that giving in quickly is the right thing to do!

    In Wales, the recent announcement (see our newsletter a few days ago) of changes, good changes, to the Welsh general licences shows that our successes there continue to accrue and the proposed changes to releases of gamebirds (disappointingly weak though they are – click here) follow directly from our success in England.

    And the current legal challenge occupying our time is on the licensing of gamebird releases in England this year. We can’t say too much about it other than these three blogs that were written some time back (click here, here and here).

    We are hopeful that our petition on the Woodcock shooting season will bring about changes in shooting seasons for Woodcock and maybe a few other species too. This hasn’t been quick either. Hannah Bourne-Taylor’s Swift brick petition also passed 100,000 signatures and was debated and is languishing in the shallows of government dithering. These are simple government decisions which are easy to take but our current system of government makes few big decisions well and can’t even cope with the small easy decisions.

    Hundreds (we know), but probably thousands (we think) of Wild Justice supporters responded to government consultations on gamebird releases in Wales, hedgerow regulations and lead ammunition control. Wales is moving ahead with restrictions on gamebird releases but we have yet to hear how Defra will move on hedgerows or lead ammunition. What we do know, is that Wild Justice supporters were effusive in their praise for our advice and suggestions on these responses. Consultations of this sort are rarely completely straight forward to complete and we are pleased that a bit of guidance from us has allowed many more members of the public to voice their views on issues that do concern them. We’ll do more of this in the future.

    Wild Justice published our first three reports. A Site for Sore SSSIs analysed data from England and showed that Sites of Scientific Interest in England are in worse condition than the official figures show and the data are very out of date anyway (click here) – the protected area system is in a terrible state of disrepair. Meddling on the Moors looked at Hen Harriers in England and particularly took a critical look at the controversial brood-meddling scheme licensed by Natural England to suit grouse moor managers (click here) – we think it’s a rotten ‘trial’ where the evidence is clear that it has failed. Ban or License? presented the results of a poll of over 7000 respondents and showed that these respondents (who may not have been a representative sample but were a large sample) favoured banning of driven grouse shooting over licensing – click here. Strikingly, this was firmly true of RSPB members despite the RSPB’s corporate support for licensing.

    We carried on our data collection on glyphosate levels in your urine and lead levels in game meat, our funding helped secure quicker results in forensic analysis of wildlife crimes, we had a couple of boat trips in Poole Harbour and we helped fund legal challenges on river pollution, tree protection, underwater developments in Northern Ireland and Open Seas‘s successful legal challenge of the Scottish government’s licensing of scallop dredging – click here.

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    That’s a quick summary of 2023 – bring on 2024, we say!

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    All of these things, and many more, have been reported in our newsletters through the year. Our newsletter is our favoured means of keeping you in touch with our thoughts and work. It’s free – subscribe here.

    And all this work is funded by donations from the public – if you feel you can support our future work then you can donate via PayPal, cheques or by bank transfer – click here for details.

  17. We wish you a…

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    Merry Christmas, from the small team of us here at Wild Justice! May your break bring you rest and peace, and perhaps even a Christmas Woodcock!

  18. Low convictions allowing wildlife crime to go unpunished, say nature groups

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    Wildlife & Countryside LINK’s Wildlife Crime Group (of which Wild Justice is a member) has published its latest report on wildlife crime that took place across England and Wales in 2022.

    Here is the WCL press release:

    Low convictions allowing wildlife crime to go unpunished, say nature groups

    Some of the country’s leading nature voices are today releasing analysis showing that our cherished wildlife is being failed in the courts, with people who commit crimes (including persecution of birds of prey, badgers and bats) rarely being convicted. Such a lack of convictions removes a key deterrent for would-be criminals and makes it more likely for people to become repeat offenders. Wildlife crime can also be linked to other serious crimes like firearms offences and organised crime.

    The Wildlife Crime Report for 2022, compiled by Wildlife and Countryside Link, with information from groups including RSPB, WWF UK, and the League Against Cruel Sports, has shown that convictions for crime against wildlife in 2022 decreased substantially. This is despite a record number of reports of wildlife crime over 2021. Other wildlife crimes include the disturbance of seals and dolphins, and the illegal trade of wildlife across international boundaries.

    In 2022, Link estimates that there were around 4,457 reported wildlife crime incidents in England and Wales, compared to 4,885 in 2021 (a record level sustained from a surge in incidents in 2020 during the pandemic). Despite record levels of wildlife crime in 2021, there was a notable 42% fall in subsequent convictions for wildlife crime, from 900 in 2021 to 526 in 2022.

    Dominic Dyer, Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Wildlife Crime Chair, said: “To put it simply, people who hurt wildlife are getting away with it, with a lack of convictions leaving them free to cause further suffering. Despite shockingly high levels of wildlife crime in recent years we’re not seeing higher levels of convictions to give nature the justice it deserves.

    “With the Government’s deadline to halt the decline of nature by 2030 getting ever closer, it’s time for ministers to take the issue of wildlife crime seriously. This means the Home Office making it a notifiable offence to help police forces identify crime hotspots and plan accordingly.”

    Despite a slight fall in the overall number of reports of wildlife crime, the report shows that reports of disturbances on marine mammals (including seals and dolphins) rose from 450 in 2021 to 508 in 2022. This is likely due to the rise in the number of people participating in outdoor activities on or near the coast including walking, paddle boarding, kayaking and jet skiing, as well as wildlife tours and wild swimming. Marine experts and water sports governing bodies are working to educate the public on how to enjoy our beaches and ocean without putting the welfare of marine wildlife at risk.

    Sue Sayer MBE of Seal Research Trust, said: “More people enjoying our ocean is great news for health and wellbeing, but we must be more mindful of how this can impact marine wildlife including seals. If a seal gets scared by people getting too close it will use huge amounts of energy to scamper away and could also risk serious injury when getting back into the water. Fortunately, it’s very easy to enjoy our beaches and ocean without putting seals at risk of harm. Just follow the Defra Marine and Coastal Wildlife Code, Give Seals Space (100m+), and slowly move further away from seals if they start to look at you.”

    Bat crime figures for 2022 increased by 23% compared to 2021. A survey issued by the National Wildlife Crime Unit to the 43 police forces across England and Wales (19 responded meaning these numbers are likely far less than the true extent of crime), coupled with reports to Bat Conservation Trust revealed 164 cases of bat crime. The most common form of bat crime is disturbance or destruction of roosts, often due to property development. The report points to a case in Monmouthshire of a developer being fined more than £7,000 after renovating an old school building where bats were known to be present.

    Kit Stoner, chief executive of Bat Conservation Trust, said: “Bats are long lived, roost faithful, and slow to recover from population losses. Unfortunately, many species of bat in the UK are under threat from loss of roosting sites. With the most common form of bat crime being disturbance or destruction of roosts, it is vital that we maintain and enforce protections. Without this action, we will not meet targets to halt the decline of species.”

    Due to a lack of official data, these figures on crime (most of the data relies on direct reports from members of the public to nature groups) are likely to be a significant under-estimate of wildlife offences. Wildlife and Countryside Link is therefore calling on the Home Office to make wildlife crime notifiable, to help target resources and action to deal with hotspots of criminality.

    To properly tackle the issue of wildlife crime, nature experts are calling for the following actions (most of which were also recommended by a UN report in 2021):

    • Making wildlife crimes notifiable to the Home Office, so such crimes are officially recorded in national statistics. This would better enable police forces to gauge the true extent of wildlife crime and to plan strategically to address it.
    • Increasing resources & training for wildlife crime teams in police forces. Significant investment in expanding wildlife and rural crime teams across police forces in England & Wales, would enable further investigations, and lead to further successful prosecutions. Funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit should be increased in line with inflation, to allow the Unit to continue its excellent work.
    • Reforming wildlife crime legislation. Wildlife crime legislation in the UK is antiquated and disparate. A 2015 Law Commission report concluded these laws are ‘‘overly complicated, frequently contradictory and unduly prescriptive’’. Much of this stems from the need to prove ‘intention and recklessness’, which has stunted the potential for prosecution in even clear cases of harm being done to protected and endangered species.

    ENDS

    The report can be read/downloaded here.

  19. Please respond to a public consultation on lead ammunition

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    Today we are asking you, please, to respond to a consultation by the Health and Safety Executive on the use of lead ammunition. This is an issue on which Wild Justice has been very active.

    Below we have set out some background information on the issue, as well as some guidance on how you might want to fill out the consultation, step by step.

    Background.

    We believe that restrictions on the use of lead shot and lead bullets for shooting live quarry are long overdue. Lead is a poison and shooting it into the environment or into creatures that may enter the human food chain or be eaten by other wild animals is senseless. This consultation is important and it feels like getting change is possible. Honestly, it won’t take you very long to make your views known and the more people who respond, the better. 

    Many of the respondents will be shooters who have been briefed by the shooting industry. This is an industry which has been dragging its feet on this matter for years and years and years.  Some shooters will respond in wildlife-friendly ways but this is your opportunity to speak up for wildlife (and for human health). The consultation applies to Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) but if you live in Northern Ireland or elsewhere there is no bar to you responding and there may well be implications of the decisions that apply to you.

    The consultation has two attached papers – we’ve read them. They are both very long (100+ pages each), quite technical and would take you hours and hours to read properly. But filling in a public consultation is not an exam test and you’ll be able to answer the few questions without wading through all of the two papers although you may find them interesting and informative.

    However, if you want more information then here are some comprehensible sources of information on the topic, we include them to show that we know our stuff on this subject and we regard it as important:

    • Webpage of the Lead Ammunition Groupclick here – which contains much information including their 2015 report (after five years of expert work), correspondence, updates and various other information
    • Recent blog by John Swift, chair of LAG, calling for restrictions on use of lead shot and lead bullets for shooting live animalsclick here – these are exactly the same measures that Wild Justice supports. It is striking that John is a former Chief Exec of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and has been an active shooter.
    • Oxford Lead Symposium – a 2015 compendium of accessible research papers on the impacts of lead ammunition on people, wildlife and the environment generally – click here.
    • Wild Justice website has a variety of blog posts on tests of lead levels in supermarket game meat – click here for information on lead in dog food, lead in supermarket game meat and more.
    • An RSPB blog post by one of us 13 years ago which describes the RSPB trialing copper bullets for deer control and deciding to make that change permanent – click here
    • A letter from RSPB and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (2022) calling for an all-out removal of lead for shotgun pellets – click here.
    • A blog post by the RSPB which calls for the end to the use of lead ammunition (shot and bullets) from 2022 – click here.
    • The Food Standards Agency advice on not eating game meat shot with lead – click here
    • NHS advice on not eating game meat shot with lead
    • if pregnant, trying to get pregnant or for young children – click here

    The consultation closes at midnight on Sunday 10 December so you have 6 days including today, and including the weekend, to respond. Here is the link to the consultation:

    LINK TO THE CONSULTATION

    We think that this is a very poorly worded and dense consultation. This is ‘the’ public consultation by a government agency on a matter of considerable public interest and yet the questions are off-putting and assume quite a lot of technical knowledge. It does look quite scary but please don’t be put off.  There aren’t many questions, you can skip lots of them and so with some explanation from us we think you can make a difference by expressing your views within a few minutes. Note that you don’t have to finish the answers all in one go, you can do a bit and then click the option for ‘save and come back later’ at any time and do just that. 

    The good thing is that the draft Agency Opinion (ie what they propose to do) is heading in absolutely the right direction on lead shot but needs a bit of a kick up the backside as far as lead bullets are concerned.

    Filling out the consultation:

    Below, we refer to the 7 pages of the consultation (which contain 20 questions), although the pages aren’t numbered, because we think it will help you navigate the document.

    OK, let’s get started.

    Page 1:
    There are 12 questions about you (eg what’s your name?) so they are relatively easy and because you are responding as an individual, not an organisation, you can skip a few of the questions anyway. That’s the first page done and only eight questions left.

    Page 2:

    This has one question about transition periods – otherwise known as delays.
    Should the shooting industry be given three years or five before the use of lead shot for shooting live animals is banned?

    We say, three years, and you may feel the same. Our reasons are that lead ammunition is already banned for use over wetlands and/or for shooting a list of waterbirds (details differ across the UK nations) and therefore many shooters have already had many years to transition. Despite being illegal for over 20 years, compliance with the lead shot ban in this form of shooting has been very poor, and so bringing in a short transition for the new measures will not only bring in new protection it will help to enforce the existing laws which have been flouted by shooters for decades.

    OK, so you have now answered 13 out of 21 questions.

    The next page, Page 3, is about ‘Humane Dispatch’ where we guess you won’t have any special knowledge so that you can almost certainly tick ‘no’ (14th question) and move on to Page 4 and a question (the 15th question) about monetising raptor deaths.

    Page 4:

    This page’s question is a stinker: ‘Monetised benefits associated with restricting lead bullets for live quarry shooting: Do you have information regarding the monetary benefits associated with reducing the risk of secondary poisoning of raptors from the use of lead bullets e.g., from WTP-based evaluations or similar?’

    Your reaction may be ‘Wtf is WTP?’ but this extremely poorly posed question is about how much you care that birds of prey may ingest lead from the carcasses of injured animals that they kill or dead animals that they scavenge. You can answer that, so tick ‘Yes’ and then say why you care about birds of prey such as Golden Eagles, Red Kites and Buzzards that may be poisoned by ingestion of lead ammunition (and that you care about other carrion-eating birds and mammals).

    You might want to say that nobody has ever asked you about your willingness to pay (WTP) to see poisoning of birds of prey from lead ammunition addressed but that if they had you would be willing to pay and you are sure that large numbers of wildlife lovers would do so too. However, you might want to point out that protecting threatened birds of prey is a responsibility of government and that you are already paying your taxes so that government, and bodies such as the HSE, do that job properly.

    You might want to point out that taking the time to answer this badly-phrased question on this consultation is a proxy for willingness to pay. You could also say that since non-toxic alternatives to lead ammunition are readily available then this is very simply a question of sensible regulation where a less harmful ammunition is readily available. You might want to say that you care very much about rare birds of prey such as Golden Eagles and you don’t want them to suffer or be harmed by unnecessary contamination of their food by a poison.

    You may want to end by saying that there are so many reasons why removing lead bullets from use on live ‘quarry’ is a good idea that your view is that they overwhelmingly outscore a small inconvenience to shooters and that you want restrictions on using lead bullets to be as strong as those in the draft Agency Opinion for lead shot.

    Page 5:

    Let’s move on to Page 5 where there are two questions (questions 16 and 17) about ‘Use of different bullet types for live quarry shooting and target shooting’. If you know anything about these issues then do answer the questions but we are confident that the vast majority of you can tick ‘no’ to both and move on.

    That just leaves three questions and the good news is, on Page 6

    … we doubt whether many of you can or want to answer the two questions on ‘Rifles and Zeroing’ so that’s 19 of the 20 questions done. Which takes us very quickly on to Page 7.

    Page 7:

    This page is for General Comments and we would encourage you to go to town here.

    You may want to start your general comments with these three points:

    • I support the draft Agency Opinion that restrictions on sale and use of lead shot for shooting live animals should be brought in as a matter of urgency.
    • I support those restrictions being brought in after a transition period which is less than five years; I would favour three years rather than five (see my response to that question above) but I would urge an even quicker transition because this simple and necessary measure has been delayed overlong.
    • For the sake of clarity, since this question has not specifically been asked in this consultation, I support similar urgent restrictions being brought in for the use of lead bullets for shooting live animals

    Then make some or all of these comments in your own words:

    This is your first opportunity as a member of the public to comment and so there are issues not addressed by the consultation questions that you want to make.

    • Lead is a poison and it is crazy to shoot a poison into wild animals destined for the human food chain. There is no mandatory labelling of game meat as containing lead (if it does) which is a poison so the only safe way for game consumers to avoid eating lead is if lead ammunition is removed from use. The FSA and NHS both draw attention to the human health aspects of lead ingestion. These concerns apply to game shot with shotgun pellets (eg Red Grouse, Pheasants, partridges and duck) but also to many species of deer shot with bullets and sold as venison.
    • Environmental contamination and secondary poisoning of scavenging and predatory birds and mammals is an issue that needs addressing so restrictions should apply to lead bullets as well as lead shot.
    • Strong, quick regulation is needed because existing regulations on shooting of waterfowl are flouted by shooters.
    • The 2015 report of the Lead Ammunition Group recommended that such restrictions should be brought in and it is outrageous that UK governments are still consulting and delaying on this very simple issue.
    • Other jurisdictions in Europe and North America have brought in similar restrictions – the UK would not be going out on a limb but would simply be following what is clearly going to become the norm.
    • Removal of lead from petrol, water pipes, paints has been achieved years ago and removing lead ammunition from use is simply one more step based on lead’s known harmful impact on people and wildlife.

    It is up to you how you respond but please do respond. We’re sorry that the consultation is so badly worded and framed but this is an important opportunity, your only opportunity, to make your views known. Please do have a go – thank you!

    Wild Justice will respond as an organisation but we are asking you to accept the invitation from the HSE to respond to this consultation as an individual. Perhaps you know others who also might want to respond to it – feel free to bring this information to their attention.

    CLICK HERE TO FILL OUT THE CONSULTATION

    In this case, we would like to hear from you if you respond to this consultation. Please drop us an email (admin@wildjustice.org.uk) and tell us if you responded and any comments you have on the consultation and/or on the advice contained in this blog.

  20. NRW advises Welsh Government to regulate gamebird releases

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    Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has announced it has provided advice to the Welsh Government to regulate the release of significant numbers of non-native gamebirds for shooting. This regulation is required to help NRW monitor and evaluate the potential environmental impacts of such releases on native flora and fauna as well as on protected sites. NRW’s proposals followed increased regulations introduced for gamebird releases in England after Wild Justice action.

    Seven week old pheasant chicks, often known as poults, after just being released into a gamekeepers release pen on an English shooting estate

    NRW first announced its proposed measures to add Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge to part 1 of Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 earlier this year. Part 1 of Schedule 9 lists non-native species that are already established in the wild, but which may pose a conservation threat to native biodiversity and habitats. This would mean that any release of those species in Wales would need to be carried out under a licence issued by NRW.

    NRW then held a public consultation over the summer and has now reviewed those consultation responses and has reiterated its advice to Ministers that these two species should be added to Schedule 9 so that any releases should then be licensed, either by a General Licence or by an individual licence when releases are on or close to protected sites.

    If Ministers accept NRW’s advice, the new regulations are expected to be in place for the 2025/26 shooting season.

    Here is a copy of NRW’s advice to the Welsh Government, published yesterday (8 November 2023):

  21. Chris Packham wins libel action against Fieldsports Channel Ltd and journalist Andrew (Ben) O’Rourke

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    Press release from Leigh Day (6 November 2023)

    Chris Packham settles defamation claim with Fieldsports Channel after it admits death threat claims were untrue.

    Environmental campaigner and naturalist Chris Packham CBE has settled a defamation claim against the website Fieldsports Channel after it falsely accused him of writing a fake death threat letter to himself.

    The online shooting and hunting channel has agreed to pay Mr Packham substantial damages and contribute to his legal costs as well as provide an undertaking never to repeat the allegation.

    In June 2022, Fieldsports Channel and one of its journalists, Ben O’Rourke, published an online video and article alleging the TV presenter had written a fake death threat letter to himself and lied about it being sent by an anonymous third party. The serious allegation was not put to Mr Packham directly to offer him right of reply.

    In bringing the claim against Fieldsports Channel Ltd and Mr O’Rourke, Mr Packham’s lawyers argued the allegations were plainly baseless and had caused him enormous reputational damage and distress. They pointed out that the only possible basis for the allegation was handwriting analysis of the letter which has since been comprehensively discredited.

    Of particular concern to Mr Packham was the implication he had lied to his family about the death threat, knowing it would cause them considerable anxiety. Also, that he had lied to, and knowingly wasted the time of, Hampshire Police, who investigated the letter and on whom he relies for his and his family’s safety. 

    Mr Packham’s distress was later compounded by Fieldsports Channel’s derisive response to his claim, in particular mounting caricatures of his head on a “trophy wall” at the British Shooting Show in February 2023. Mr Packham has been the victim of arson attacks and has received numerous death threats, and he considers its actions to have been utterly reckless and irresponsible in that context.

    As well as paying Mr Packham substantial damages and contributing to his legal costs, Fieldsports channel and Mr O’Rourke have agreed never to repeat the allegation and will publish a legal statement, which is also to be read in the High Court on 6 November 2023, explaining the matter on its platforms.

    Mr Packham was represented by Mr Jonathan Price and Ms Claire Overman of Doughty Street Chambers, who are instructed by partner Tessa Gregory and solicitor Carol Day of law firm Leigh Day.

    Chris Packham said:



    Fieldsports TV displayed a complete contempt of even the basic codes of real journalism. They allowed a vicious vendetta to drive a targeted catalogue of lies in an attempt to destroy my credibility, integrity and reputation. Further, even when involved in this litigation they recklessly posted images of myself contrived to fuel hatred amongst fire-arms owners when they knew I was already the victim of targeted attacks from members of this community. They also failed to show any respect for the legal process. As a consequence, Fieldsports TV have now issued a full apology and agreed to pay substantial costs and damages. My message is clear – if anyone publishes or perpetuates lies about me or my conduct I will challenge them and I will win.

    Carol Day, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day said:

    Our client Mr Packham was the subject of an egregious slur against his reputation based on the flimsiest of evidence that failed to stand up to even the most basic form of scrutiny. To be accused of writing a fake death threat to himself, with all the consequences that brings for his family and the authorities, was a highly damaging attack on Mr Packham’s integrity. The fact he was then mocked publicly for objecting to these defamatory remarks shows how little regard the defendants had for the reputation of others. Our client can only hope that lessons have been learned from this sorry episode and it brings an end to these gratuitous attacks on Mr Packham’s character by people who simply disagree with his views.”

    ENDS

  22. Wild Justice wins judicial review as Northern Ireland badger cull ruled unlawful

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    Press release from Leigh Day (25 October 2023)

    Northern Ireland badger cull by shooting ruled unlawful in High Court

    A decision to allow a cull of badgers in Northern Ireland by shooting has been ruled unlawful in the High Court.

    In a judgment handed down in Belfast this morning, Wednesday 25 October 2023, it was ruled that the 2021 consultation into the decision to allow the cull of up to 4,000 badgers a year was so fundamentally flawed as to be unlawful. Therefore, the resulting decision to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) by allowing farmer-led groups to shoot free-roaming badgers with rifles was also unlawful and the policy has been quashed.

    Now the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) will have to rethink the policy following the former Minister’s decision in March 2022 to allow farmers to use rifles to kill badgers to tackle bTB. It will have to hold a new consultation on its options for tackling bTB.

    Photo by Chris Packham

    The legal challenge to DAERA was brought by Wild Justice and Northern Ireland Badger Group (NIBG) who are represented by the environment team at law firm Leigh Day. Additional witness evidence was provided by the Born Free Foundation.

    The Judge, Mr Justice Scoffield, agreed with Wild Justice and NIBG that the consultation did not meet the requirements for a lawful consultation.

    He said DAERA failed to comply with the requirements of a fair and lawful consultation by failing to provide consultees with sufficient information about the basis for its proposed decision to permit them to engage meaningfully with the Department’s thinking.

    He said the Minister ought to have been advised, but was not, of why those who responded to the consultation believed a cull by shooting was an inhumane option which would give rise to unnecessary suffering.

    The 2021 consultation document repeatedly referred to a “business case” as being the basis for DAERA’s recommendations and decisions. DAERA singled out Option 8 – the culling by shooting of free-roaming badgers by farmer-led companies – as its preferred option and asked consultees if they agreed. But without the business case, Wild Justice and NIBG say it could not understand how that option had been chosen or properly respond to Option 8.

    Wild Justice and NIBG argued that because they didn’t have the business case, they couldn’t meaningfully engage with the consultation process and as such the process and the resulting decision were ineffective and unlawful.

    They also argued that the Minister failed to properly consider the responses they were able to make. For example, their views on the humaneness of the options available does not appear to have been factored into the decision-making process. The possibility that informed consultation responses could have affected the outcome is clear because when the options were scored, the most humane option (Test, Vaccinate and Remove (TVR) scored only 10 per cent lower than the least humane option chosen (a non-selective cull)).

    The judge said consultees were entitled to further information about the analysis behind the Department’s preference for Option 8 including the non-monetary criteria used and how the options were ranked on both cost and risk, with some indication given of why the options were so ranked.

    He added that the consultation document effectively skated over DAERA’s reasoning on the scientific issues in a way which did not permit meaningful engagement from expert consultees.

    Wild Justice said:

    We are obviously thrilled that DAERA’s policy to allow a non-selective cull of badgers by farmer-led groups has been quashed and that our legal arguments have been upheld with such convincing authority by Mr Justice Scoffield. We are mindful that DAERA may try again to implement a similar policy and we stand ready to challenge any proposal that fails to comply with due consideration of not just public law, but also of the scientific evidence and welfare aspects associated with such action. We are grateful to our partners at the Northern Ireland Badger Group and the Born Free Foundation for their expertise, to our brilliant legal team at Leigh Day, Matrix Chambers and Phoenix Law for their dedication, and especially to our supporters whose generous response to our crowd funder enabled us to take this case”.

    Mike Rendle of NIBG said:

    Today’s judgement has vindicated our very grave concerns about the way the bovine TB strategy consultation was conducted and the decision to implement a farmer-led cull which would inflict immense suffering on great numbers of healthy badgers. The scientific evidence clearly shows that cattle, not badgers, are driving bovine TB in Northern Ireland. Badger culling is not only cruel and ineffective, it is a costly distraction that has no benefit for cattle, farmers or badgers.”

    Dr Mark Jones of the Born Free Foundation said:

    Born Free is delighted that Northern Ireland’s High Court of Justice has upheld the Wild Justice and the Northern Ireland Badger Groups challenge to DAERA’s proposals to introduce mass badger culling in Northern Ireland. DAERA’s refusal to disclose the full details of its Business Case during the consultation process on its policy made it impossible for consultees to scrutinise the financial and other arguments it had in mind. The introduction of an England-style badger cull in Northern Ireland, when the latest peer-reviewed science from England clearly demonstrates the failure of this approach to reduce bovine TB in cattle, has no basis in evidence, and would result in the unnecessary and inhumane killing of thousands of perfectly healthy badgers. DAERA should now permanently abandon any such plans and focus instead on the cattle-based measures required to bring bovine TB, which has such devastating impacts for farmers and their cattle, under control.”

    Wild Justice and NIBG are represented by Carol Day and Ricardo Gama at Leigh Day, with Phoenix Law as agents in Northern Ireland.

    Leigh Day environmental law specialist, solicitor Carol Day said:

    Our clients are delighted that the Judge has held this consultation to be so unfair as to have been unlawful. The failure to provide consultees with the Business Case, which formed the basis for the Minister’s decision to proceed with the controlled shooting of free-roaming badgers, prevented them from engaging meaningfully in the process. The judge also held that the Minister failed to conscientiously consider key points made when making his decision, such as the relative “humaneness” of the various options for addressing bovine TB, on which our clients made specific submissions.”

    Counsel instructed were David Wolfe KC and Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh KC, both of Matrix Chambers.

    ENDS

    The full judgement can be read/downloaded here:

  23. Gamebird releases in Norfolk and Suffolk – can you help?

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    Good morning!

    On Monday we told you what we have heard about the process of assessing licences for gamebird releases by Defra (see our blog – click here). Yesterday, Tuesday, we looked at one area of coastal Suffolk, the Deben Estuary Special Protection Area, where Natural England recommended that no licence for gamebird releases be issued and yet we believe that advice may have been overturned by Defra ministers, perhaps by the Secretary of State herself, Therese Coffey, who also happens to be the local MP (see our blog – click here) . 

    Today we tell you more of what we’ve learned from information requests to Natural England. We asked for the documentation of the decisions on licence applications for a variety of sites. Let us tell you about the Breckland, a Special Protection Area in Norfolk and Suffolk, see https://magic.defra.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx.

    Breckland Special Protected Area

    If you travel from Cambridge to Norwich, or King’s Lynn to Bury St Edmunds, you’ll pass through the Breckland, an area of sandy soils with conifer plantations, arable crops and some remaining areas of heathland. The British Trust for Ornithology’s HQ in Thetford is particularly well situated to explore this wildlife-rich area. It’s a large SPA (and SAC and SSSI) designated because of its wildlife importance and as far as the birds are concerned, three main species, Woodlark, Nightjar and Stone Curlew (see here).

    There are many landowners in this large area but some stand out as being particularly interesting with the Elveden Estate of the fourth Earl of Iveagh and the van Cutsem Estate at Hilborough being particularly notable.

    The gist of Natural England’s formal advice to Defra was that licences could be granted for gamebird releases but, because Stone Curlews are late nesters, gamebird releases should be delayed until 1 September in some cases and 1 October in others in order to protect the species for which the SPA exists from the dangers of avian flu carried by released gamebirds.

    We can just imagine how this would have gone down with a bunch of large shooting estates. Remember the shooting season for Red-legged Partridges opens on 1 September and for Pheasants a month later. Natural England advised that gamebird releases should be delayed by a matter of around 6-10 weeks which would have implications for the length and scale of the shooting season.

    This seems sensible to us, although an outright ban for a few years would be even more sensible.

    We believe, though we do not know for sure, that this is an example of a licence which was granted by Defra lacking the conditions (relating to date of release) recommended by Natural England.

    Can you help, please? We will get to the bottom of this through information requests but it may take some time. If you have information that would help, then please do get in touch. Thank you to all those who have contacted us so far.

    By the way, do you realise who are the two local MPs? They are both rather well known, perhaps even notorious; in the south of the area it is Matt Hancock and in the north it is Therese Coffey’s best friend – Liz Truss.

    If you can add information to this story then please contact Wild Justice and we will respect your anonymity.

    We were expecting a response from Defra this week on one of our information requests but heard yesterday that they won’t respond until early November.  It’s almost as though they feel they must hide and cover up what they’ve done, isn’t it? We’ll review where we are with our legal team in a few days. If we find evidence of unlawful decision making then we will consider taking legal action even though the process works so slowly the chances are that there might be a different government in place by the time these matters could be resolved by the courts.

  24. Gamebird releases in Suffolk – can you help?

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    Good morning!

    Yesterday we told you what we have heard about the process of assessing licences for gamebird releases by Defra (see our blog which reproduces yesterday’s newsletter – click here). 

    Today we tell you some of what we have discovered from information requests to Natural England. We asked for the documentation of the decisions on licence applications for a variety of sites. Let us tell you about the Deben Estuary, a Special Protection Area in Suffolk important for wading birds, see https://magic.defra.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx.

    The SPA runs from Woodbridge to the sea at Woodbridge Haven and in autumn and winter holds important numbers of waterfowl, especially waders and geese (see here).

    Natural England’s advice was clear – no licence should be granted  for gamebird releases here:

    Specifically the advice states ‘In line with the strict protection afforded to European Sites, Natural England recommends that this licence is refused’.  

    We believe, though we do not know for sure, that this is an example of a licence which was granted against Natural England advice.

    Can you help, please? We will get to the bottom of this through information requests but it may take some time. If you have information that would help then please do get in touch.

    If you live locally to this site and know of any Pheasant or Red-legged Partridge releases, this season, in or very close to the SPA as shown on the map above, then please let us know. Is there gamebird shooting occurring on this site this year?

    We don’t know, but we intend to get to the bottom of this.

    By the way, do you realise who is the MP for the Deben Estuary? It’s Therese Coffey – the Secretary of State at Defra. Let’s hope that she didn’t play a part in this decision because there is a clear potential conflict of interest. We wonder who was the applicant for the licence? Do you know?

    If you can add information to this story then please contact Wild Justice and we will respect your anonymity.

    If you’ve just found us and like what we’re doing then it would be remiss of us not to inform you that it’s possible to donate to Wild Justice, now or in the future, through PayPal, bank transfer or a cheque in the post – see details here. Thank you for all your donations. You are our source of funding.

    Thank you! We’ll be back tomorrow.

  25. Blow that whistle!

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    Let us tell you a story – some of it is known, some of it is surmise based on anonymous information, apparently from several sources (but we can’t be sure – it’s anonymous!) received by Wild Justice. We’re asking that the people who know what is happening become whistleblowers and contact us to reveal more.

    It’s a story about gamebird releases.

    Introduction

    Thanks to a legal challenge by Wild Justice in October 2020 – see here – Defra was forced to introduce new regulations on gamebird releases near sites of high nature conservation importance because of the impacts of large numbers of non-native Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants on native species and sensitive habitats. This was a significant change to the level of regulation of gamebird shooting in England (Wales is considering action too – see here).

    Last year, many organisations, including Wild Justice, called on Defra to limit gamebird releases because of the prevalence of avian flu. Defra didn’t act then but calls continued – see here. This spring, rather late in the day, Defra sensibly introduced more restrictions on gamebird releases and such releases inside or close to Special Protection Areas (SPAs) had to be individually licensed.

    The licensing system – what we know

    Licences had to be sought for releases of non-native gamebirds in and near SPAs. The licence applications were made to Natural England who provided Defra their expert advice on whether individual licence applications should be approved. Defra is the licensing body, and Defra ministers are ultimately responsible – but they must seek Natural England’s advice as their nature conservation advisor.

    The licensing system – what we are told

    Wild Justice has been told, by anonymous sources, but apparently several of them, that the process of deciding on the issuing of licences looks more like this;

    Image of T. Coffey Licenced under CC BY 3.0 DEED

    First, we are told, there is a secret mystery committee involving other ‘experts’. Can this be true? If it is, then who are its members? We would surmise that it contains members of the shooting industry and nobody from the likes of RSPB or BTO. 

    Second, we are told, that Natural England’s advice is sometimes countermanded by the secret mystery committee. The committee decides in favour of more licences being approved against Natural England’s advice, and then passes them on to Defra ministers including the Secretary of State, Therese Coffey, herself.

    Third, we are told, that further applications are approved and/or the conditions of the licences are weakened by ministerial decision.  It is a matter of considerable public interest if ministers are going against the formal advice of their expert advisors. It is of even more public interest if the ministerial decisions are arbitrary or not based on the facts presented in the licences. 

    Wild Justice has tried to get to grips with this process through the process of Environmental Information Requests. Natural England were supposed to get back to us on Thursday after asking for an extension of the normal response time to 40 days (we started asking on 9 August). We heard nothing from Natural England on Thursday, chased them on Friday and then received a response which we will tell you about tomorrow. Defra simply refused to answer our questions claiming that they were too onerous.

    This is speculation about what is happening

    We can’t be sure what’s happening – but that’s because we have asked and Defra hasn’t come clean. Would that make you more relaxed or more suspicious about events? It has made us pretty suspicious.

    We know that shooting interests have threatened legal action over the licensing scheme – maybe a deal has been done so that the licensing system is as weak as possible, through ministerial intervention, to keep the shooting industry happy?

    What if other politicians (there’s quite a lot of gamebird shooting in Rishi Sunak’s Richmond constituency for example) have put pressure on Defra to fix this for their constituents?

    We don’t know, but we intend to get to the bottom of this.

    If you can add information to this story then please contact Wild Justice and we will respect your anonymity.

  26. Regulating gamebird releases in Wales – an update

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    Earlier this year, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) opened a public consultation about its proposed measures to regulate the release of significant numbers of non-native gamebirds for shooting. This regulation is required to help NRW monitor and evaluate the potential environmental impacts of such releases on native flora and fauna as well as on protected sites. NRW’s proposals followed increased regulations introduced for gamebird releases in England after Wild Justice action.

    NRW’s public consultation focused on NRW’s advice to Welsh Ministers to add Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge to part 1 of Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Part 1 of Schedule 9 lists non-native species that are already established in the wild, but which may pose a conservation threat to native biodiversity and habitats. This would mean that any release of those species in Wales would need to be carried out under a licence issued by NRW.

    NRW proposes a General Licence for gamebird releases that are 500m or more from sensitive sites, and an individual licence for gamebird releases on or within 500m of a sensitive site. The new regulations, if approved by Welsh Ministers, were intended to be in place in time for the start of the 2024 shooting season (1st September 2024).

    The consultation closed in June and attracted an exceptionally high volume of responses (42,000). Wild Justice had encouraged its supporters to ask for greater regulation than was being offered (thank you to everyone who participated), and representatives from the gamebird shooting industry had asked their members to argue that regulation wasn’t required.

    Last week, NRW wrote to stakeholders (see letter below) to explain that it will still provide advice to the Welsh Government by 31 October 2023 but that if Ministers decide to proceed with the licensing proposals, NRW will need extra time to prepare the new licensing regime and that this would not be achievable by the 2024 shooting season but would be in place by the start of the 2025 shooting season.

    We look forward to hearing what advice NRW gives to Ministers by the end of October 2023.

    Here is a copy of the NRW letter to stakeholders, sent out last week:

    Dear Stakeholder

    As you are probably aware, we received over 42,000 responses to our recent consultation including some very detailed and technical submissions.

    We are currently analysing and considering the responses, beginning with those relating specifically to the proposal to add common pheasant and red-legged partridge to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and we will shortly be providing advice to Welsh Government and the Minister for Climate Change by 31 October 2023. We have provided copies of all the consultation responses to Welsh Government.

    If the Minister makes the decision to add common pheasant and red-legged partridge to the Schedule, we will need to put in place a licensing response.

    Considering the views of consultees is an important part of ensuring that any regulatory approach is workable, proportionate, and effective. Given the volume of consultation responses, we feel that having licensing in place in time for the 2024/5 shooting season is not achievable. We have decided, following discussions with Welsh Government, that, should licensing be required, it will not come into force until the 2025/6 season – a delay of 12 months from our original target.

    This revised timetable will allow us to properly consider the responses to the consultation and engage with stakeholders, as well as honouring our commitment to give shoots in Wales sufficient time to prepare for any changes.

    We will be in touch with you again when we have provided our advice to the Welsh Government.

    Regards (NRW)

  27. Wild Justice on Sea – thank you!

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    Last weekend Wild Justice took to the seas – venturing out into Poole Harbour, Dorset, with two boat loads of our supporters. Working with Birds of Poole Harbour, we set out with our binoculars raised, on the lookout for some of the local avian superstars.

    Wild Justice is having a busy year. Our projects have varied enormously – from looking at the state of our SSSIs to testing lead levels in game meat, and from supporting a successful legal challenge of scallop dredging to securing a debate on shortening the Woodcock shooting season. Throughout all of our investigations and legal challenges, our wins, our losses, there’s one consistent element; your support. With each challenge, report or newsletter we hear your words of encouragement, news of your own actions, and your thoughts and ideas. Our work is funded by you, our supporters; many ‘small’ donations adding up to a sizeable sum which enables us to campaign, challenge and take action. We’re only a small organisation and team, and we don’t deal with the millions of pounds that larger NGOs deal with, but we know we pack a punch.

    Earlier in the year we invited our newsletter subscribers to register their interest in joining us on a boat trip in Poole Harbour. Over the weekend, over 120 of you and some invited guests joined us and we saw Ospreys, a White-tailed Eagle, Spoonbills, Sandwich Terns, Curlew Sandpipers, a variety of waders and even a rare Forster’s Tern (from North America!). This was also an opportunity for us to talk to just a few of you about Wild Justice’s work and how our Pine Marten-like tenacity creates a landscape of fear among government and regulatory bodies. We also heard from some of our lawyers at Leigh Day, who work incredibly hard with us to bring justice for wildlife.

    It energised and buoyed us to share the experience with a group of like-minded people. We’re really grateful for your support, thoughts and ideas – thank you! A big thank you also to Birds of Poole Harbour for their hosting and excellent bird-spotting skills. the weather was great on Friday and Saturday and then it tipped down with rain on Sunday – we were lucky!

    If this type of trip sounds like something you’d like to come along to – make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter – click here – to hear about any future events. And please spread the word – our newsletter is where you hear about our work, challenges and news first. The more people we reach, the more effective we can be for our wildlife!

  28. Please respond to the Defra hedgerow consultation

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    Today we are asking you, please, to respond to the Defra hedgerow consultation. Does that sound dull and unimportant? Well, it might be slightly dull to fill in the form (but it is quick, and we are providing you with quite a lot of suggestions which will make it even quicker) but it is certainly important because hedgerows are very important refuges for farmland wildlife – birds, insects, plants, mammals, spiders … everything. 

    Many of the respondents will be farmers, who are likely to respond in ways that make life easy for farmers and not necessarily in ways that make life easier for wildlife. We’re sure that many farmers will respond in wildlife-friendly ways but this is your opportunity to speak up for wildlife. The proposals apply to England but responses are welcomed from all parts of the UK (as is clear from Q6).

    The consultation is a consequence of Brexit and so is a test of the promises that were made that Brexit would not weaken environmental protection. We are in a wildlife crisis and Defra should be strengthening existing protection, stiffening the enforcement of existing and future protection and focusing on producing recoveries in farmland wildlife. This consultation scores low points in those areas. There is a danger that Defra weakens the existing rather feeble levels of environmental protection at the behest of the intensive agriculture lobby.

    The consultation closes on Wednesday 20 September, presumably at midnight, and so you have seven days including today to respond. Here is the link to the consultation:

    If you have responded to a government consultation before then you’ll find this one very easy – there are lots of Yes/No questions and boxes for (optional) comments. Unless you want to go overboard it won’t take you more than 10 minutes to answer all the questions and make brief comments. If you’ve never responded to a government consultation before, then this is a good place to start because it is quite straight forward.

    OK, let’s get started.

    There are 26 questions but the first eight are about you (eg what’s your name?) so they are easy. The last two questions are about the form so respond to them or not depending on your frame of mind.

    That leaves 16 questions but almost all of them can be answered Yes or No. You can, of course, answer the questions however you want, but these are our suggestions based on our view that the current regulations are too weak, they need to be strengthened rather than weakened and that our proposals for strengthening them will not disadvantage the farming industry, food production or profitability to any significant degree.

    So, you’re less than 100 keyboard strokes from having your say:

    Q9:   Yes

    Q10: No

    Q11: No

    Q12: Yes

    Q13: Extend beyond 31 August

    Q14: No

    Q15: Yes

    Q16: No

    Q17: Yes

    Q18:  [Skip or see below]

    Q19:  Yes

    Q20:  Yes

    Q21:  Yes

    Q22:  Yes

    Q23:  Yes

    Q24:  Yes

    You could stop there – thank you! You’ve stood up for hedgerow protection just by answering those questions. But if you want to add comments then these are what we would suggest (feel free to copy and paste these suggestions):

    Q9:   Please consider widening them to at least 3m.

    Q10: Small fields have wildlife too – conceivably more of it per unit area. We are in a wildlife loss crisis and farmland has lost more wildlife than most other habitats/land uses. We should be doing more not the same (it clearly isn’t working) or less.

    Q11: I can’t see any reason why.

    Q12: You have not defined ‘important’ bird species – all bird species and all wildlife species are important. All wild birds and their nests are protected by law – the no-cutting period is a simple means of ensuring that nests are not destroyed accidentally and it simplifies farmers’ lives in that otherwise they should check all hedgerows for active bird nests before hedge cutting.

    Q13: I can’t see any good reason to shorten the period.

    We are in a wildlife loss crisis and farmland has lost more wildlife than most other habitats/land uses. We should be doing more not the same (it clearly isn’t working) or less. 

    As a citizen and taxpayer I expect farming to deliver more for the environment.

    Many species of birds which nest in hedgerows are declining and/or rare and for some of these the late season is particularly important. Two buntings come to mind –  Yellowhammer and Cirl Bunting.

    But it’s not all about birds – other wildlife would benefit from later cutting dates too.

    Q14: We are in a wildlife loss crisis and farmland has lost more wildlife than most other habitats/land uses. We should be doing more not the same (it clearly isn’t working) or less. 

    As a citizen and taxpayer I expect farming to deliver more for the environment.

    The existing exemptions aren’t really needed – they are examples of farming getting an easy ride.

    Roadside hedges can be cut at other times of year.

    I have not seen a well-argued case for relaxing cutting dates.

    Q15: leave blank

    Q16: leave blank

    Q17: leave blank

    Q18: Regulations must be backed up by effective enforcement. Poor enforcement is to blame for the failure of many environmental policies from raptor protection, preventing sewage pollution of rivers, banning of lead ammunition in shooting wildfowl, restricting the burning of blanket bogs and adherence to the terms of general licences.

    Defra should engage the public in reporting breaches of regulations and ensuring follow-up.

    Q19: Yes, although I believe the benefits might be modest compared with those in agricultural land. Golf courses and renewable energy sites (windfarms and solar farms) must surely be areas where hedgerow protection can be introduced at little disadvantage to anyone.

    Q20: Yes, but I have answered yes to Q20-Q24. Some combination of measures is needed and you have not consulted on a proposed mixture. This requires more thought than you can reasonably expect a member of the public to be able to provide at this stage. This is a flaw in your consultation.

    Q21: Yes, but I have answered yes to Q20-Q24. Some combination of measures is needed and you have not consulted on a proposed mixture. This requires more thought than you can reasonably expect a member of the public to be able to provide at this stage. This is a flaw in your consultation.

    Q22: Yes, but I have answered yes to Q20-Q24. Some combination of measures is needed and you have not consulted on a proposed mixture. This requires more thought than you can reasonably expect a member of the public to be able to provide at this stage. This is a flaw in your consultation.

    Q23: Yes, but I have answered yes to Q20-Q24. Some combination of measures is needed and you have not consulted on a proposed mixture. This requires more thought than you can reasonably expect a member of the public to be able to provide at this stage. This is a flaw in your consultation.

    Q24: Yes, but I have answered yes to Q20-Q24. Some combination of measures is needed and you have not consulted on a proposed mixture. This requires more thought than you can reasonably expect a member of the public to be able to provide at this stage. This is a flaw in your consultation.

    Here is the link to the consultation:

    https://consult.defra.gov.uk/legal-standards/consultation-on-protecting-hedgerows/

    Wild Justice will respond as an organisation but we are asking you to accept the invitation from Defra to respond to this consultation as an individual. Perhaps you know others who also might want to respond to it – feel free to forward this email to them.

    Thank you! 

  29. Ban or license? – a Wild Justice report

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    We asked subscribers to the Wild Justice newsletter whether they favoured licensing of driven grouse shooting or would they support an all-out ban. The 7000+responses sent a clear message in favour of a ban.

    Food for thought for environmental organisations and politicians.

    Here’s the full, but very short, report:

  30. Meddling on the Moors – a Wild Justice report

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    Today, in the run up to the start of the Red Grouse shooting season on Saturday – The Inglorious 12th – Wild Justice publishes a report assessing the five-year trial of a controversial conservation measure. Some people call it brood management, we call it brood meddling. This trial only applies to England and came out of discussions between Defra and a range of shooting organisations. No such measures are being talked about or implemented in Scotland (which alongside England, has large areas of grouse moors) or Northern Ireland or Wales (both of which do have grouse moors, but they don’t make up a very high proportion of the upland area).

    Our report finds that little has really been learned from this trial and many of the data remain unanalysed. Basically, we are pretty critical of how things are going. Read our report (takes a few seconds to load) and see what you think:

  31. NRW consultation on gamebird releases: your chance to participate

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    Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is consulting on future regulations to control gamebird releases. Their plans are to adopt a very similar set of regulations to those in England. We think there are lessons to be learned from the English regulations, and that Wales could do better, but we generally support the measures being proposed.

    The consultation paper can be found here – click here. It closes on 20th June so there is just over a week for you to participate. Here are our suggestions for how to respond but you must make up your own mind as to what you say – but please do respond regardless of where in the UK you live.

    The first three questions relate to your personal details. Here are the remaining five main questions, Questions 4-8, related to the release of gamebirds in Wales, and our suggested responses in italics:

    Q4. Do you agree that common pheasant and red-legged partridge should be added to Part 1 of Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in Wales? This change would mean that releasing those species in Wales would need to be carried out under licence. Please give reasons for your views.

    I strongly agree with this proposal. This is a proportionate and logical response to the issues laid out in the consultation document and its accompanying papers. Self-regulation will not work as here we are dealing with the shooting industry – a notoriously uncooperative group of people who promote self-regulation but rarely deliver it (eg on wildlife crime, moorland burning and lead ammunition use). The shooting industry always claims to be highly regulated whereas in fact shooting is almost unregulated across the UK with respect to many other European countries.

    Q5. If these species are added to Schedule 9, please give us your views on whether our proposed licensing approach would be effective and proportionate?

    I generally support the proposals but they need to be made tougher in order to build on lessons learned from the last few years in England – Wales should do better.

    Enforcement and monitoring – the shooting industry cannot be relied upon to stick to new regulations, it is a notoriously conservative industry which is reluctant to change. NRW  must ensure that monitoring and enforcement of compliance is in place. In England, Natural England has not carried out this function, and neither does Defra and so the regulations are not properly enacted. Wild Justice has recently (8 June) started a legal challenge to the regime in England.

    Use of general licences – I believe that instead of a general licence, these measures should be enforced through individual licences where anyone wishing to release gamebirds must apply for an individual licence. Such measures were not introduced in England but have now been imposed for releases close to many ‘European Sites’ partly as a response to the widespread prevalence of avian flu and well-founded concerns over the role of gamebird releases in exacerbating the problem through providing a very large reservoir of captive bred and released birds. Wales should move directly to this approach.

    Reporting of releases – an individual licensing system would go a long way to providing information on numbers of birds released and their locations. Current measures, including the APHA poultry register, provide very little useful information on which to base future improvements to regulation.

    Should Mallard releases be included in these measures? – at a time of avian flu, but in any case, why are not Mallard releases covered by these proposals?

    Buffer area around sensitive sites – the 500m proposal is not based on the current scientific evidence. Gamebirds travel much further than this from release sites. Based on the current evidence I would support a buffer zone of 1km. The maximum distance travelled by released gamebirds (Pheasants) in the study by Turner (2007) was, on average, over 900m and this only considered the first three months after release – gamebirds can be expected to disperse further in the other nine months of their first calendar year, and beyond.  It is a commonplace event whilst travelling in the countryside to see gamebirds far from any potential release sites – the 500m zone is not supported by evidence and is not fit for the purpose of protecting sites of conservation importance.

    Will the proposals be sufficient to protect sites of conservation importance? – the English regulations largely ignored the impacts of gamebirds on reptile and amphibian  populations, the effects of gamebird releases on mammalian predator populations, the indirect impacts on lead shot use and the impacts on avian flu transmission to poultry and to wild birds. In England stronger measures have recently been introduced (individual licensing near SPAs) which partly address the avian flu issue. I see that Annex 3 of the consultation papers provides a long list of known or suspected impacts of gamebirds on wildlife of conservation importance and that includes reptiles and amphibians which were largely ignored by Defra. There is clear need for tougher regulations than were initially introduced in England and I strongly feel that NRW should introduce a larger buffer zone (1km) and individual licensing of releases as its starting point for effective regulation of harmful impacts of gamebirds on native wildlife.

    Charging for licences – NRW and Defra have both moved to a position of regarding non-native gamebird releases as a wildlife conservation issue which must be controlled.  The polluter pays principle should apply here and the eventual licensing system should not be a burden on the taxpayer. I support individual licensing of releases and those licences should carry a charge.  This can also be seen as a charge on the failure of the shooting industry to self-regulate over recent years and their opposition to any form of new regulation which will protect the environment.

    Q6. We have based the proposed general licence conditions for pheasant release on the recommendations in the GWCT guidelines for sustainable gamebird releasing. However, the guidelines do not include specific density thresholds for red-legged partridge and there appears to be less evidence on which to base conditions relating to partridge. We have used what evidence is available, and expert opinion, to propose conditions for partridge releases. These are either based on a density threshold linked to the area of cover crop provided, or on density per hectare of release pen (as with pheasants), depending on how the birds are released. We would welcome views on whether these proposals are appropriate and workable and whether they could they be improved.

    I do not regard the GWCT guidelines as having taken sufficient account of new evidence or the current condition, and they were produced by an organisation strongly supportive of gamebird shooting. NRW should take a precautionary approach and assume that all impacts are worse than GWCT recognise.

    Q7. The GWCT guidelines include a recommendation that no more than one third of woodland with game interest should be used for release pens. This is to ensure sufficient woodland remains that can benefit from habitat management activities. We would like to include this recommendation in our proposed general licence. However, we would prefer to be able to define what can be included in the calculation. Do you have suggestions for how this might be achieved?

    I do not regard the GWCT guidelines as having taken sufficient account of new evidence or the current condition, and they were produced by an organisation strongly supportive of gamebird shooting. NRW should take a precautionary approach and assume that all impacts are worse than GWCT recognise. In any case, these measures do not in themselves limit the scale of gamebird releases – if a woodland currently has release pens that occupy less than a third of the woodland area then increases in gamebird releases would be possible. This is not what NRW should be accepting. An individual licensing system and a 1km buffer would go some way to addressing this point.

    Q8. Location and density appear to be the main factors influencing the environmental impact of releases, but we recognise that smaller releases in less sensitive areas are likely to present reduced risks. It may be appropriate that small gamebird releases taking place away from sensitive protected sites and their buffer zones are not subject to the same general licence conditions that apply to larger releases. Do you think this is something we should consider? Please give reasons.

    Many small releases add up to the same cumulative impact as few large releases – it is the overall impact that NRW must address. I cannot see that this approach does anything other than complicate matters to the benefit of very few individuals and the potential disadvantage of the wildlife that NRW must protect.

    Please do consider responding to the consultation – click here – which closes on 20 June. Numbers are important and we know that the shooting industry is encouraging their supporters to respond. Numbers do matter, so this is definitely a subject on which you can make a difference. 

    It was thanks to Wild Justice, including our supporters, that regulations were brought in in England and those regulations of gamebird releases are better than nothing but need to be improved over time (hence our current legal challenge about the release of gamebirds in England – here). NRW has been slow to move on this subject, but quicker than Scotland and Northern Ireland, and needs to be shown that there is public support for effective regulation now. You can help that to happen.

  32. Wild Justice starts new legal challenge of gamebird release regulations

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    P28PYW Seven week old pheasant chicks, often known as poults, after just being released into a gamekeepers release pen on an English shooting estate

    Today Wild Justice sent a Pre-Action Protocol letter to Dr Therese Coffey, the Secretary of State at Defra, and named Natural England, and Alexander and Diana Darwall (owners of the Blachford Estate) as interested parties. Our claim is that Defra has failed to monitor compliance with GL43 which regulates gamebird releases in England and with the lawfulness of the reissue of GL43 a few days ago.

    GL43 came into existence when Wild Justice caused Defra to back down rather than face us in court over the issue of whether unlimited releases of tens of millions of non-native gamebirds (Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants)(click here) damage sites of high nature conservation value. We have never been happy with the provisions of GL43 but recent events have increased our concerns.

    We wrote to Natural England (on 7 February) about Pheasant releases and received a response in early March (click here). We asked about enforcement of GL43 and wrote this about their response;

    When it comes to regulation of shooting, it is interesting that Natural England confirms what we thought, that there has been no notification to them of any releases of gamebirds within 500m of the Dartmoor Special Area of Conservation in either 2021 or 2022. We believe that such releases have taken place  and failure to notify Natural England is a serious matter.

    However, Natural England don’t regard it as their job to ask about this and instead point the finger at their government department sponsor, Defra, by metaphorically shrugging and saying ‘GL43 is a DEFRA licence and though the conditions of the licence require information on the use of the licence to be submitted to Natural England, monitoring compliance with the licence is DEFRA’s responsibility. Responsibilities around the investigation and enforcement of suspected breaches of GL43 rest with the Police and the CPS. Outside the scope of GL43, NE is in contact with landowners and estate managers of SSSIs to ensure any conditions relating to SSSI consents are being met.’.  Natural England’s jobsworth view is that it is everyone else’s job to look at these matters, but not theirs. 

    We suspect that Defra will be less than thrilled to have been fingered by the statutory body they sponsor as being the body failing on this matter.  We’ll find out – we’ve written to Defra to ask them whether a bowler-hatted person from the ministry, in pin-stripe suit and with a rolled up brolly under their arm has taken the train down to Devon to have a poke around on this issue. We’ve also written back to Natural England. 

    https://wildjustice.org.uk/gamebird-releases/dendles-wood-a-sorry-tale/

    We did write to Defra and this is what we got back from them:

    We asked three questions of DEFRA in our letter of 16 March 2023. Our questions and
    DEFRA’s responses (16 May 2023) are set out below:
    “What steps if any Defra takes to monitor compliance with GL43 in general?
    Defra does not carry out proactive compliance monitoring in relation to the general licences
    that it issues. The reporting requirement under condition 3 of the licence is used to build
    an evidence base for the location and extent of relevant release activity only.

    What steps Defra will take in light of the apparent contravention of GL43 identified
    in this letter?

    Thank you for drawing this matter to our attention. We will consider your representations
    and what if any further action is required to ensure compliance with the conditions of the
    GL43.

    If Defra does not intend to take any action, the reasons for that decision
    The steps Defra intends to take are set out above.”

    Natural England is quite clear that it regards it as their parent department’s job to monitor compliance with GL43 – it’s as though Natural England is simply a passive letterbox on this subject. And Defra is quite clear it doesn’t monitor compliance with GL43. So, it seems that no-one does. We might ask you to help them out…

    But if nobody does, then these regulations which were brought in so that they would give better protection to sites of high nature conservation value aren’t really working are they?

    Wild Justice has asked for the following;

    In order to remedy the legal errors, we request that the Secretary of State:
    a. commits to a review of the approach to monitoring and enforcement of GL43,
    taking advice from Natural England as to the compliance of such approach with
    the Habitats Directive; and
    b. revokes the current iteration of GL43 while such review is ongoing.

    Wild Justice PAP letter to Defra sent today, 6 June 2023

    These matters are relevant to BASC’s huffing and puffing about GL43 – click here – and also to the consultation in Wales on proper regulation of gamebird releases. It’s not clear that BASC has actually started a legal challenge – be in no doubt, we have!

    More on this over the next few days – the quickest way to find out about all of our work is to sign up to our free newsletter – click here.

  33. Chris Packham wins High Court libel case & is awarded £90k damages

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    Statement from Chris’s lawyers at Leigh Day, 25th May 2023:

    The High Court has today ruled in favour of environmental campaigner and naturalist Chris Packham CBE in his defamation case brought against Dominic Wightman, editor of Country Squire Magazine, and one of the magazine’s contributors, Nigel Bean. The court accepted the account of a third defendant, Paul Read, who claimed he was a mere proof reader.

    The Court has awarded Mr Packham £90,000 in damages against Mr Wightman and Mr Bean.

    The case, heard between 2 and 11 May 2023 related to nine articles, ten social media posts and two videos. The court ruled that the allegations made in these materials were defamatory and untrue. The allegations included that:

    1. Mr Packham dishonestly raised funds for The Wildheart Sanctuary in relation to rescued tigers, which he falsely said had been mistreated
    2. Mr Packham lied about peat burning on Scottish game estates during COP26.
    3. Mr Packham dishonestly raised funds for the sanctuary during the covid pandemic while concealing that it would receive an insurance pay-out

    During the trial, Mr Wightman and Mr Bean withdrew their truth defence in relation to the second and third of these allegations.  They maintained a truth defence in relation to the first allegation, but the court determined that they “fail[ed] to come even close to establishing the substantial truth” of that allegation. 

    The Court concluded that: “Mr Packham did not lie and each of his own statements was made with a genuine belief in its truth.  There was no fraud of any type committed by him in making the fundraising statements.”

    Mr Wightman and Mr Bean also argued that they had a reasonable belief that publication of the allegations was in the public interest.  The court ruled that this defence also failed “by some margin.” 

    The judgment states that, “rather than approaching the task with an investigative mind, these defendants targeted Mr Packham as a person against whom they had an agenda”.  In particular, following receipt of Mr Packham’s initial legal complaint, the articles published by Mr Wightman and Mr Bean “gave way… to increasingly hyperbolic and vitriolic smearing of Mr Packham, with further unsubstantiated allegations of dishonesty regarding peat-burning and the Trust’s insurance gratuitously thrown in”.  One of the articles complained of mocked Mr Packham’s manner of speaking, and several made offensive references to his autism.

    During the trial the court heard that Country Squire Magazine published 16 articles mentioning Mr Packham in the four years before the first article complained of in the legal case, and a further 93 articles were published in the three years following. Mr Packham had not been approached for comment before the publication of any of the articles containing allegations about him, as is journalistic best practice. Furthermore, there was sparse documentary evidence that any of the allegations had been properly researched to ensure their veracity.

    Mr Read withdrew his reliance on the defences of truth and public interest when he instructed separate legal representation shortly before trial, and his case (which the Court accepted) was solely that: (i) as a mere proof-reader, he had insufficient involvement in the articles; and (ii) his retweets of the defamatory allegations had not circulated sufficiently widely to have caused serious reputational harm to Mr Packham. 

    In awarding Mr Packham substantial damages against Mr Wightman and Mr Bean, the High Court accepted that their campaign “would have misled and agitated vocal and sometimes violent groups”, who “posted threatening and vile material about Mr Packham and his family online”. 

    The Court also held that the men had used this case as a way of introducing offensive and wholly unsubstantiated allegations to smear Mr Packham, and to “scare [him] off… from seeking recourse in a public hearing for the libels”.

    In addition to the articles, social media posts and video complained of the in the legal case the defendants had also claimed that a death threat received by Mr Packham had been written by himself. This caused particular anguish to Mr Packham as it implied that he had lied to his family and friends, as well as wasting police time.  The court held that Mr Packham did not write the death threat letter, concluding that “even a cursory examination of the handwriting in the death threat and comparison with a true sample of Mr Packham’s handwriting demonstrates obvious differences between the two.” 

    The court had also expected the handwriting expert instructed by Mr Wightman, Mr Bean and Mr Read to have been “horrified… and to have unequivocally withdrawn their evidence” when it emerged in November 2022 that their report, which concluded with certainty that Mr Packham wrote the death threat, had in fact analysed samples of his accountant’s handwriting.  However, Mr Wightman, Mr Bean and Mr Read did not withdraw the allegation when this error was pointed out to them.  Moreover, the court held that Mr Wightman was instrumental in procuring ostensibly third-party statements repeating the serious allegation, in “The Packham Papers” and in an article by Fieldsports TV. The death threat allegation was only formally withdrawn by Mr Read shortly before trial, and by the other defendants only on the third day of trial.

    Chris Packham said:

    Every day many thousands of innocent people are victims of online abuse and hate crimes. This can be racially, religiously or politically motivated. It can be generated in regard to gender politics, environmental beliefs, body shaming. This vile part of modern life ruins lives, livelihoods, reputations, it disrupts young peoples’ educations, causes incalculable mental health problems and tragically causes people to take their own lives.

    As it stands the criminal law is simply not there to protect us from such hate – something that must change. The current governments ‘Online Safety Bill’ is plodding along. In the meantime a tiny minority of victims are able to take civil action.

    In the offending articles and tweets Mr Wightman and Mr Bean accused me of defrauding the public to raise money to rescue tigers from circuses, defrauding the public by promoting a crowd-funder during the COVID epidemic, lying about the burning of peat during COP26, writing a death threat letter to myself, and elsewhere of bullying, sexual misconduct and rape. They also accused me of faking an arson attack at my home and repeatedly called upon the BBC to sack me.

    In a full and frank vindication of my innocence the court has found that “Mr Packham did not lie and each of his own statements was made with a genuine belief in its truth”. 

    Most egregiously all three defendants had advanced an allegation that I had forged a death threat letter to myself, an allegation that they managed to disseminate to the mainstream media. 

    The Court has held that I did not write the death threat letter, concluding that “even a cursory examination of the handwriting in the death threat and comparison with a true sample of Mr Packham’s handwriting demonstrates obvious differences between the two”.

    Thank you to my followers for your unswerving support and belief in my honest crusade to make the world a better place for wildlife, people and the environment.”

    Carol Day, Solicitor at law firm Leigh Day said:

    Mr Packham is grateful to the judge for his careful deliberation of the issues and is delighted with the judgment, which completely vindicates him of any fraudulent motivation in raising funds to rescue the ex-circus tigers, alongside further unsubstantiated allegations of dishonesty regarding peat-burning and insurance fraud. This case should provide a strong deterrent to anyone who sets out to gratuitously smear someone’s character simply because they don’t agree with their views.

    Mr Packham is represented by partner Tessa Gregory and solicitor Carol Day of Leigh Day and barristers Jonathan Price and Claire Overman of Doughty Street Chambers. Leigh Day instructed specialist costs counsel Benjamin Williams KC of 4 New Square Chambers for the hearing on costs and consequential matters on 25 May 2023.

    ENDS

    The full judgement can be read here:

  34. Wild Justice supports a legal challenge on scallop dredging

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    Wild Justice is pleased to support, and share the word about, a campaign to stop the damaging practice of scallop dredging in Scotland.

    Open Seas is a SCIO (Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation) taking legal action against this widespread form of fishing. The organisation believes the current licensing of scallop dredging is unlawful and has accused Scottish ministers of regulatory negligence.

    The practice of scallop dredging is intensive and invasive. It involves ‘bottom trawling’ using heavy metal dredges to scrape and rake scallops from the seabed. The process is brutal and damaging, smashing up marine habitats and harming wildlife.

    Why does Open Seas believe scallop dredging is unlawful?

    The Marine Scotland Act requires Scottish Ministers to ensure that their decisions conform with the National Marine Plan. Within this plan, one policy requires the assurance that no use of the sea will have “significant impact on the national status of Priority Marine Features.” These marine features include marine habitats and species in Scotland.

    Evidence gathered by Open Seas across multiple locations shows that scallop dredging has caused significant damage to marine habitats. Despite this evidence, the dredging continues to be licensed – which is why they’re requesting a Judicial Review.

    Media coverage of this legal challenge: BBC (click here), STV (click here), The Herald (click here),

    Wild Justice agrees with Open Seas and we have been happy to support their campaign. Ahead of their request for Judicial Review we contributed £10,000 towards their legal costs – a small proportion of the total costs, but one we hope makes a difference, and which Open Seas was able to use to encourage other donors to step up.

    How can you help?

    The hearing is to take place on May 22 – that’s on Monday. In the meantime, you can help by signing the ‘Our Seas’ coalition petition, which is asking for an inshore limit on scallop dredging and bottom-trawling.

  35. We wrote to Natural England about SSSIs…

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    So far in 2023, we’ve been having a nosey at some Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and their condition – see here. We wrote to Natural England about one site in particular called Dendles Wood, found on Dartmoor.

    From their response (see here) we’ve concluded that it’s in a bit of a sorry state; pheasants were being released very close to it, it hadn’t been assessed since 2011, and its current management plan had expired in 2020. This got us thinking.

    So, earlier this spring, we wrote to Natural England under the Freedom of Information regulations. In our letter, we asked for some information about all Sites of Special Scientific Interest in England. This is what we said in our email to them:

     Dear Natural England 
     
    We write to request information under the Environmental Information Regulations and/or Freedom of Information Act regulations.
     
    Our request is in relation to Biological Sites of Special Scientific Interest within England. Specifically, please provide:
     
    A list of all Biological SSSIs in England, the county in which they are found, their constituent Units, the size in hectares of each Unit, the condition (Favourable, Unfavourable Recovering etc) of each unit and the year in which each SSSI Unit’s condition was assessed by Natural England.
     
    All of this information is publicly available but we would ask for the data in electronic format (such as an Excel file) so that they can be analysed easily.  Please provide the information so that each SSSI Unit is a row in the file which contains information for each unit on the constituent SSSI and the condition and date of assessment of the Unit.
     
    These are data that Natural England must hold electronically, they are publicly available on your website, and so we assume that it is a minor task to extract these data and provide them in the requested form. However, we would be prepared to pay reasonable costs of data extraction.
     
    Please meet this request inside, well inside, the maximum allowable period of 20 working days. 
    Many thanks,
    Wild Justice

    Whilst the information we asked for is available online, it is only accessible as individual web pages for each SSSI, and is therefore in a format that makes it difficult to assess. The information we asked for included:

    • A list of all Biological SSSIs in England
    • The county in which they are found
    • Their constituent Units
    • The size in hectares of each Unit
    • The condition (Favourable, Unfavourable Recovering etc) of each unit
    • The year in which each SSSI Unit’s condition was assessed by Natural England.

    Well, we’re please to say that last week we heard back from Natural England, following our FOI request. You can see their response below. Now we have these data (and it’s quite a lot of data) we’ll be looking at what they tell us about SSSI condition in England. Watch this space…

  36. A dog’s dinner: high levels of toxic lead found in UK dog food.

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    Would you feed your dog something that wasn’t safe for yourself?

    Lead is a heavy issue. Wild Justice has campaigned on lead levels in food since we started. Whilst our previous investigations have analysed lead levels in game meat sold for human consumption on supermarket shelves, we’re now looking at how lead gets into the diets of our four-legged best friends.

    Recently, Wild Justice funded tests of lead levels in dog food sold in the UK. Specifically, these were dog food products, in various forms, that contained Pheasant. The study, published in the journal Ambio today (click here), analysed a mix of Pheasant-based dog foods from online retailers including raw, air-dried and wet products, as well as some control products containing no Pheasant.

    These are products you might buy with the intention of giving your pet a healthy diet. The results, however, indicate that you could be doing the exact opposite…

    THE RESULTS:

    Raw Pheasant-based dog foods:

    • The researchers found that approximately three quarters of samples from raw Pheasant-based dog food packs exceeded the EU maximum lead levels permitted in animal feed – i.e. a level of lead that would be considered unsafe to feed to livestock that we might eat ourselves.
    • In three of these raw products being sold in the UK, lead levels were found to be an average of 245, 135 and 49 times above the maximum permitted levels respectively.
    • Not only that, but every single sample of raw dog food containing Pheasant exceeded the permitted lead threshold in the meat of domestic stock, such as chicken, beef and pork, that is destined for human consumption.

    Air Dried dog foods:

    • In the air-dried product tested – described as ‘100% Pheasant and Partridge sticks’ – 60% of the samples tested exceeded the EU Maximum lead levels permitted in animal feed.

    Wet Pheasant-based dog foods:

    • The processed, tinned dog food tested contained a mix of Pheasant (40%) goose (40%) vegetables and oil. Interestingly, none of the samples tested exceeded the EU maximum lead levels permitted in animal feed.
    • The samples did, however, exceed the level of lead permitted as safe in livestock meat destined for human consumption.

    Control samples:

    • None of the control samples of other dog foods, containing no Pheasant meat, exceeded the EU maximum levels of lead permitted in animal feed.

    WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

    We can see from these results that pet owners are unwittingly feeding their dogs levels of lead that may harm their health. We know, from other recent research, that lead is still very widely used by the shooting industry for the shooting of gamebirds such as Pheasant and partridges. We know that their pledge to phase out the use of lead shot voluntarily over five years hasn’t been going to plan – with only a 6% reduction in three years. As a result, some of that lead is ending up in the pet food chain, and is consumed by our companion animals.

    Consumption of lead is detrimental to human health, being especially harmful to developing brains and the nervous system. But this harm isn’t limited to humans; other animals are affected in similar ways. Lead ingestion can affect the gut, nervous system, heart, kidneys and blood of companion animals like dogs, and could be particularly harmful to puppies.

    Chris Packham, Co-Director of Wild Justice said That people might be unwittingly poisoning their beloved companion animals is outrageous. It’s clearly a failure of our regulatory systems when products like raw Pheasant-based dog foods can be sold containing such high lead levels. No animals should be exposed to these levels of lead in their food, under the guise of being healthy, when they in fact contain levels of lead that would be illegal to feed to cows or chickens or indeed, if it was in your own beefburgers or pork sausages.

    Like us, our dogs are vulnerable to toxic lead and we must ask; would you feed your dog something deemed too toxic to eat yourself? These results show the repercussions of lead ammunition use by the shooting industry reach wider than just those who eat game out of free choice. Wild Justice is taking legal advice on these shocking findings.”

    SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

    If you have a dog, (or even if you don’t), there are two things you can do to try and put a stop to this:

    1. Write to Pet Food Manufacturers.
      If you’ve got a favourite brand of dog food, and they sell products containing Pheasant or partridge, get in touch with them. Ask them if they’re aware of this study, and if they’ve carried out their own testing of lead levels in their products. We’d love to hear what they say in response.
    2. Write to your MP, MSP or MS.
      Get in touch with your parliamentary representative, and point out this research to them which demonstrates a massive failure of regulation.  

    Wild Justice is a not-for-profit organisation set up by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery. We are entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  37. Are lead levels falling in game meat?

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    Wild Justice has led the way in testing game meat (Pheasant, partridge (unknown species) and Woodpigeon) that has been on sale in supermarkets, online and in independent butchers and game dealers over the last three shooting seasons and reporting on the levels of lead found in that meat.

    We have analysed (or, more correctly, had others analyse) Pheasant and partridge meat purchased from Harrods, Sainsbury’s , Waitrose, M&S and Lidl. Others have looked at the metallic composition of shot found in purchased game birds, and those studies indicate that lead is still used predominantly for shooting game which is sold for human consumption in the UK (see here). However, Wild Justice is in a unique position to comment, on the basis of hard facts, about what is happening to lead levels in game meat in the UK.

    A short introduction to the subject: lead is a poison and its use has been regulated, across much of the world, in many uses such as in vehicle fuel, water pipes, paint and in food. That’s one reason why, when you go into a food store you can be reasonably sure that the meat you might buy won’t have high levels of lead in it. We’ve tested a variety of non-game meat over the last three years and found nothing whatsoever to worry about.

    As this table shows, the measures of lead (Pb) levels in non-game meat are very low, and critically, there are no samples that breach the maximum legal level – which is 0.1mg of lead per kg of wet meat.

    However, when it comes to game meat, much of it is shot with lead ammunition and tiny fragments of lead are shed from the ammunition as it passes through the flesh of the bird (or mammal) and lodge in the flesh (soon to be known as meat). These are tiny particles and cannot realistically be detected or removed from game meat in the cooking or preparation process. The way to prevent them from being in the meat is to use ammunition other than lead (such as steel and bismuth).

    Bizarrely, despite all this being well-known, and despite there being health implications of eating high levels of lead (see here for just one example) there are no limits set for lead levels in game meat being sold to the public. Wild Justice believes this is wrong and a failure of governments to regulate for the public good.

    But it means that however high the levels of lead, harmful lead, we find in game meat, this meat can legally be sold. Our work highlights the scale of the problem.

    Levels of toxic lead in game meat samples: our sampling has only scratched the surface, but we seem to have the largest recent dataset of lead levels in UK game meat. How weird is that? A tiny organisation is leading the way in monitoring the levels of a poison in our food!

    Here is a big table with lots of numbers in it:

    This table is in the same format as the non-game table above. Whereas for non-game meat the righthand-most column has all zeros in it (showing that none of the samples was in excess of the legal level for non-game meat) in this table most samples have many lead levels that are legal, but would be illegal in non-game meat. There is one row, the penultimate row (Eat Wild partridge breast) that is an exception – we’ll come back to that.

    The rows shaded in yellow are this shooting season’s results (and are discussed in a bit more detail in our two previous blog posts), the unshaded rows are results you have seen before if you have been following our work on this issue.

    Is there evidence here of lower lead levels in game meat on sale to the public? Yes, although it is too soon to whoop with joy and there is a long way to go. But all credit to Holme Farmed Venison whose Eat Wild partridge breasts were the first samples we have seen of game meat where all of the samples had below the legal level of lead for non-game meat. That’s good and came as a pleasant surprise. As a very rough and ready measure, if one compares the proportion of samples above 0.1mg/kg Pb ww this year, 52/95 (55%), with those from the previous two years, 93/119 (78%) it looks as though things might be getting better (and it would look that way even more if we hadn’t discovered those very high levels in Lidl stores in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland).

    There is evidence, but not proof, that things are getting better. Wild Justice will continue to test game meat samples next shooting season to see whether things really are getting better.

  38. Lead levels in supermarket game meat – latest results

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    This winter we bought game meat from supermarkets in the UK and sent the samples to be tested for lead levels by experts at a laboratory. This is the latest in a series of such examinations we have carried out with game shot in the 2020/21, 2021/22 and now 2022/2023 shooting seasons. As usual we also purchased non-game meat and had those samples tested in the same way.

    We bought meat from Sainsbury’s stores in southeast England (London, Essex, Suffolk and Bedfordshire); Pheasant breasts, game mix and beef escalopes (black, red and blue diamonds respectively in the graph below).

    We bought Pheasant and partridge breasts online from Eat Wild, Holme Farmed Venison (green and purple diamonds in the graph below)

    We bought whole Pheasants online from M&S and picked them up before Christmas at a local store (yellow diamonds in the graph below).

    The horizontal line (at 0.1mg/kg Pb ww) shows the legal maximum lead level for non-game meat. There is no legal maximum lead level set for game meat – which is totally bizarre.

    You can see that the beef escalopes are all well below the line (any lead in them was below the detectable threshold of the test). That’s what they should look like and in previous years when we have tested chicken, duck, and pork then all those samples have been similarly ‘lead-free’. Good!

    Also – and this is encouraging – the 12 partridge breasts bought from Holme Farmed Venison also had low lead levels. If the maximum levels that apply to pork, beef, chicken etc did apply to game meat then these samples would have been legal to sell.

    However, Pheasant breasts and game mix from Sainsbury’s, Pheasant breasts from Holme Farmed Venison and whole Pheasants from M&S had some samples that were high in lead levels. When we say ‘high’, some were very high. The scale on the Y-axis of the graph is a logarithmic one so that we can fit all the data onto one graph. If we had used a linear scale then if you are looking at this on a PC the highest points would be heading for the ceiling of the room you are in!

    If you consider the 70 game meat samples shown in the graph above, nine of the 10 highest values are from Sainsbury’s Pheasant breasts or the game mix bought in their stores (the other of the top ten, the ninth highest, was from the Eat Wild Pheasant breasts).

    We discuss these results, and those of the analyses of game meat bought in Lidl stores in Northern Ireland, in the next blog which puts this year’s results in context with previous years’ findings.

  39. Pheasant breasts sold by Lidl contaminated with lead levels up to 85 x higher than legal limit set for non-game meat

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    Lead-contaminated Pheasant breasts are on sale at Lidl supermarkets across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, new research by Wild Justice has found.

    • Tests on frozen Pheasant breasts bought from Lidl stores found lead levels at up to 85 times higher than the legal limit set for beef, pork, chicken etc;
    • 88% of samples tested positive for potentially dangerous amounts of lead;
    • Findings indicate the voluntary phasing out of lead shot by the shooting industry hasn’t prevented lead contamination of meat three years after its announcement;
    • Packaging information reveals the Pheasants were shot in UK, processed in Poland, then shipped to Northern Ireland & RoI to be sold at Lidl stores

    We bought 25 samples of frozen Pheasant breasts from seven Lidl stores across Northern Ireland & the Republic of Ireland in February 2023 and had them tested for lead levels using methods previously described (here) for tests we have conducted on game meat bought from other supermarkets.

    Five of the 25 packs contained whole shot, which was removed and tested to confirm it was lead (which was the case for all five samples). Even after the whole shots had been removed, 22 of the 25 samples still contained lead levels over the legal limit set for livestock meat, with one sample containing a lead level 85 times higher than the legal limit set for livestock meat.

    This excessively-high lead content found in 22 samples isn’t illegal for gamebird meat sold in the UK because currently (and inexplicably) there is no legal limit for lead levels in wild game meat such as Pheasant, partridges, grouse and venison, only for meat such as pork, beef and chicken etc, which is really quite non-sensical given that gamebirds are routinely shot with toxic lead ammunition but pigs, cattle and chickens are not.

    We couldn’t see any public health warning on the Lidl packaging.

    Our findings on the high lead content of pheasant breasts sold in Lidl stores don’t come as any surprise as they align with the results of previous tests we’ve undertaken on gamebird meat sold in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Harrods, and by three independent game dealers, over the last two years (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here). Our results also align with the results of a recently published peer-reviewed study conducted by scientists at the University of Cambridge (here).

    What is surprising about the Lidl Pheasants, however, is the very strange apparent route to market.

    The packaging of the Lidl Pheasant breasts includes the following statement:

    Produced in Poland, using UK pheasants‘.

    So it looks like Pheasants that were shot in the UK (whether this includes Northern Ireland or not isn’t clear) were then shipped to Poland to be processed (carved up), and then the Pheasant breasts were shipped to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic to be put on the shelves of various Lidl stores. That’s hardly a sustainable model, is it?!

    Furthermore, it has previously been reported (here) that the UK has imported over 1.2 million ready-to-hatch Pheasant eggs from game farms in Poland to be reared and released into the UK countryside as live targets for recreational shooters. Are these the same Pheasants we’re then exporting back to Poland for processing, or are those different Pheasants?

    What’s also odd is the stated date the Pheasant breasts were frozen (17th May 2022 according to the Lidl packaging shown in the photo above). Given the Pheasant-shooting season closes on 31st January (in Northern Ireland) and 1st February (rest of the UK), and assuming these Lidl Pheasants were all shot on the last day of the season, where and how were these shot Pheasant carcasses stored for at least 3.5 months if they weren’t frozen prior to export? Or were they frozen prior to export, defrosted in Poland, and then refrozen for transfer to NI and the RoI?

    Something seems very amiss here with this whole set-up and deserves closer investigation…

  40. Survey responses 2023 (2)

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    Two years ago we sent out a survey through our newsletter and summarised the responses in five blogs over the Easter Period. This year we have repeated the process, almost exactly (we dropped one question and refined another), and this and a preceding blog post set out the results so that you can see how you fit in and read a range of views from others.

    What do you care about (note the wording of the question)?

    How would you describe your relationship with Wild Justice?

    NB the options were: I wouldn’t class myself as a supporter (green), I’m a passive supporter (dk blue), I’m an active supporter- I am prepared to sign petitions, donate money and/or write letters, at least now and again (yellow) and I’m an active supporter and I’d like Wild Justice to give me more opportunities to make a difference (lt blue)

    What do you think of our newsletter?

    • Excellent newsletter, brilliantly written with a fine touch of humour, concise but gives all the information needed, and very motivating. 
    • I like your no-nonsense, clear, personable, emails. 
    • I find your fact based newsletters refreshing and informative & I know that when a new email arrives it will be important to read it and, where appropriate, respond to requests for support and help.
    • The wording, tone and approach are spot on. Newsletter in the right size and content brief and to the point.
    • Your newsletters are beautifully written & very impactful.
    • I look forward to seeing your newsletter and read it each time.
    • Very proud of your achievements, persistence & the unique, quirky, succinct & intelligent nature of your communications. Onwards!
    • Newsletters are very informative and I like the tone which is positive where possible and constructive where news is grim.
    • I like your newsletters very much. 
    • Your newsletter is very informative. I am glad that you are taking a stand on the issues you take up.
    • I am impressed with WJ’s approach to activism; it is rational and effective. I feel it would be better supported with more user friendly emails.
    • I really appreciate the Wild Justice’s campaigns and all the informative briefings.
    • Newsletter very interesting and readable.
    • Very interesting and important emails, but sometimes too lengthy.
    • I like the brevity of your emails. They are short enough (but full of info) to read. There’s nothing worse than screeds of words with multiple links, I find that off putting!! 
    • One of the only mailshots I actually read – I appreciate the ‘no frills’ approach and straightforward design and language. As someone who suffers with overwhelm and distraction from too many emails and too much information and visuals/links, I really like the simplicity of this one.
    • Your emails are informative, thought provoking and convincing, and give up to date reports on the progress of campaigns and issues. They illustrate how purposeful and sincere Wild Justice is.
    • The style of your newsletters, the way you ‘talk’ to the people is very informative and interesting and one immediately wants to be part of this attitude.
    • I like the clear and unemotional tone of your newsletters. You are honest about your failures and successes and go for clear and achievable goals.
    • Newsletter is excellent. Very pleased to see focus on SSSIs and site protection. More pressure needed to make NE etc actually visit and monitor sites.
    • Newsletter is well written and informative and I am pleased that you do not bombard us with a daily email as this can become irritating. You send them when there is something to say.
    • I like reading your newsletter as it covers different topics, giving me the information I want without be too long winded.
    • I think you nail it. Comms are concise and considered but pitched in a friendly chatty tone, and the frequency is about right to keep us informed. The calls to arms and requests for donation are limited to those where you think your supporters can make a difference. And most importantly the causes you choose to focus your efforts on are spot on. 
    • The newsletters are engaging and well-written – a good tone, quite friendly but still brisk and business-like. Gives an impression of a competent organisation that understands what it is trying to do, even when you acknowledge that you don’t win them all.
    • I like the matter-of-fact, but upbeat, tone of the newsletter. The request for money is never overbearing, which is important.
    • Your newsletters and website are engaging and interesting. You are really good at explaining potentially complicated issues in a way that makes them easy to understand and is not at all overwhelming. I always read right to the end… something I don’t always manage to do with info from other organisations. I always read your newsletters as soon as I see them in my inbox, they never get added to the ‘read later’ pile that I somehow never quite manage to return to!!
    • Your humour is probably at least as important as my own beliefs in motivating me.
    • You’ve created a wonderful resource with the newsletters, bringing to light many issues people may not be aware of and it’s very impressive how much has been achieved since Wild Justice began.
    • The tone with which you talk to supporters is refreshingly down-to-earth – I like your style!
    • I LOVE your easy to read no nonsense newsletters and everything you stand for, if I were a billionaire I’d happily donate large sums of money on a regular basis 🙂

    What do you think of our involvement with the legal system?

    • Think you do well to use legal framework to argue case for better protection for wildlife – brilliant strategy- and 100% support the challenges to laws that harm wildlife. 
    • It seems no one can do the decent thing voluntarily – they have to be forced into it by legal enforcement – that’s you!!
    • Without Wild Justice I think that many current laws and practices would go unchallenged as major conservation organisations do not want to take on any contentious issues and come into conflict with politicians or business.
    • I am absolutely thrilled that Wild Justice is taking the active roll to support the protection of wildlife and taking the government to task in its failings over current legislation. After all what is the point of legislation if it is not properly applied or monitored.
    • I really like the fact that you use the legal system to drive change – much more effective that the more widespread ‘clicktivism’.
    • what you are doing – being the legal voice for the silent wildlife – is utterly vital to help them survive in this human dominated world – fight smart, fight hard my friends!
    • You are an ingenious organisation. In today’s world you can only effect real change & combat greed through legal action. 
    • I really admire your intelligent use of the legal system.
    • The legal route is the only way to ensure change long term.
    • I think your work is first class. However I’m slightly concerned that you have too much faith in the lawyers you use. They should be judged more critically on their success rate.
    • I like and support Wild Justice as it uses the law to tackle important and often englected issues.
    • I am right behind their use of the justice system to effect change. Writing to MPs, signing petitions, demonstrating etc can be useful, but the results of going to court can’t be brushed aside.
    • I consider that holding government to account for enacting existing legislation is the keystone of your work.
    • You do an excellent and much needed job using legal argument to force change.
    • I see Wild Justice as an intelligent conduit to change government policy regarding wildlife and environmental issues. Kind of playing the establishment at their own game by legally challenging corporations and government rather than demonstrating.
    • Most people (myself included) do not have the legal understanding or means to make these challenges, however angry or frightened we might feel – through Wild Justice, I feel I have a chance of making my voice heard.
    • I am impressed with the smart use by Wild Justice of a combination of judicial review or the threat of it, together with pressure by other means, to provide the best chance of a successful result.
    • I particularly like how proactive and assertive Wild Justice is, striving to achieve its goals creatively and cleverly, and where it exposes failings in our legislation and legal processes it focuses effort to rectify them, which I think is the best approach.
    • It is great that parts of the UK government/civil service know that they are being scrutinised by people who care and are prepared to “put their money where their mouth is”.
    • Welcome the great progress made by making good use of the legal system to support nature’s recovery.
    • Regulation and it’s enforcement has failed us as a society and you are trying to correct that. 
    • Keep up the good work – taking the legal route to correct questionable ‘legal’ unacceptable practises around wildlife issues is much needed. 
    • I believe in trying to make a difference and actually holding organisations to account in the courts.
    • I agree with everything you stand for and especially the use of the legal system to further your aims.
  41. Survey responses 2023 (1)

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    Two years ago we sent out a survey through our newsletter and summarised the responses in five blogs over the Easter period. This year we have repeated the process, almost exactly (we dropped one question and refined another), and we’ll tell you the results in this and a following blog post.

    We received 7219 responses in a week! Question 8 allowed you to write anything you liked about Wild Justice and just under 5000 respondents took that opportunity – we have read every single response. Thank you for all the feedback.

    In this post, and the following one, we refer to the respondents to the survey as Wild Justice supporters. That seems fair enough since over 96% of respondents described themselves as supporters of one sort or another. That is a bit of a contrast to two years ago when we received hundreds of responses from people, often claiming to be shooters, who took the opportunity to berate us often with considerable rudeness. That type of response was missing this time around – perhaps because such people realised that their opinions might be published in this feedback and might not reflect well on the pastimes they claimed to enjoy.

    At a very high level the results are:

    • Wild Justice supporters are spread right across the UK and a small proportion of you live abroad.
    • Wild Justice supporters are getting on a bit – >50% aged 65+ and >80% aged 55+ (just like us!)
    • Wild Justice supporters are slightly more likely to be female, 55%, than male (44%) or ‘other or prefer not to say’ (1%)
    • Wild Justice supporters eat less meat than the general public; 26% never, 28% 1-2 times a week
    • Wild Justice supporters see themselves as supporters of a wide range of other conservation organisations with RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts the most popular overall – very low support for BASC, a pro-shooting organisation
    • Wild Justice supporters are first of all wildlife conservationists, second environmentalists and lastly interested in animal welfare (of course most people are a complex mixture of all three)
    • Over two thirds of respondents (68%) describe themselves as active supporters of Wild Justice (signing petitions, writing to MPs etc, donating) and an additional 7% would like to become more active still.

    Where do our newsletter subscribers live?

    England 82%

    Scotland 9%

    Wales 6%

    Outside UK >1%

    UK (no other details) 1%

    Northern Ireland <1%

    But we can do better than that, because you gave us your postcodes:

    How old are our newsletter subscribers?

    And your gender?

    Are you meat eaters?

    Which of these organisations do you also support?

    Here are some of the things, representative examples, of what you said about Wild Justice in general:

    • You are doing a fantastic job in the face of overwhelming threats to our environment and wildlife. Please continue with your good work.
    • Thank you for your persistence in protecting wildlife and habitats
    • So wonderful that you exist! Your work is essential – please keep going!
    • I find supporting Wild Justice more ‘real’ than other charities who tend to ‘pussy foot around’ and pretend that we can solve the climate and biodiversity loss crises. I think that probably the most productive way to fight for these causes is through the courts. So I like what Wild Justice does. I like the fact that sometimes you win cases. You’re prepared to go back to court. At the very least you raise the profile of issues which are not widely known about. I am educated by you. I like your no-nonsense, clear, personable, emails. (I don’t do Twitter). I hope I have managed to introduce you to a few other people.
    • Your work gives hope in a world where most things man-made seems to be awful for the natural world. Please continue.
    • I totally support your aims and what you do. If I was younger I would be more active, but that is not possible. The pressure you exert on government and other agencies to be more wildlife and animal aware is absolutely vital to the survival of our planet.
    • Compared to other charities I support such as WWF and RSPB, it is small but powerful. Keep on fighting!
    • I am very glad you exist, you give me hope and belief that there are people who care, you are showing that things can change
    • You annoy all the right people. Please keep doing what you are doing. Our money is being well spent.
    • I’m really pleased that Wild Justice exists – daliwch ati!
    • Really feel your battles with “authority” are worthwhile especially those concerning the environment like sewage dumped in rivers, the value of the SSSI’s etc. 
    • Nobody else does what you do or even gets close. For god’s sake keep at it.
    • Your work is needed badly. Corruption and incompetence by govt bodies demand that you expose them.
    • Wild Justice has begun to highlight and solve the problems that most wildlife charities have failed to address. The more you do the more support I shall give, because the law-makers will do nothing for wildlife or the environment unless you shine a light on their dreadful policies.
    • I love Wild Justice’s proactive approach to supporting our wildlife and environment. They have really bought home to me how little is being done by the government and landowners. 
    • I enjoy the spirit and energy of Wild Justice. 
    • I think that you are doing a brilliant job in spite of a lack of interest from the Government in doing anything which upsets their mates.

  42. More glyphosate results – thank you for taking the p*ss again!

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    Introduction

    Last year, in February/March we asked you to consider sending a urine sample to Germany to get the glyphosate levels tested. Over 120 of you participated and the results were quite interesting – click here. We asked the original participants whether they would get another sample tested in the autumn and 59 test results were received.

    Results

    The data came from across Great Britain:

    Figure 1. Distribution of subjects taking Test 2. The size of the circles is proportional to each subject’s Test 2 glyphosate levels.

    People whose urine glyphosate levels were high in the February/March tests were also likely to be high in the September/October/November tests (Pearson correlation coefficient R=0.49) suggesting some consistency in urine glyphosate levels within individuals.

    However, urine glyphosate levels were lower, slightly but significantly, in the autumn tests compared with the spring tests.

    Figure 2. Boxplot showing Test 1 and Test 2 results for subjects who took both tests (n = 59). Means are shown as squares, medians as horizontal lines. There was a statistically significant difference between Test 1 and Test 2 results (Wilcoxon paired rank test, P < 0.00001).

    We could find no relationship between age, gender, diet (omnivore, flexitarian/pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan) and urine glyphosate levels. Our sample of people was not very diverse when it came to gardening habits so those factors revealed nothing.

    However, we also looked at land use around the address of the participants using digitised maps like this one:

    Figure 3. An example of 1- and 5-km buffers around a postcode centre (in this case LE10 1HJ) placed over the UKCEH 25-metre land-cover product. Red indicates arable land, dark blue is agricultural grassland, light blue is suburban land, olive-green is urban land and light green is woodland. 

    We found a tantalising relationship between urine glyphosate levels (Test 1, where sample size was biggest) and land use. Not significant but intriguing. Which way did it go? Higher urine glyphosate levels came from participants in built up areas. Is that what you expected?

    Conclusions

    The results suggest that there is a moderate degree of within-subject consistency in glyphosate level between tests, and that there is temporal variation in glyphosate levels, which were higher on average in Test 1 (Feb-Mar 2022) than in Test 2 (Sep-Nov 2022). There was a weak suggestion of a positive relationship between a subject’s glyphosate levels and the amount of built-up land (urban or suburban) around them.

    We’re going to share these results with others and ponder what further studies could be built on this basis.

    Thank you!

    Over 120 people took part in these tests, and 59 in both tests. That makes a reasonable sample of people. It’s a bit of a faff sending off for the test kit, and then sending it off to be analysed (particularly as Brexit has made postage of p*ss to Germany more expensive and involve more paperwork. Many participants refused our offer of reimbursement for postage and the cost of a kit – that meant that the study was much cheaper than it might have been. Thank you very much to all who participated. We’ll get back to you with future plans.

  43. Dendles Wood – a sorry tale

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    We have received a response from NE to our information requests about Dendles Wood (see here).

    It reveals a sorry tale of inaction .

    What we take from this is that, for a National Nature Reserve, owned by us all, the management plan ran out in 2020 and a new one will be written for 2024. That’s pretty pathetic and we wonder whether the new plan will be written and whether it would even have been thought of without our intervention. But it is typical of the rest of the answers – either nothing has been done or nothing much has been done. The Blue Ground Beetle hasn’t been paid much attention at all since 2016 it seems. The most recent condition assessment of the condition of the four SSSI units is 2011 – well over a decade ago. But an update is now scheduled for this year – we wonder whether that was planned before or after our intervention.  This is a picture of a regulator (and in this case, in part a land owner too) failing to carry out its duties. If this is the state of attention given to protected sites across England then the system is in disarray. It probably is in disarray because of government cuts to Natural England but also feebleness by NE themselves.

    When it comes to regulation of shooting, it is interesting that Natural England confirms what we thought, that there has been no notification to them of any releases of gamebirds within 500m of the Dartmoor Special Area of Conservation in either 2021 or 2022. We believe that such releases have taken place  and failure to notify Natural England is a serious matter.

    However, Natural England don’t regard it as their job to ask about this and instead point the finger at their government department sponsor, Defra, by metaphorically shrugging and saying ‘GL43 is a DEFRA licence and though the conditions of the licence require information on the use of the licence to be submitted to Natural England, monitoring compliance with the licence is DEFRA’s responsibility. Responsibilities around the investigation and enforcement of suspected breaches of GL43 rest with the Police and the CPS. Outside the scope of GL43, NE is in contact with landowners and estate managers of SSSIs to ensure any conditions relating to SSSI consents are being met.’.  Natural England’s jobsworth view is that it is everyone else’s job to look at these matters, but not theirs. 

    We suspect that Defra will be less than thrilled to have been fingered by the statutory body they sponsor as being the body failing on this matter.  We’ll find out – we’ve written to Defra to ask them whether a bowler-hatted person from the ministry, in pin-stripe suit and with a rolled up brolly under their arm has taken the train down to Devon to have a poke around on this issue. We’ve also written back to Natural England. 

    We’re sure we’ll have more to tell you about on this issue.

  44. Woodcock debate – does anyone shoot Woodcock before 1 December?

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    Woodcock. Photo: Tim Melling

    Some MPs really showed themselves in an unflattering light when they spoke in the Woodcock debate. Considering that GWCT and BASC favour NOT shooting Woodcock in October and either all of or most of November they were falling over themselves to criticise our proposal, supported by over 107,000 of you, that shooting should not be allowed in October and November.  Here we quote some extracts from some very confused speeches – read the full transcript of the debate here.

    Sir Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby, Con) suggested that ‘Sustainable levels of shooting and the voluntary delay of shooting are the way forward‘ but also said that ‘The proposal in the petition will have little effect on the resident population, as only around 2% of birds that are shot are not migratory‘. And in one bound appears to have missed the fact that the proposal in the petition is the same as voluntary restraint except that it is adding the power of regulation. How can that be worse or have little effect? And we all know that the resident birds make up a very small proportion of the overall numbers gunned down – but they make up a very high prioportion of those at risk in October and November. That’s very much the point Sir Robert but you appear not to have grasped it. 
     
    Jim Shannon (Strangford, DUP) said ‘There is now … voluntary restraint in place: woodcock are not to be shot before 1 December. There is no evidence of any significant harvest of birds before that date and no evidence that shooting is the cause of the decline in the resident population. Given that shooting does not take place to any significant degree before 1 December and that the current harvest of migrant woodcock is clearly sustainable, there is no need for regulatory change.’.  A bit like Sir Robert – maybe they been confused by the same briefing note? 
     
    David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, Con) said that ‘…the evidence so far shows that the voluntary actions that have been undertaken have been beneficial – that is an appropriate first step for those of us who have concerns about ensuring that the issue is addressed in the long term‘ and then dismisses the second step thus ‘I am not convinced by the evidence that has been presented that further regulation is justified at this time, nor am I convinced that it would be beneficial for the … woodcock‘. Mr Simmonds doesn’t explain why he doesn’t favour regulation on the subject on which he agrees with voluntary restraint, but he was ‘struck be’ the briefing of the Countryside Alliance who can’t explain why they don’t want people to shoot Woodcock early in the season but only through the kindness of their hearts and not through the operation of shooting seasons. 
     
    Sir Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire, Con) said ‘If both sides of the argument agree that woodcock are special and should not really be shot until mid-November or the beginning of December, why do we need to legislate? We need to legislate when things go wrong, not when things are going right, and I think that—by and large—people have not thought about what punishment they would like to see for somebody who shoots a woodcock at the end of November.’  It’s difficult not to smile when Sir Bill speaks as he seems so affable and confident – maybe he got those traits from Eton? If one changed the shooting season then the penalties for shooting a bird out of season would be just as they are now.  But we see again the embracing of voluntary measures and the rejection of a few penstrokes which would change the shooting seasons.
     
    Greg Smith (Buckingham, Con) said ‘Why do we need to legislate for something that, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire has just said, is not actually a problem?‘. Mr Smith says that we shouldn’t add anything to the statue book because (presumably) he thinks that all the good laws are in place already and nothing needs to change (?), but in any case he is wrong because the change in shooting season is secondary legislation and can be achieved very simply – no new law is needed.
     
    Running up to the debate and during the debate it was repeatedly stated that voluntary measures were working – pretty much perfectly. There is no reason at all to believe this. There are, despite the claims made, no real data to back up this claim. The only ‘evidence’ is what shooters say about their own behaviour. This comes from the industry that claims that it is giving up lead ammunition voluntarily, which claimed it would cease burning blanket bogs voluntarily and which has claimed for decades that hardly any illegal killing of birds of prey goes on – none of those things is true and yet each is said with equal certainty as the nonsense on Woodcock shooting.
     
    We don’t doubt there is a bit more restraint on Woodcock shooting than there was a decade ago, but the idea that everything is fine is just a story.  Let’s look at the evidence.
     
    1. Back in June 2020 the GWCT published a popular account of their satellite tagging study of Woodcock in British Birds. It’s a very interesting study and the paper included the exhortation to shooters not to shoot Woodcock before 1 December.  One of us wondered whether this was being respected and spent just a few moments searching the internet for advertisements for Woodcock shooting before 1 December – click here.  There were loads and loads of examples and they didn’t take much searching.
    2. In March 2022, when we wrote to Defra on this matter the situation had not changed – there were plenty of shooting estates and websites offering Woodcock shooting to paying clients before 1 December – look at the examples in our letter to Defra at footnotes 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 here.
    3. As the date of the debate approached, shooters became a little more circumspect about publicly offering Woodcock shooting  before 1 December – but only a little. In January, the Shooting Times published a letter , and a photo, of a dad and his son who had been out shooting in Lancashire in mid November and the adult had achieved a ‘left and right’ of Woodcock under the title of ‘A day to remember’ (don’t you worry, we will – click here). Bragging about breaking what is claimed to be an effective voluntary restraint on shooting in a shooting magazine is not a good look for an industry whose advocates are going to stand up in parliament and claim all is well.
    4. In the week before the debate there were still adverts for Woodcock shooting in October and November plainly advertised and some still are. Here are four current examples; this one from Scotland which also has an American Woodcock pictured (click here), this one from Wales (click here), this from Northern Ireland (click here) and another from Scotland (click here). Several websites have changed what they say (they’ve become rather coy about what they’ll sell you) but we cannot tell whether they have changed what happens on the ground. Here’s one example (click here).

    It’s unclear how much change there has really been. We suspect, from what we are told, that there really has been some uptake of voluntary restraint in shooting dates, and that the GWCT has been responsible for much of that spread in good practice. Our campaign will have accelerated that spread. But it is clear that more is needed – if only so that those showing voluntary restraint don’t feel like mugs.  Those MPs who claimed that all is well are wrong and are doing shooting a disservice.

    If nobody ever shot a Woodcock in September- November then you could argue that such a change in shooting season were unnecessary – but they clearly do. And if not for limiting unsustainable shooting, what are open and close seasons for? 

    The shooting industry has looked shifty and evasive on this issue. It’s quite obvious that everyone thinks that we shouldn’t shoot Woodcock before 1 December – let’s update outdated shooting season to reflect that, please!

     
     
     
     
  45. Woodcock see more clearly than some MPs

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    We received this rather fuzzy image of a Woodcock in a garden in London from a subscriber. What a great bird to see in your garden! 

    At first glance, it looks almost as if the bird has two eyes on the side of its head but that is because the bird moved and there is a double image.

    But it did take us back to the recent Woodcock debate in Parliament where Conservative MP, Sir Bill Wiggin, said;

    I am very fond of woodcock. They are the only birds with binocular vision, which means that when they fly, they can see where they are going, which is why they have an extraordinary flight pattern, particularly in the evening as the light fades.

    https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2023-02-27/debates/AD214ECB-2D0C-4077-B834-0D0FFEA96039/OpenSeasonForWoodcock

    Any Woodcock reading through the debate would be surprised to hear that other birds don’t have binocular vision and that he or she was unique. The truth is very different – see here.  Most birds have some binocular vision – especially predatory species. Meet an eagle face-to-face and it will be looking back at you with both eyes. The same is true for owls, ostriches and many other species.

    But birds do, generally, have their eyes on the sides of their heads which means that they have large areas of monocular vision and rather smaller areas of binocular vision.  

    Woodcock have very large visual fields – they can see around them all 360 degrees with a 5 degree binocular field in front of them and another similar-sized binocular field directly behind them. What must that feel like? But it’s almost the opposite of what Sir Bill Wiggin said – Woodcock actually have small binocular fields – and yet they manage to fly around perfectly adequately. They spend so much of their time sitting on the ground, not moving, that they need to have eyes in the backs of their heads to see whether a predator is approaching. We reckon they can see more clearly than many MPs.

    Here ‘s a lovely Woodcock from Ronan Jackson – the eyes have it!

    Woodcock by Ronan Jackson, aged 11 from Scotland – a keen Woodcock enthusiast
  46. Wild Justice funding: helping to track down the raptor killers (guest blog, Guy Shorrock)

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    In 2020, Wild Justice initiated a Raptor Forensics Fund to help police forces across the UK to tackle wildlife crime. A £10K funding pot was established with donations from WJ, Northern England Raptor Forum, Tayside & Fife Raptor Study Group, Devon Birds, and a number of individuals who wish to remain anonymous.

    This guest blog, written by Guy Shorrock (a member of the PAW Forensic Working Group and former RSPB Senior Investigator) provides an insight into how these funds were used recently to investigate and successfully convict a gamekeeper in Dorset.

    EARLY DAYS

    I spent some 38 years working in enforcement, just over 30 of these with RSPB Investigations.  As former colleagues will testify, one of my favourite expressions was ‘You can’t beat a good clue‘; and it has to be said that some of the very best come from forensic examinations, often revealing things simply invisible to the human eye.

    When I joined RSPB in 1991, they had just started their last private prosecution, involving the first UK wildlife case using DNA profiling which showed the captive breeding claims of a goshawk keeper were false as the three chicks had been taken from the wild and, unsurprisingly, were not related to the declared female parent.  Despite the derisory £100 fine, it was a seminal moment in wildlife crime investigation.  With my university background in science, I was keen to get involved and over the next few years initiated, or was involved with, several cases of raptor laundering, mainly peregrines and goshawks. 

    It was RSPB and the Department of the Environment (now Defra) who drove most of this work & supported police & CPS prosecutions.  Two high profile cases, involving extensive peregrine laundering, led to two men receiving custodial sentences.  I believe these cases were instrumental in the formation of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW) in 1995.  This led to many developments, most significantly the later formation of the NWCU, but also the PAW Forensic Working Group (FWG).  I have been fortunate to have been involved with the FWG since it started in 1996, and the group has been blessed with a succession of dynamic and highly capable people from various professional backgrounds. 

    June 1991 – a blood sample being taken from a goshawk – the first time DNA testing was used in a UK wildlife crime case. Photo: RSPB

    CURRENT SET UP

    The FWG continues to promote the use of forensics in wildlife crime investigations and has set up a range of initiatives & projects.  One of these was the Forensic Analysis Fund – which provides financial support where forensics or specialist examinations are needed during an investigation.  However, one area which had always been a problem was initial funding for things like x-rays and post-mortems to confirm a crime had even taken place.  Many WCOs have helpful arrangements with local vets and can get some work at little or no cost.  However, in many potential raptor persecution cases, the RSPB had to cover costs to get things kick-started.

    Helpfully, in 2020 Wild Justice made £10K available to help cover these initial costs in potential raptor persecution cases under a scheme administered by the FWG.  Police can now get initial investigative costs of up to £200 quickly covered, and more funds are available on application.  At later stages in the investigation, where normally the Forensic Analysis Fund provides police with match funding, the WJ Raptor Forensics Fund covers 100% of forensic costs for raptor persecution cases.  This money has been very helpful in numerous cases, and in connection with four prosecutions.

    CASE IN POINT

    The most recent conviction of a gamekeeper in Dorset on 16 February 2023 for seven serious charges has been well reported in the media.  This case provides a great illustration of the sequential use of forensics tests and how the Raptor Forensics Fund can be used effectively.  In November 2020, local Johanna Dollerson was out for a walk on the Shaftesbury Estate when she came across a dead red kite.  There was a dead rat lying nearby and, concerned something untoward may have happened, she called Dorset Police.  The public remain the eyes and the ears in the countryside, and of the cases that do eventually get to court, many have relied on people being alert to unusual events and taking the trouble to report them.

    The dead Red Kite poisoned by Bendiocarb found on the Shaftesbury Estate in Nov 2020. Photos: Johanna Dollerson

    The following day an officer recovered both items and they were initially taken to a local vet.  As poisoning was suspected, the red kite and a liver sample from the rat were submitted to the government’s Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS), this is overseen by HSE with the day-to-day work done by Natural England (NE).

    Sure enough, following an initial post mortem at APHA to collect samples, the toxicology work by Fera confirmed abuse of the pesticide Bendiocarb in the red kite.  The rat liver was negative.  Bendiocarb has become a persistently abused pesticide for the killing of raptors, the product Ficam W being the most common source of this.  This very toxic product is only for professional use, and people need to be appropriately trained and have a suitable and secure pesticide store.  This product was actually banned just a few weeks after the red kite was found, though I have no doubt that the abuse of Ficam W to kill raptors and other wildlife will continue for many years.  The kite also had an astonishing nine times the lethal level of the rodenticide Brodifacoum in its system so would no doubt have soon succumbed to this, had not also been exposed to Bendiocarb.

    With it being an abuse case, it was referred to the Dorset Police Rural Crime Team and into the capable hands of WCO PC Claire Dinsdale (now with the NWCU).  Police identified the gamekeeper running a private pheasant shoot being on the estate, and I assisted with the planning of the operation.  Until June 2020 he had been employed for many years by the estate, but was now with a new employer, though remaining as a tenant at his long-term address.  Further enquiries established he had purchased several sachets of Ficam W in 2018 – this extra information enabled the police to obtain a search warrant, allowing a search of his address as well as the land.

    Many years ago, I had filmed a gamekeeper on this estate, retired but still doing some predator control, visit an illegal spring trap set in the open on the ground next to a dead pigeon bait inside a pheasant pen, most likely targeting buzzards.  For reasons still unclear, no formal police action was taken, so I hoped this time things would go more smoothly.

    On the 18 March 2021, Dorset Police led a multi-agency search supported by the NWCU, NE and RSPB.  By a pen close to the rear of the gamekeeper’s home were the bodies of six dead buzzards, two lying next to the remains of a fire.  The circumstances suggested the bodies were awaiting disposal by burning.

    Four of the six buzzards found – all had been shot. Photo: Guy Shorrock/RSPB

    A quick check of the ashes indicated the remains of at least one raptor and these were seized along with the buzzards.

    Dorset Police CSI examining the fire site where the remains of three further buzzards were found. Photo: Guy Shorrock/RSPB

    Nearby, under an old pond liner, were two tins of the fumigant pesticide Cymag. This gives off the very toxic hydrogen cyanide gas when brought into contact with moisture and storage like this is dangerous as well as illegal.  Cymag was legally used to gas rats and rabbits until the end of 2004, though it also has a bad reputation for use in the illegal gassing of badgers and foxes.  This particular brand was probably banned in the 1990s. In the rear yard were a number of insecure outbuildings and his 4×4 Mule vehicle.  In a toolbox in the vehicle were three small pots containing a powder – later confirmed as Bendiocarb.  The footwells of this vehicle were also swept by the CSI and traces of Bendiocarb were also detected in the dirt. 

    Three small pots of Ficam W (Bendiocarb) found inside a toolkit in the gamekeeper’s vehicle. Traces of this pesticide were also found in sweepings from the footwell. Photo: Guy Shorrock/RSPB

    In an outbuilding was a part-used sachet of Ficam W (Bendiocarb), a product which had been banned three months earlier.  Next to this was an old rodenticide container, and inside this were hidden two small bottles of Strychnine, another product banned since August 2006.  In previous cases suspects have claimed no knowledge of any pesticides and stated they must had been languishing in outbuildings for many years before they arrived.  I know of one case where this was probably true.  A helpful clue in this case was an ‘01’ phone number on the old rodenticide container, this reflected the national ‘PhONEday’ number changes in 1995, which was after the gamekeeper had first taken up residence at the address.  BT Archives kindly provided a statement to cover this point. 

    There was actually no appropriate pesticide store at his premises, so even an approved professional brand of rodenticide was insecurely and unlawfully stored.  Guilty pleas were later entered to the keeping of the three banned pesticides.

    An insecure store held a sachet of the recently banned Ficam W (Bendiocarb) and two bottles of strychnine hidden inside an old container.

    THE FORENSIC TRAIL

    Once the evidence had been seized, various forensic tests needed to be considered.  Firstly, using the Raptor Forensics Fund, the six buzzards went for screening x-rays at a local vet which clearly indicated they had all been shot.  With this information, the birds were sent for a post mortem examination at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) under the skilled hands of experienced pathologist Fiona Howie.  In addition to confirming all had been shot, it also established one of the bodies was very fresh and probably shot within a day of us arriving at the address.  Interestingly, this particular bird had survived two previous shooting incidents.

    Two more of the six shot buzzards – the top bird probably shot within a day of the police raid. Photo: RSPB
    X-ray of this Buzzard shows its body peppered with shot, with multiple wing fractures. It contained pellets from two previous shooting incidents which it had survived (larger pellet from one of these in the neck). Photo: RSPB

    We were obviously interested in what was in the fire remains and the Raptor Forensics Fund allowed us to submit these to Judith White, a Curator and avian specialist at the Natural History Museum.  When I attended to collect them, they had been cleaned and neatly divided into 34 individual exhibit bags.  The examination had confirmed there were the remains of at least three further buzzards from within the ashes.  So, using nearly £900 from the Raptor Forensics Fund, these three examinations had produced some powerful evidence.

    The grim remains from the fire, cleaned and sorted at the NHM. This confirmed the left tibiotarsus present from three different buzzards.

    The preparation of the case file for the CPS was a huge amount of work, and Claire Dinsdale deserves great credit for her tenacity in completing this.  As this was underway, myself and Dr Ed Blane, a highly experienced employee of Natural England, became aware that the original rat carcass had been described by the vet as being ‘cut open’.  We were immediately concerned this was a potential bait which may have killed the red kite.  Small prey items like these are not particularly common, and I couldn’t recall any previous cases using a rat bait.  Back in 1999 I had found a couple of dead starlings laced with a banned pesticide right on the edge of the RSPB reserve at Geltsdale in Cumbria.  A nearby breeding female hen harrier was later confirmed as poisoned with this product.  In 2008, 32 pieces of meat laced with another banned pesticide were found placed on fenceposts on the Glenogil Estate in Scotland.

    Thankfully, the body of the rat was still safely stored in the vet’s freezer and the Health & Safety Executive kindly agreed to submit it for further toxicology tests at FERA, which confirmed the presence of Bendiocarb.  We also decided to try and identify the food contents found in the red kite and a sample was sent from FERA to the UK Wildlife DNA Forensics Laboratory at SASA.  This laboratory, led by Dr Lucy Webster, has been doing some amazing work on wildlife genetics, and has provided vital evidence in many investigations and court cases.  Police Scotland are fortunate to have any wildlife forensics done there free of charge.  Other UK forces are not so lucky, so once again the Raptor Forensics Fund allowed this work to progress and SASA confirmed the tissue as being from brown rat.  So there now seemed little doubt the red kite had been poisoned at the location where it was found.  This additional evidence allowed the CPS to proceed with a charge of killing the red kite.  Whilst this was ultimately one of three charges discontinued at court, I have little doubt it put the CPS in a very strong position and encouraged the seven guilty pleas that were entered.

    All investigations are ultimately about seeking the truth as to what has taken place.  This case provides a great example of how forensic testing can provide essential evidence in a wildlife crime investigation.  The scientists undertaking this type of work (in this case at APHA, FERA, SASA, SRUC, and NHM) are often the unsung heroes of many successful court cases.  It is their professionalism and attention to detail which provides police and prosecutors with the information to take matters forward.  As technology continues to advance it will be interesting to see what other methods will allow some of the raptors killers to be brought to justice.

    ENDS

  47. Thank you, Benji Fallow!

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    Last December we wrote about how nine-year-old artist and naturalist Benji Fallow had chosen to donate the proceeds from his fabulous artwork to Wild Justice (amongst others) – see here.

    A few days ago Benji’s mum, Nish, got in touch to tell us that Benji has raised a £100 donation for Wild Justice from the sale of several of his wildlife-themed cards!

    Thank you so much, Benji, what an absolute star!

    All the artwork are prints of Benji’s own work, made by himself from scratch at ages 6 – 8yrs. They are printed on beautiful sustainably produced Mokawk paper with high quality inks. The packaging is all recycled and compostable.

    You can view (and buy!) Benji’s artwork on his Etsy page:

    https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/BenjaminFallow

  48. Monday’s parliamentary debate on Woodcock shooting season

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    Woodcock. Photo: Olly Smart

    On Monday afternoon our petition calling for a change to the Woodcock shooting season was debated by MPs in Westminster Hall. This came about because nearly 108,000 people signed the petition – thank you all! The Defra minister, Trudy Harrison, broke the news that Defra has asked Natural England to look at the case for changing the shooting season. This was better news than we feared and we are optimistic that this modest change might be achieved. If it is, it is the 108,000 people who signed the petition who deserve most of the credit.

    You can read the full transcript of the debate – click here.

    Some thoughts from us:

    • the three of us, Chris, Ruth and Mark, attended the debate in person and we’d like to thank the House of Commons staff for facilitating that and making the whole process very easy
    • we’d like to thank Jonathan Gullis MP (Stoke-on-Trent North, and a member of the Petitions Committee) for talking to us online a week before the debate, listening to what we said and doing such an excellent job of summing up the issues. And we were delighted that he supported the aim of the petition.
    • all the MPs who spoke were polite and argued their positions with courtesy, and that is not what has always happened in such debates
    • we were very pleased to see the two MPs (Chris Loder (West Dorset) and Duncan Baker (North Norfolk)) whose constituencies were at the top of the list of signatures supporting the petition present to hear the debate. And that means that the constituents in those constituencies who signed the petition made a real difference. West Dorset provided 694 signatures and North Norfolk 602 signatures. If all the signatures had been spread evenly across the 650 Westminster constituencies each would have had around 166 signatures.
    • Chris Loder did not speak in the debate but he did attend (although he looked a bit grumpy perhaps) but Duncan Baker did and he also supported the aims of the petition (see the transcript).
    • Opposition MPs were thin on the ground so we are particularly grateful to Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) and Olivia Blake (Sheffield Hallam) for speaking and the Shadow Environment minister Alex Sobel, who had been in Ukraine the day before, made good points in favour of the petition.
    • the Defra minister, Trudy Harrison MP was receptive to the petition – which came as a pleasant surprise. Defra has asked Natural England to advise them on the merits of changing the shooting season. That’s fair enough. We had a very good chat with the minister after the debate, especially about lead ammunition and game meat. We will follow that up.
    • most of the other MPs present seemed to be reading out the briefs of the shooting industry – the industry that has tied itself up in knots on this issue. Since it is common ground that shooting Woodcock should not happen in October and November the only remaining issue is how to ensure that they aren’t shot then. If your position is that nobody shoots them then anyway (as several MPs claimed) then there can be no objection to introducing the change to the shooting season suggested by our petition. If nobody shoots then, nobody will be inconvenienced. However, if there is shooting at that time, then only those people who are going against the guidance will be inconvenienced, and so they should be! So there really oughtn’t to be an argument at all – the shooting industry position simply looks daft (and not for the first time).
    • there is plenty of evidence that there is shooting of Woodcock, across the UK, in October and November but we’ll come back to that at a later date.

    We’d like to thank the RSPB, birding magazines and a whole host of bird clubs for supporting this petition and promoting it to their members. We haven’t yet secured a change in the shooting season but it is still on the cards and it is a live issue. It wasn’t before Wild Justice started this campaign almost exactly a year ago – click here for a campaign timeline.

    We’d like to thank everyone who signed this petition. It is pretty obvious that a petition with three signatures won’t make much difference compared with one with 108,000 signatures. All of you made a difference. It is rare to have a debate in parliament of this sort and the issue still to be alive – usually government is very resistant to change. We have got further than we might have done because of your strong support. Woodcocks can’t start petitions, can’t sign petitions, and can’t write to their MPs – we have to do that, and a large number of people have come together to do that for a beautiful bird which needs a better deal from us. Thank you!

  49. Woodcock petition timeline

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    Woodcock. Photo: Tim Melling

    2022

    early March – we talk about Woodcock shooting

    mid March – we talk to our lawyers about Woodcock shooting

    21 March – we write to Defra and the Northern Ireland minister suggesting that the Woodcock shooting season should be shortened by two months in order to give the declining British population more protection – click here.

    6 April – GWCT make the first of many shooting industry attempts to muddy the waters on Woodcock shooting seasons but their own website says (and still does say) don’t shoot Woodcock until 1 December- click here

    8 April – we take the micky out of the nonsensical GWCT position – click here

    12 July – our patience is exhausted with lack of Defra response to our letter so we launch a petition calling for a shortening of the Woodcock shooting season. We call for the shooting season to start on 1 December and not 1 October (England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 1 September in Scotland). On this very day the petition passes 10,000 signatures which triggers the need for a response from Defra – click here.

    3 August – Defra responds to the petition, because of the 10,000 signatures having been achieved but the response is poor and we complain to the Petitions Committee about the quality of the response – click here.

    7 September – the Petitions Committee agrees with our assessment of the Defra response and tells Defra to do better – click here

    27 September – Defra changes direction and on his last day in his job as Secretary of State at Defra George Eustice signals that the department agrees to review the shooting season for Woodcock and impacts of shooting on other species – click here

    30 September – petition passes 30,000 signatures – click here

    10 October – petition passes 50,000 signatures – click here

    12 November – petition passes 60,000 signatures – click here

    31 December – petition passes 100,000 signatures and earns the opportunity to be debated in the Westminster parliament – click here

    2023

    25 January – petition closes on 107,916 signatures with West Dorset and North Norfolk being the top two constituencies – click here.

    27 February – our petition is debated in Westminster Hall and receives a positive response from MPs and government – click here

    … to be continued

  50. Phasing out toxic lead voluntarily just isn’t working…

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    Today a study on the use of lead shot in Pheasant shooting has been released – it has some significant (but not necessarily surprising) results. We’re now three years into a five-year pledge completely to phase out lead shot in UK game hunting, made by nine major UK shooting and rural organisations. The Cambridge study has revealed that in the 2022-23 season 94% of pheasants being sold on supermarket shelves, in butchers and by game dealers were shot using lead.

    This is quite clearly a very small decrease – an average of a 2% reduction per year of the pledge. At this rate of change, it would take the industry another 47 years to phase out the use of lead shot – just a little bit longer than the 5 years they committed to.

    The study, undertaken by scientists at University of Cambridge and published in Conservation Evidence Journal can be read here. A team of 17 volunteers scoured shops, butchers and game dealers for Pheasant in late 2022 and early 2023; they managed to round up 356 carcasses.  Of these, 235 contained embedded shotgun pellets. These pellets were then analysed in a laboratory to determine the main metal present – in 94% of them, this was lead.

    There has been a (very) small improvement in these figures; the same analysis carried out in 2020-21, and 2021-22 found that over 99% of pheasants were shot with lead. That said, a decrease of 6% goes to show that phasing out lead voluntarily simply isn’t working fast enough.

    We’ve spoken about lead contamination of game meat, and it’s detrimental impact on human health, several times in the past few years. Lead is a known toxin which accumulates with repeated exposure; it can cause health issues in adults, and has neurological effects on babies and children.

    The pledge to go lead-free was made back in 2020 by a consortium of organisations including Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Countryside Alliance and British Game Assurance (BGA) amongst others. It called on members, supporters and shooters to voluntarily switch to an alternative and non-toxic type of shot, such as steel or copper.

    This transition should be an easy one. Alternative steel shot is practical, and can be used with most existing shotguns. There’s been plenty of guidance provided by the likes of GWCT and others, who’ve actively encouraged their community to adopt alternatives, since they made their commitment back in 2020. Other countries have had great success with a switch; Denmark’s shooting community have stopped using lead since it was banned back in 1996. It seems that the lacking factor here isn’t practicality – but a case of will by hunters and shooters.

    The sector’s pledge was offered voluntarily, but in the face of mounting pressure from both the public and governing bodies concerned with lead ammunition. Last year the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) consulted on a proposed restriction, even ban, of lead ammunition – which we’re still waiting to hear back about.

    The first author of the Cambridge study, Professor Rhys Green, agrees that the decrease is nowhere near on track to meet a 2025 deadline: “If UK game hunters are going to phase out lead shot voluntarily, they’re not doing very well so far,” he said.

    It seems that the five-year pledge may have been an attempt by the industry to get a head-start on the transition, before it was strictly enforced. It seems so far, that head-start has turned into more of a false start.

  51. Thanking a mammal

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    Our newsletter is received by over 30,000 subscribers and shared around and read by very many more. We obviously know the email addresses and names of subscribers and we have just done an audit of the mammals who are subscribed – ‘bear’ with us, this is quite fun and also has a serious point.

    There are 34 Foxes, 6 Hares (including O’Hares, which we assume are Irish Blue Hares), 2 Seals, 2 Badgers, 2 Squirrels, 2 Moles, 2 Wolfs but just one Deer and one Bear, and no Rabbits, Shrews, Voles, Beavers, Otters or Whales at all. Not the most balanced and sustainable mammal fauna perhaps.

    We’d like to thank one of these mammals for a donation of £2000 on Thursday. The money appeared in our bank account and that’s all we know. Thank you very much!

    The serious point is that when you donate to us by bank transfer, which is a very convenient way to do it, we see your name and the amount but that’s all – so we’d love to thank you individually but can only do so collectively like this. Many thanks to all who have donated to us by whatever means https://wildjustice.org.uk/wildlife-donations/

    And people of any name, not just mammal names, are welcome to subscribe to our free campaigning newsletter https://wildjustice.org.uk/newsletter/

  52. Send our Woodcock briefing to your MP before Monday lunchtime

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    Our petition to limit the Woodcock shooting season is being debated next week – at 4:30pm on Monday 27 February. You can watch it live here.

    We think what we’re asking for is simple, necessary and noncontroversial. We believe shooting seasons are there for a purpose, and there is very clear reasoning to limit the Woodcock season to take place between December 1 and January 31 each year.

    We hope you’ve considered writing to your MP, asking them to attend the debate – you’ve still got time to do this. You can find your MP’s name and email address here (make sure to include your name and address to speed up the process).

    Below we have provided a briefing on Woodcock. Please consider sending this to your MP too – you can download a PDF at the end of the blog. This should summarise the issue, lay out the facts, and explain our justification for the proposed change – one that 107,916 of you supported.

    Thank you once more for that support – we’ll update you soon!

    Wild Justice – A briefing on Woodcock.

    ‘LIMIT THE SHOOTING SEASON OF WOODCOCK’
    Petitions Committee Debate, Monday 27 February 2023.

    Why the shooting season for Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola), should be shortened to run from December 1st – January 31st.

    What’s a Woodcock?

    Woodcock are a type of wading bird, found most often in woodland habitat. It has a long beak, big inky-black eye and beautiful mottled chestnut, brown and buff feathers, which help with its camouflage. They’re nocturnal, and probe soggy patches of earth for worms at night. Their breeding display in spring and summer is a sight and sound to behold – flying in big circles at dusk, creaking and grunting as they go.

    Woodcock are also classified as game birds. They can be shot in England, Wales and Northern Ireland between October 1st and January 31st. They can be shot in Scotland from September 1st until January 31st

    What’s the issue with Woodcock in 100 words?

    We have a resident population of Woodcock, and a migratory one; resident ones stay year round and breed here. This UK population is declining and Red-Listed – it’s thought to be ~55,000 pairs. Migratory Woodcock arrive here in early December from places like Scandinavia, Russia and Asia. They swell the population considerably – some 800,000 to 1.3million birds. Currently the shooting season allows Woodcock to be shot from October 1st (Sept 1st in Scotland). This means any birds shot in Sept/Oct/Nov are likely from our threatened breeding population. By moving the shooting season start to December 1st, we’re removing that risk.

    FAQs:

    Why should the season be shortened?

    By shifting the start of the Woodcock shooting season to December 1st, this reduces the chances that any shot bird will belong to the threatened UK breeding population. It’s more likely that a bird shot in December  will belong to the migrant population, coming from areas where Woodcock populations are not threatened like they are in the UK.

    We say that the shooting seasons are there for a purpose (principally to protect breeding populations) and there is a very clear and agreed reason for changing the opening date of the Woodcock shooting season in this case.

    Shooters say they’re already voluntarily refraining from shooting Woodcock before December, so what’s the point in changing the opening date of the Woodcock shooting season?

    We think there are two reasons why the opening date of the Woodcock shooting season should still be changed:

    1. Whilst many shooters abide by the guidance supplied, we know Woodcock are still being shot before December 1st. Evidence of this has been published in the Shooting Times as recently as November 2022, and web pages advertising shooting before December 1st are still online (see just three examples here, here and here). Changing the opening date of the Woodcock shooting season guarantees no Woodcock can be shot legally before the advised date.
    2. We know the date is already supported by large shooting organisations and shooters – so it seems like a no-brainer. If lots of shooters are already abiding by guidance, why not change the open season?

    What do involved parties think?

    Parties from different organisations – both non-shooting and shooting communities – agree that shooting Woodcock before migrant populations arrive is a bad idea. Here’s what they have to say:

    • British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) say to their members:
      “Refrain from shooting Woodcock until the migrant population arrives to reduce the chance of a resident bird being taken. As a guide, don’t shoot Woodcock until late November. Do allow migrant birds at least a week of good weather to recover from their journey before shooting.”
    • Game and Wildlife Conservation trust (GWCT) say to their supporters:

    Woodcock should not be shot when: It’s too early in the season and the first migrants have just arrived. Whilst every shoot will be different, generally we recommend not shooting Woodcock before 1st December.

    • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have said:

    “The RSPB supports the call for an alteration to the start of the Woodcock hunting season (to 1 December) as an emergency precautionary measure to reduce the probability that a shot Woodcock originates from the threatened UK breeding population, now that the species is Red-listed in Britain and Ireland. We see this as a proportionate measure in the context of the wider climate and nature emergency and declines in the UK breeding woodcock population.” We would review this position only if the conservation status of the UK breeding population improves.  

    Who would be affected by a change in the season?

    As we’ve seen, GWCT and BASC guidance already asks supporters to refrain from shooting Woodcock before December 1st. We know lots of shooters abide by this. The only people who’d be affected by a change in the shooting season are people who choose to ignore the guidance set by their industry and by conservationists.

    Wild Justice is calling for:

    The shooting season for Woodcock in the UK to be shortened – starting on December 1st each year and ending on January 31st.  

    For more information, please contact admin@wildjustice.org.uk.

  53. Shooting estate hides the fact it has been offering Woodcock shooting in November

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    This week on Twitter, in the build up to Monday’s Westminster debate on shortening the shooting season for Woodcock, we’ve been highlighting estates that offer Woodcock shooting in the month of November.

    We’ve been doing this because many members of the shooting industry maintain that it isn’t necessary to impose a statutory shortening of the Woodcock-shooting season, which is what we and 107,916 petitioners have called for. Many in the shooting industry claim that nobody shoots the threatened Woodcock in November; instead they claim to be exercising voluntary restraint and don’t shoot Woodcock until after 1st December when the non-threatened migrant Woodcock have arrived in the UK.

    Whilst we know this is true of some estates, it simply isn’t true for all of them. We’ve found many examples of Woodcock-shooting being offered to paying guests in the month of November, which is a risk to our threatened, red-listed resident Woodcock population.

    In what appears to be a response to our campaign, one such estate, the Baronscourt Estate, home to the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn, has removed evidence from its website that if offers Woodcock-shooting in November.

    Here’s what the estate’s website said on 7th December 2022:

    And here’s what its website says today:

    Interesting, isn’t it?

    We wonder if the Baronscourt Estate has changed its Woodcock-shooting behaviour as well as the words on its website?

    We’ll shortly be posting more information about Monday’s Westminster debate and how you can watch.

  54. Wild Justice’s Raptor Forensics Fund helps secure 4th gamekeeper conviction

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    We’re delighted to report that our Raptor Forensics Fund, established in 2020 to help support police investigations into alleged raptor persecution crime, has played a part in the conviction of a criminal gamekeeper in Dorset.

    54-year old Paul Allen, a member of the National Gamekeepers Organisation and employed as a gamekeeper for a privately-run pheasant shoot on the Shaftesbury Estate near Wimbourne, was convicted at Weymouth Magistrates Court in January 2023 of carrying out multiple wildlife, poisons and firearms offences on the estate in March 2021 (here).

    Following the discovery of a poisoned red kite on the estate in November 2020, a multi-agency raid led by Dorset Police’s (now former) wildlife crime officer Claire Dinsdale took place in March 2021 (see here) where the corpses of six dead buzzards were found by a pen behind the gamekeeper’s house (tests later showed they had all been shot, including one that was was estimated to have been shot in the last 24hrs). Officers also found the remains (bones) of at least three more buzzards on a bonfire.

    A loaded, unsecure shotgun was found propped up behind a kitchen door and 55 rounds of ammunition were found in a shed. Neither the shotgun or the ammunition were covered by Allen’s firearms certificate.

    Officers also found a number of dangerous, and banned, chemicals, including two bottles of Strychnine, two containers of Cymag and a packet of Ficam W (Bendiocarb) in various locations, including in a vehicle used by Allen.

    Allen was sentenced on 16th February 2023 to a 15-week custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months. He also received fines totalling £2,022 and a compensation order to the value of £844.70.

    The compensation order for £844.70 refers to the amount Allen must repay to our Raptor Forensics Fund. This is in relation to three pieces of work, undertaken as part of the police investigation, that was paid for from our fund, including the initial screening x-rays by a vet to determine that six of the buzzards contained shot and later post mortem examinations to confirm the buzzards had all been shot. The fund was also used to pay for an expert examination of the bones found on the remnants of a bonfire. This was undertaken by a specialist from the Natural History Museum who confirmed the presence of bones from at least three more buzzards.

    This is the fourth conviction that our Raptor Forensics Fund has helped secure. The first one was gamekeeper Hilton Prest who was found guilty in December 2021 of the unlawful use of a trap in Cheshire (see here). The second one was gamekeeper John Orrey who was convicted in January 2022 of beating to death two buzzards he’d caught in a trap in Nottinghamshire (here). The third one was gamekeeper Archie Watson who was convicted in June 2022 of multiple raptor persecution and firearms offences on a pheasant shoot in Wiltshire (see here).

    Thank you to all those who contributed to our Raptor Forensics Fund* and thanks also to the PAW Forensic Working Group (a sub-group of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime) who administer our fund and ensure that police officers can access it without delay to help progress their investigations into raptor persecution crimes.

    If you’d like to donate to our work, please click here.

    *Contributors to the Raptor Forensics Fund include the Northern England Raptor Forum, Tayside & Fife Raptor Study Group, Devon Birds, and a number of individuals who wish to remain anonymous.

  55. What you’ve told us about SSSIs (2)

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    Thank you for a flood of responses to our newsletter and recent blog on SSSIs. We’ve had a lot more comments about how pleased you are to have been told about how to find your nearest SSSI. Some of you live surrounded by SSSIs and very few of you, wherever you live, are more than 10km from your nearest SSSI.

    However, many of you are concerned that your local SSSIs are not in good condition. Here are just a few examples:

    I am fortunate to live very close to a SSSI. Sadly, it is assessed as in unfavourable condition and declining. 

    Hello I’m lucky enough to have an SSSI within a km. I used to be able to see hundreds of Brent Geese that landed nearby, they were so noisy it was lovely. But since the farm was sold and the new owners, a local business, released thousands of pheasants and partridges into the area, the Brent geese no longer appear. 

    You asked about living close to an SSSI. Well, I’m about 100yards from one and it’s also RAMSAR. I never knew. I did know it was mud flat and there are some interesting birds about. Unfortunately it’s a glaring shade of red on that website.

    My nearest SSSIs are Mole Gap to Reigate escarpment and Reigate Heath. They’re both within about a mile of where I live and I’ve visited both – but hadn’t realised they both have quite large sections in unfavourable declining condition sadly.

    My nearest SSSI is Eyemore Railway Cutting. Thousands of Pheasants, ducks and partridge are reared in Eyemore wood and the SSSI has high densities of game birds year-round.

    I live 20 minutes from a SSSI, being Winterton dunes in Norfolk. I am a dog owner so please don’t take offence at this but the place has become a dog-walkers paradise, it is horrific! There can be literally hundreds of dogs running around off their leads! Since the local tourist promotion of “come to see the Seals”, those poor things are hounded during the winter season by hundreds of people, who mainly give no respect to them or nature full stop. It is a very nature depleted SSSI now, more akin to a city park. I’m all for encouraging people into nature, but in the right way. 

    A huge local issue is that raw sewage is discharged into the River Dee near Chester City Centre on a regular basis.

    We are plagued with pheasants and can hear shoots often [an SSSI in North Wales]. XXXXXXXXX Estate is a popular shooting venue and is mere yards from the above SSSI.

    South Thames Estuary & Marshes 3 miles. Riddled with off road bikes sadly 🙁

    Having drilled down to one that is marked red, ‘Unfavourable declining’, (part of Blackwater Valley SSSI in Berks). it is unclear what action, if any is being taken to stop its decline, despite a fairly recent site survey.  

    One of the closest SSSI sites to us is the River Wye- according to your map, the Upper Wye  Gorge , near Symonds Yat. Obviously this river  has been in the news lately due to the poor state it is in -suffering greatly from the increase in poultry sheds and farming run off and uncontrolled sewage outfalls. It needs all the help it can get…

    I have been surprised to discover, via your recent excellent email regarding SSSIs, that I live on the edge of quite a large SSSI area made up of several joined individually named areas.  These include Foulden Common, Breckland Forest and Gooderstone Warren amongst others. Some of these areas are used for game shooting and in a normal year (not so much this year due to bird flu) the area is inundated with released pheasants and partridges which must upset the natural balance of these areas, it also upsets me and others that these beautiful birds are bred solely for the “entertainment” of amateur shooters. 

    Further to your email of 13 February my response is as follows, Southampton Common SSSI is my nearest SSSI and I live approximately 1.7 miles from it.  It is where I do my patch birding. It is alarming to see that it is in a state of Unfavourable Recovering.

    My nearest SSSI is Haddon Hill, part of the South Exmoor SSSI, which approximately 1km from my home as the crow flies. Between my home and Haddon Hill is a famous high-bird pheasant shoot called Haddeo Valley, which is currently run by the Loyton Estate. Thousands of pheasants are released on the Haddeo Valley shoot every year and they spill out everywhere, onto the SSSI, onto our reserve, and onto roads, where large numbers are squashed. Exmoor National Park Authority tell me that they are powerless to stop this abomination.

    I live in Downton, Wilts very close to the Hampshire Avon SSSI and over the years I’ve witnessed just how much over abstraction has affected the river.

  56. What you’ve told us about SSSIs (1)

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    Wow! We’ve already had over 500 responses to our Monday newsletter, and blog – click here – about SSSIs. And they have come from right across Great Britain. We have read every one, and they are still coming, and we will read every one of those too.

    There are some very clear themes and we’ll come back to some of those, but the overwhelming reception to the information we provided on how to locate SSSIs has been that you are delighted to have it and surprised by how many SSSIs are close to where you live. The closest we have logged so far is 45 paces from one of our subscribers but an awful lot of people have discovered that there is an SSSI within walking distance of home.

    Here is a tiny selection of comments:

    Thank you for your timely piece on SSSIs.  I am the chair of our local environment group and I am researching the status of a local wildlife site prior to doing some conservation work in it.  I had received contradictory information about whether or not it was a SSSI.  Following the links in your email I learn that it isn’t.

    The nearest one to me is Plymbridge Lane and Estover road – a tiny parcel of land amongst housing and hospital buildings that is home to the only known wild population of the Plymouth pear tree. It’s about 2 miles from where I live and I had no idea it was an SSSI until your email prompted me to investigate.

    I have been very surprised to learn of one near to me which I’d never known about.  I have walked and driven along Bonhay Road in Exeter countless times without being aware that it has an SSSI designation.

    My nearest SSSI is Richmond Park – whoever knew that! – and I live about ½ mile from it.

    My nearest SSSI is XXXXXX in East Lancashire. About 3 miles away. I know it quite well and it’s a great spot for bird life. But I had no idea that it was a SSSI!

    I live in London NW1 and my nearest SSSI is Hampstead heath woods. Didn’t know it was designated!

    The closest SSSI to me is Killerton in Devon which I visit regularly. Ashamed to say I did not realise it was an SSSI! 

    I live 5 mins walk away near Chester & I was not fully aware that the River Dee is an SSSI.

    I have 2 SSSI within 3Km  neither of which I was aware of. Duckmanton Railway Cutting in a favourable condition and Doe Lea Stream Section in unfavourable recovering. [near Chesterfield]

    I live in the large borough of Bromley in Greater London in southeast London. I knew about Ruxley Gravel Pits as I once got access to it through the local Bromley RSPB visit. However; I hadn’t realised that it straddles both sides of the road . It’s about 10 minutes drive from me. I didn’t know about Elmstead Pit which is even closer to me- 5 minutes in the car-if that! I also have Crofton Woods within around 15 minutes drive. I didn’t know about it.

    Thank you for the information on helping find these sites. It’s great to be able to see where they are. There are two SSSI’s quite close to me that I wasn’t aware of. Ludworth Intake, which is about 2 miles away and Matley Moor Meadows, near Rowarth, which is about 4 or 5 miles away. Compstall Nature Reserve (also known as Etherow Country Park) I know well and is about 3 miles from me. [East of Manchester]

    There is an SSSI approx 2km from where I live in Frome Somerset – Vallis Vale on the SSSI map. I knew of the area but not the fact is is a designated SSSI.

    Hi, in response to your email this morning, I’ve discovered that I literally live over the road from an SSSI. It’s Whittlewood Forest in Northants.

    My closest SSSI is Harries Ground, Rodbourne.  I wasn’t aware of it.  I’m also fairly close to some sites I did know about – various sites owned by Wiltshire Wildlife, eg Cloately Farm, Clattinger Farm, Distillery Farm. I was surprised to find that the M4 motorway cutting at junction 17 (the Chippenham one) is an SSSI!

    The nearest SSSIs to me in Wales are New House Meadow and the River Wye just below it, in Rhayader.  Approx 2 miles away. I didn’t know New House Meadow was a SSSI – I walk past it most days on my walks on the Wye Valley Trail.  It’s not possible to access it, but it’s good to know it’s there as a SSSI. How interesting!

    I find that my house is within 200m of two SSSIs here in Devon. 

    I’m about 450m from 2 SSSI’s one of which I wasn’t aware of! 

    My nearest SSSI is Tynet Burn, just WSW of Buckie, Moray, where I live. I didn’t even know about it before! It’s about 5km ? from where I live. I shall be going for a look!

    Living on The Parade in Barry, South Wales, I find I’m actually over looking one! Known as Little Island – better known as Friar’s Point to us. Another one is on a frequent dog walk, that being Cliff Woods. It appears that Barry is surrounded by these sites. I’ll be researching these over the next few days to find out just what the scientific interest is!

    I have discovered that I live less than 1km from The Wye SSSI in Derbyshire. 

    We have an SSSI about a mile away Called Coed Talon Marsh we regularly visit it for a walk but did not realise it is an SSSI. 

  57. Where is your nearest Site of Special Scientific Interest?

    Comments Off on Where is your nearest Site of Special Scientific Interest?

    We’ve been struck by the strong response to our blog from last week which told you about a wildlife site, Dendles Wood, on the edge of Dartmoor – click here. We’re waiting for Natural England to respond to our list of questions about Dendles Wood. While we wait, we thought that we’d do something a bit different and tell you how you can find your nearest important wildlife site, your local Dendles Wood, on an interactive online map. Dendles Wood is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which sounds terribly dull, but SSSIs (and ASSIs, Areas of Special Scientific Interest, in Northern Ireland) are a very important part of protecting nature across the UK. Here is some background information on SSSIs and ASSIs from Wikipedia – click here.

    Finding the SSSIs near you

    We’re going to concentrate on SSSIs now as there are thousands of them across Great Britain and they are all mapped on the same online system called MAGIC. If you visit the MAGIC site – https://magic.defra.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx – you’ll find a familiar map of GB with a complicated-looking table of contents on its left hand side. Let’s imagine you live in Edinburgh and zoom in a bit on Scotland’s capital. You’ll see something like this:

    https://magic.defra.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx

    That looks familiar, doesn’t it? There is Edinburgh with its ring road and airport, the three bridges across the Firth of Forth and places like Loch Leven, east of Kinross, near the top of the map.

    But where are the SSSIs? They are just a few clicks away – in fact, five clicks away. Look at the Table of Contents on the left hand side. SSSIs are ‘Designations’ so click the small box with a ‘+’ in it. Then choose (by clicking another small box with a ‘+’) ‘Land-based designations’, and then ‘Statutory’ and then, because we are looking at Scotland, ‘Sites of Special Scientific Interest (Scotland)’ and then, last click, the box which will shade in the actual boundaries of the SSSIs around Edinburgh in green and you will see something like this:

    https://magic.defra.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx

    Same map, but with the SSSIs shaded in green. And now you can see that Arthur’s Seat in the middle of Edinburgh is a geological SSSI and that the Firth of Forth shores are SSSI, and Loch Leven up at the top of the map is an SSSI and there are lots more with titles such ‘burn’, ‘loch’, ‘marsh’, ‘muir’, ‘wood’, ‘moss’ and ‘glen’ that hint at why these sites may have been notified in the first place. 

    Just remember, if you are in Wales or England you need to click on the relevant ‘Sites of Special Scientific Interest ([nation])’ option. 

    But with five clicks you can see all of the SSSIs in Great Britain – you can zoom in and out of the map and you can visit all parts of England, Scotland and Wales. Happy travels!  You’ll discover that some SSSIs cover thousands of hectares and others small fractions of a hectare, that some are well-known names and others you’ve never heard of, but all have been selected for their wildlife (and/or geological) value.  They are sometimes referred to as the conservation jewels in the crown and to a large extent if the right sites are chosen, and if they are protected and well-managed, then they form a vital wildlife conservation network.

    What is the nearest SSSI to your home? Did you know about it already? Have you ever been there? The notification of an SSSI does not confer rights of entry to the public but there may be a footpath through the SSSI, it may be owned by a conservation body which permits public access or it may be designated as open access – normal rules apply.  

    Finding out more about SSSIs – starting with England

    Now you have discovered that you live in a country with SSSIs dotted about all over it you may be curious to know more about your local SSSI. The following information is for England only because the systems differ in different UK nations and the English system is quite good and (to be honest) we understand it better than we do the Welsh or Scottish or Northern Irish systems.

    Let’s go to East Anglia;

    https://magic.defra.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx

    There’s The Wash, which is a massive SSSI, and the North Norfolk coast and scattered around are a lot of smaller, but still very important, SSSIs such as Dersingham Bog and Roydon Common.

    Each SSSI is made up of units and you can see the units, and, importantly, their condition with another couple of clicks;

    https://magic.defra.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx

    See? Now all the SSSIs, but let’s look at The Wash, are shown with their units mapped and each unit is classified, by Natural England, as being in Favourable Condition or not. Obviously, it would be good if all the SSSI units were shaded in light green as Favourable Condition but the more you look closely the more you will find that there are SSSI units in Unfavourable Condition. Don’t be fooled by the areas classed as Unfavourable Recovering – it sounds good but often isn’t. Sometimes it just means there is a plan for recovery and there is a wide gulf between having a plan on paper and having the right action on the ground.

    And you can dig deeper into this information if you go to another website – this one https://designatedsites.naturalengland.org.uk/SiteSearch.aspx – where you will find a screen like this;

    https://designatedsites.naturalengland.org.uk/SiteSearch.aspx

    If you pop the name of the SSSI into the form (make sure it is the right name, let’s choose ‘The Wash’) and press ‘search’ you’ll get a screen like this one;

    … then click on ‘View details’ and you’ll get this;

    https://designatedsites.naturalengland.org.uk/SiteDetail.aspx?SiteCode=S1002591&SiteName=The%20Wash&countyCode=&responsiblePerson=&SeaArea=&IFCAArea=

    From this screen you can find out why The Wash was notified as an SSSI, what actions on site require Natural England’s permission, what Natural England thinks about how the site should be managed and information on the details behind the condition of all the SSSI units – in this case 60 of them that go to a couple of pages. If you do look at the unit condition assessments then you will find, just as was true for Dendles Wood, that the years on which some units were last assessed (according to this Natural England website) were a very long time ago. This isn’t news – lack of monitoring of SSSI condition is a well-known problem to professional nature conservationists. But if you live in England this system will allow you to check when your local SSSI was last assessed Was it ages ago? Have a look and see.

    We may get back to you on this subject.

  58. Pheasants camping out in Dartmoor woods

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    Darwall’s Guide to: ‘Do I allow it on my land?’

    You might have heard about Dartmoor in the news quite a lot recently – see, for example, here. In January this year, the owner of a Dartmoor Estate, Mr Alexander Darwall, won the right to remove people found wild camping on his land.

    Prior to this, it was assumed under local law that a right to wild camp existed without having to ask permission from the landowner. Whilst public outcry derided the decision, describing it as impairing people’s ability to spend time in nature, another issue came to our attention.

    On trespasses undertaken by Right to Roam and the Stars Are for Everyone campaigners, it was noticed that a large number of Pheasants were wandering in and around protected areas of the Blachford Estate (Darwall’s Estate on Dartmoor). In particular, one rather beautiful National Nature Reserve called Dendles Wood.

    Dendles Wood NNR is a protected area – it’s part of the larger Dendles Wood Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is also part of the much larger Dartmoor Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The NNR is owned mostly by Natural England, and partly by South West Water, but lies adjacent to Darwall’s Blachford Estate. The SSSI is an area of temperate rainforest with a ground flora of mosses and many lichens on the trees, and it is also home to the rare Blue Ground Beetle Carabus intricatus.

    Following the reports of lots of Pheasants in and around Dendles Wood, we decided to do some digging. Inspecting the estate on Google Earth, it looks as though Pheasants are being released from at least one pen on the Blachford Estate in close proximity to Dendles Wood – only 225m away in fact. This raised a few questions for us…

    It seems inevitable that free-roaming birds released at such proximity to Dendles Wood are going to enter the protected site. In studies reviewed for Natural England, Pheasants are increasingly recognised as being a threat to native flora and fauna. Pheasants can affect other (real) wildlife through direct predation of invertebrates, browsing or grazing of flora, direct scratching of ground vegetation and through nutrient deposition via faeces.

    Natural England’s management plan for Dendles Wood, spanning 2015-2020 (no updated plan seems to be available), lists high Pheasant stocking rates as a potential threat to Blue Ground Beetle populations in the NNR/SSSI.

    We’ve asked our lawyers to write to Natural England. We’re concerned that harm to biodiversity from Pheasants released close to Dendles Wood is quite likely – so we’ve asked Natural England lots of questions about local Pheasant releases, and what steps Natural England has taken to regulate gamebird releases since they identify Pheasant numbers as a potential threat to the site. Our 16 detailed questions are in the letter below.

    This issue goes to the role of Natural England as a regulator of protected sites, and in this case as a landowner too. According to the Natural England website (click here), the latest assessments of the condition of the four SSSI units of Dendles Wood were in the years 2009-2011 – more than a decade ago – can that be right?

    You can read our letter, which was sent to Natural England yesterday, below – and we’ll tell you how they reply.

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free campaign newsletter – click here.

  59. Our Woodcock petition finished on 107,916 signatures – here are the top constituencies

    Comments Off on Our Woodcock petition finished on 107,916 signatures – here are the top constituencies

    Our petition to limit the Woodcock shooting season closed last Wednesday – ending on a grand total of 107,916 signatures. We’re blown away, thank you!

    We know now the petition will be debated in Parliament on February 27 this year – which you can read about here. We’ll be keeping you updated with developments in the run up to it.

    Below is a final update on the leading constituencies – the top 20 for number of signatures. West Dorset, Mr Christopher Loder MP’s constituency, came out on top.

      1. West Dorset, Chris Loder MP694 signatures
      2. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP602 signatures
      3. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP564 signatures
      4. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP556 signatures
      5. Central Devon, Mel Stride MP554 signatures
      6. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP526 signatures
      7. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP499 signatures
      8. North Dorset, Simon Hoare MP470 signatures
      9. South Dorset, Richard Drax MP 466 signatures
      10. Mid Norfolk, George Freeman MP461 signatures
      11. Totnes, Anthony Mangnall MP461 signatures
      12. Broadland, Jerome Mayhew MP460 signatures
      13. Stroud, Siobhain Baillie MP442 signatures
      14. Norwich S, Clive Lewis MP441 signatures
      15. High Peak, Robert Largan MP437 signatures
      16. Isle of Wight, Bob Seeley MP428 signatures
      17. East Devon, Simon Jupp MP409 signatures
      18. Tiverton and Honiton, Richard Foord, MP409 signatures
      19. North Devon, Selaine Saxby MP409 signatures
      20. Somerton and Frome, David Warbuton, MP409 signatures

    Here’s a map of signature distribution – you can see South West England and East Anglia are still particularly strong areas of support. Both are strong Pheasant shooting areas. It’s good to see that Therese Coffey’s constituents are still sending the Defra Secretary of State a strong message on what she should do.

    Our action, supported by you, has already persuaded Defra to promise changes to licensing and for those to be discussed across the UK administrations. This would not have happened without our action – thank you for your brilliant support.

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  60. Wild Justice scoops two awards!

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    We are delighted to have won two awards, voted by the readers of Birdwatch, in the 2022 Birders’ Choice Awards.

    Up against strong contenders, we won the Conservation Hero of the Year Award and our campaign to limit the Woodcock shooting season won the Campaign of the Year Award.

    We’re enormously grateful to Birdwatch for nominating us for the short-list and humbled by the amount of Birdwatch readers who voted for us.

    We wouldn’t be able to achieve anything without strong public support (both financial and moral) so these awards are for all of us.

    We’re also indebted to our fantastic legal team at Leigh Day and Matrix Chambers for their incredible work on our behalf. We’re delighted that one of the team, Carol Day, has recently been named on the prestigious Lawyer Hot 100 2023 list (see here) – she richly deserves such recognition.

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free campaign newsletter – click here.

  61. Our petition to limit the Woodcock shooting season will be debated in Parliament in February

    Comments Off on Our petition to limit the Woodcock shooting season will be debated in Parliament in February

    Our petition to limit the Woodcock shooting season has now closed, with over 107,000 signatures. Thank you all so much for your support! (Please click here for more detail about our Woodcock campaign).

    Because the petition passed 100,000 signatures it will be debated by MPs and that will happen on Monday 27 February.  You can attend the debate in person, though seats are limited and not very comfortable, or watch the debate on the UK Parliament YouTube channel

    We’ll give you details of how you can encourage your MP to take part in the debate. Westminster Hall debates are non-binding on the government but are opportunities to air the issues. Only back-bench MPs are allowed to speak except that an opposition shadow minister and a government minister speak at the end of the debate so it is an opportunity to judge the policies and engagement across the political spectrum.

    Meanwhile, a letter published in this week’s edition of Shooting Times is a bit awkward for the shooting community. It describes the type of Woodcock shooting that we have been told by loads of shooters never happens!

    This is why our petition to limit shooting by regulation is so much better an approach than leaving it to the good will of shooters as suggested by BASC and GWCT.

    Just to re-cap, GWCT agree that it’s a bad idea to shoot woodcock before 1 December and BASC say something similar.

    We argue that shooting seasons should protect quarry species – no shooting of Woodcock before 1 December!

    We’re delighted that BirdWatch readers have voted our Woodcock campaign ‘Campaign of the Year’ in the recently announced Birders’ Choice Awards 2022. Thank you to everyone who voted!

  62. Reward for info about 5 shot goshawks passes £14,000

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    On Monday (16th January 2023), Suffolk Police found five dead juvenile Goshawks dumped at the edge of the King’s Forest, just south of Thetford. X-rays revealed all five contained shotgun pellets (see here for details).

    A £5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction was launched by the RSPB, swiftly followed by another £5,000 contributed by Wild Justice (here).

    The following day the bird news service Rare Bird Alert launched a crowdfunder to increase the reward (here) and so far this has raised over £4,000, meaning the total reward on offer at the moment is £14,070.

    If you’d like to contribute to the reward, please visit the crowdfunder here.

    If you have any information about this appalling crime, please call Suffolk Police on 101 and quote crime reference 37/3027/23. Alternatively, you can provide anonymous information via the RSPB’s dedicated Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

  63. Five shot Goshawks found in Suffolk: Wild Justice offers £5k reward for information

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    On Monday (16th January 2023), Suffolk Police found five dead juvenile Goshawks dumped at the edge of the King’s Forest, just south of Thetford. X-rays revealed all five contained shotgun pellets (see here for details).

    Earlier today, the RSPB offered a £5k reward for information leading to a conviction in this despicable case. It is the highest reward the charity has ever offered (see here).

    Wild Justice will match the RSPB’s reward, which now stands at £10,000.

    Wild Justice said: “We are sick to the back teeth of the relentless illegal persecution of birds of prey in the UK, which is mostly associated with land managed for gamebird shooting, be that Red Grouse, Pheasants or partridges. Indeed, it was our strength of feeling about raptor persecution, and our frustration at the failure of the Westminster and the devolved governments to tackle it effectively, that led to us founding Wild Justice in 2018. In partnership with the RSPB, we hope this substantial reward will encourage someone to come forward with information about whoever was responsible for this heinous crime, and that that information leads to a successful conviction“.

    If you have any information, please call Suffolk Police on 101 and quote crime reference 37/3027/23. Alternatively, to get in touch anonymously, call the RSPB’s dedicated Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

  64. We lost our sewage appeal

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    Photo: Windrush Against Sewage Pollution

    We’re disappointed to have to tell you that we lost our appeal for permission for judicial review of Ofwat’s regulation of sewage releases.  This is a blow to us and we know it will be to many who supported us financially and/or morally. We’ve invested a lot of time in researching the issue and its legal background, and over £40,000 of your donations in legal fees taking the case and then taking it on to the Court of Appeal. We gave it our best shot but there is nowhere else to go.

    Was it worth it?

    Well, although we lost, we tried. Most judicial reviews fail but unless you take to the field you can’t win any victories. This one we lost. We lay out our scorecard overall below.

    Frankly, we are surprised that we were not given permission to go to a full court hearing. We believed, and still do believe, that we had a strong and arguable case. We would have relished having a day in court to make that case.

    We’d much rather win than lose – wouldn’t everyone? But we are often told, and often by those against whom we have taken legal action, that despite losing, the very act of taking a legal challenge changes the future behaviour of public bodies. We are now accustomed to being told that things would have happened, bad things, but someone said ‘What if Wild Justice got to hear of this? We’d be in court pretty quickly.’. So we guess our view is that if we keep throwing ourselves against the door then we will sometimes break through, and even when we don’t then we’ve rattled the windows as well as the doors and the residents know there is someone outside.

    But we wish we could have won this case.

    Our record:

    This is the third challenge that we have lost at the ‘permission’ stage – and we have appealed all of them – unsuccessfully. The other two were cases on the Badger cull in England – click here – and the hopeless Defra burning regulations – click here.

    There have been other cases where even just a legal letter has been enough to secure a positive change – most spectacularly in our first challenge over general licences in England back in 2019.

    Some cases, where permission is granted, proceed towards a court hearing and then the other party caves in – examples include our challenge of gamebird releases in England –  click here – and our challenge of Northern Ireland general licences – click here.

    Our challenge of general licences in Wales went to court and the judge found against us – click here – but his remarks were so helpful (and to be fair, Natural Resources Wales were so sensible) that after a consultation NRW brought in a suite of changes that were pretty much what we had asked for – click here. Sticking in there, and making a strong case, won the day in the end.

    This is a very strong record – and for that we have to thank our legal team at Leigh Day and Matrix Chambers.  

    The future:

    We’ve already started some further investigations in relation to sewage discharges. We’ll let you know if anything comes of them. But we’d also like to wish others well in their actions on water quality; small organisations like Windrush Against Sewage Pollution with whom we worked closely, Surfers Against Sewage, River Action, Wild Fish and the incomparable Feargal Sharkey.

    We’ll sit in a corner feeling down about this loss for a day or two and then we’ll be up again and looking for the next area where we can take legal action on behalf of wildlife. Thank you for your support.

     

    We are awaiting the result of our challenge of the proposals for a Badger cull in Northern Ireland.

     

  65. Appeal hearing for our Ofwat legal challenge re: failure to regulate sewage discharges

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    Yesterday we were back in the High Court for our appeal for permission for judicial review of Ofwat’s failure to regulate sewage discharge.

    This appeal follows an earlier court hearing in September 2022 when our request for permission for judicial review was refused by Mr Justice Bourne.

    Yesterday a different judge listened to our arguments, and those of Ofwat, and reserved judgement until a later date.

    Our fingers are crossed that we are granted permission to proceed with this case.

    There’s coverage today in The Express (here).

    Many thanks to everyone who supported our crowdfunder – the case wouldn’t have been possible without your help!

  66. Northern Ireland’s new general licences

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    Rook. Photo: Tim Melling

    With the publication of new general licences for Northern Ireland – click here – we can draw a line under another chapter in Wild Justice’s campaign to reduce the casual and unlawful killing of wildlife under statutory licences. Following changes to general licences in England, Wales and Scotland, Northern Ireland has made a raft of positive changes following a successful Wild Justice legal challenge in 2021 – click here.

    General licences are used by statutory agencies to authorise the killing of what might be called ‘pest’ species – although we object to that as a blanket term. All wild birds are protected by law but there are circumstances under which they can be killed legally – for example to protect human health, crops or endangered species. The general licences permit any of us, under certain circumstances and conditions, to kill specified species without applying for a specific licence which would involve a careful justification of the need for lethal control.

    Since Wild Justice launched its first legal challenge, on general licences in England, in spring 2019, we have seen widespread reform of general licences. The licences still are not perfect but they have been improved, through our campaigning and legal challenges, by removal of a large number of inappropriate species from the licences, tightening up of the conditions applying to the licences and restriction of the times of year and the locations in which they can be used.

    The Northern Ireland general licences were, frankly, awful until our actions – click here. The new Northern Ireland general licences affect very many fewer species: the ‘health and safety’ licence contains just two species whereas it used to include seven species; the ‘damage to crops’ licence now contains six species rather than nine species and the ‘conservation licence’ now is reduced to two species from four species. Use of the ‘conservation licence’ to kill Hooded Crow and Magpie is limited now from March – August inclusive.

    The necessary and sensible changes for which we have argued and campaigned have been opposed by shooting organisations and in some cases by farmers. There has been a lot of bluster and bravado about how Wild Justice would not win, but we have. With the help and involvement of our supporters, and the deployment of great legal brains, we have, together, brought about the most significant reforms to general licences across the UK that have ever taken place. We have taken on the casual licensing of casual killing of wildlife and brought about very significant changes in the teeth of opposition from interest groups and initially indifference from the regulators.

    Reform of general licences may seem like a rather small and niche aspect of wildlife law, and to some extent that is correct, but it involves the state allowing the killing of wildlife, and that is no small matter. Also, we have shown that legal challenges can be powerful tools in engineering change. We have not changed wildlife laws, we have made the regulators stick to the law. That sends a strong message to those same regulators, and others, that they must, more generally, consider carefully the legal basis of their actions.

    We could not have made the progress we’ve made without great lawyers and great support from the public. Without your financial support we could not have taken a string of legal challenges, none of them cheap, across the UK – thank you. Your money has delivered real change. And many Wild Justice supporters have responded to consultations, including one in Northern Ireland this summer, which have shown that there is public appetite to tighten up these licences – thank you again.

    And this work on general licences has in some ways established the Wild Justice approach – we will take legal challenges and deploy scientific arguments whether they are popular with others or not, and we will not be intimidated nor brushed off. We’ll see these challenges through to a conclusion. In the case of general licences, we have achieved a great deal in the last four years but there are still many other battles to fight on behalf of wildlife where the same approach will be needed. Thank you for your support.

    Wild Justice is a not-for-profit organisation set up by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery. We are entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  67. Our Woodcock petition passes 100,000 signatures and there are three weeks to go

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    Our petition to limit the Woodcock shooting season passed 100,000 signatures on Friday. Thank you for such great support! And it is still attracting signatures, which is great.

    Here is an update on the leading constituencies – 17 of them – all with more than 400 signatures, and West Dorset now way out in front with over 650;

      1. West Dorset, Chris Loder MP672 signatures
      2. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP589 signatures
      3. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP554 signatures
      4. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP541 signatures
      5. Central Devon, Mel Stride MP540 signatures
      6. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP512 signatures
      7. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP493 signatures
      8. North Dorset, Simon Hoare MP461 signatures
      9. S Dorset, Richard Drax MP 457 signatures
      10. Broadland, Jerome Mayhew MP452 signatures
      11. Mid Norfolk, George Freeman MP448 signatures
      12. Totnes, Anthony Mangnall MP443 signatures
      13. Norwich S, Clive Lewis MP431 signatures
      14. Stroud, Siobhain Baillie MP426 signatures
      15. High Peak, Robert Largan MP425 signatures
      16. Isle of Wight, Bob Seeley MP408 signatures
      17. East Devon, Simon Jupp MP401 signatures

    Here’s a map of where the signatures come from – everywhere! But SW England and East Anglia are particularly strong areas of support. Both are strong Pheasant shooting areas. It’s good to see that Therese Coffey’s constituents are still sending the Defra Secretary of State a strong message on what she should do.

    Our action, supported by you, has already persuaded Defra to promise changes to licensing and for those to be discussed across the UK administrations. This would not have happened without our action – thank you for your brilliant support.

    Please share the petition link – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/619615 – you can help move things along even faster. Thank you.

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  68. Defra doesn’t know what it’s doing (not news) on catching up and bird flu

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    Defra really doesn’t like to rock the boat by reforming anything to do with recreational shooting in England. We suspect that this is because the boat was built, paid for and is populated by the supporters of the shooting industry who are mates with the current incumbents at Defra.

    Examples include general licences (where change has been forced by legal action by Wild Justice), burning regulations (where change was forced by The Committee on Climate Change and almost every environmental NGO in the country), gamebird releases (where change was forced by legal action by Wild Justice) and lead ammunition where a consultation is happening which is largely driven by quicker changes in legislation in the EU which will affect the possibility of UK sales of game meat.

    Often Defra does not act, when it does , it acts poorly (burning on peatlands is a good example), the changes are not policed (previous changes in ammunition regulations for shooting) and it always takes far too long to get things done.

    A good example of these things – nothing done and decided very slowly – occurred this summer in a pathetic response to bird flu where from late spring onwards it was obvious that the situation with bird flu had changed and that, unusually for summer, there was a lot of it about. Under these circumstances it would be sensible to assess the risk attached to releasing millions of captive gamebirds into the countryside. This is not said with hindsight, many were saying this at the time, with the RSPB being particularly outspoken as we recall.

    The Defra response was to do nothing for ages and then start a risk assessment very late and complete it so late that all releases had already occurred – and then only publish the risk assessment months later (last week). Our summary of the risk assessment is ‘for a whole bunch of reasons, it would be daft to release gamebirds into the countryside this summer’ but, of course, because this is Defra, this was pretending that you might close the stable (or release pen) door long after any horses (Pheasants or Red-legged Partridges) had bolted (see here).

    Well that’s water under the bridge, or millions of birds into the bird flu reservoir population, but Defra now has another decision to make. Guess what? Defra is dragging its heels again and looks as though it won’t make it in time to have any impact on anything.

    The decision is on catching up. Catching up refers to (have you guessed?) catching up female Pheasants – bringing them back into captivity before the end of the shooting season (end of January) to form a new breeding stock (although many birds are also imported later in the season). Our question to Defra was, having failed to stop all these birds being released, what is your position on catching up? We can see this is a difficult decision, but that’s what government exists to do. Defra appears incapable of putting its mind to anything to do with shooting until its too late to make a difference.

    You can see there response to our information request – it’s as though they don’t have an answer and certainly don’t want to give one.

  69. NGDA members selling game meat with high lead levels

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    NGDA News | National Game Dealers Association as downloaded at 10:45am this morning, 21 December 2022

    The National Game Dealers Association claims that its members decided last year not to sell game meat which was shot with lead (toxic) ammunition from July 2022. The wording admits of no ambiguity:

    ‘At the National Game Dealers Association (NGDA) annual general meeting, members voted to commit to sourcing all feather and fur game as well as venison and wild boar from lead free chains from 1st of July 2022.’.

    This is a claim that is easily tested – so we have tested it. And for the three game suppliers for which we have data, the claim is untrue. The levels of lead in the meat are, on average, high. As high, slightly higher in fact, than other samples of game meat which have been tested by Wild Justice and others in the UK in recent years.

    We asked the NGDA earlier in the year whether they were sticking to their lead-free promise but received no response (see here).  they told us today that they didn’t get our email and they don’t ever look at social media (maybe they should?).

    This is what was done (Methods):

    In November and December 2022, 10 oven-ready pheasant carcasses were bought from each of three NGDA members (30 carcasses in all). Each carcass was dissected to remove most of the edible meat. The meat was diced and mixed and a sample of 30-50 g taken for analysis, bagged and frozen. Shotgun pellets found during dissection were stored for future analysis to determine their principal metallic element. This analysis has not been done yet. The meat sample from each bird was carefully searched to ensure that it contained no shotgun pellets. The sample was then dried and milled and a subsample analysed to determine the concentration of lead.

    This is what was found (Results):

    Arithmetic mean concentrations of lead in pheasant meat for the three NGDA suppliers were 2.717, 0.753 and 0.435 ppm (wet weight) for Peterborough Game, Turners Game and Willo Game respectively. The overall arithmetic mean was 1.302 ppm (w.w.). This compares with the EU maximum residue level (MRL) permitted for meat from domesticated animals of 0.1 ppm (w.w.), i.e. the mean lead level across these samples was 13 times higher than would be legal for non-game meat.

    The EU maximum residue level (MRL) for lead does not apply, bizarrely, to game meat. However, the Food Standards Agency (click here) and NHS (click here) both warn of the health dangers of lead ingestion, particularly to children so it is educational to look at the proportion of samples that were above and below the EU MRL. Willo Game: 5/10 were below the EU MRL; Turners Game, 4/10 and Peterborough Game only 1/10 was below the EU MRL. 

    Concentration of lead (ppm w.w.) in meat from 10 pheasant carcasses supplied for human consumption by each of three members of the National Game Dealers Association in November/December 2022. Each symbol represents the concentration for one carcass. The dashed line shows the EU Maximum Residue Level for meat from domesticated animals, such as chickens, cattle, etc.. Note the scale of the vertical axis is logarithmic so that higher scores are much higher than lower ones.

    Clearly, buying game meat on the basis of the NGDA claim would be unwise – you’d usually end up eating meat with very high lead levels, albeit legal levels for game meat.

    It appears that the words on the NGDA website about lead ammunition were worthless as a guide to what you would be buying.

    Discussion:

    You can’t tell what the lead content of meat is by looking at it and so you have to trust the supply chain. This supply chain is not working because the umbrella body has made a misleading claim on its website. The claim may not  have been intentionally misleading but it was certainly misleading.

    This will come as a surprise to many, not least Richard Negus (a shooter who writes for Shooting Times and elsewhere) who was also under the impression that such sources were now lead-free (click here).

    Wild Justice phoned all three outlets this morning, at about 1045, and asked two questions, as if we were simply people interested in buying game meat. First – were they NGDA members – all three confirmed they were. Second, was their game meat lead-free – none claimed it was, although one said they could probably source it if really needed. All appeared surprised that the NGDA website said that its members would be selling lead-free game meat from July this year. One agreed that was misleading.

    So Wild Justice next phoned the NGDA who said that they had intended to go lead-free but Putin’s war and other things had made that difficult but they still wanted to go lead-free. They also said they had never received an email from Wild Justice asking about this. And that they didn’t look at social media and had not seen our blog on the subject. The NGDA said they would be changing their website and bringing it up to date.

    When asked what customers should do if they had bought game meat on the basis that they thought it would be lead-free the NGDA representative didn’t know. Wild Justice suggests that such customers seek a refund.

    Wild Justice will contact other NGDA members to ask them their position on lead in game meat. We’ll report our findings.

    Government needs to regulate toxic lead out of the game meat food chain. This is simply an example of regulatory failure. Lead ammunition should be banned on environmental and human health grounds. You can’t leave it to an industry to act for the public good if that goes against its own commercial interests. Unfortunately, life rarely works like that.

    Acknowledgements: The samples were analysed by Mark Taggart and co-workers in their laboratories at the Environmental Research Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands, Thurso, Scotland.

  70. Young naturalist Benji Fallow donates artwork sales to Wild Justice

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    9-year-old Benjamin Fallow is a young artist and naturalist. He draws and paints from nature, and loves to draw out in the countryside – he’s been carrying paper and pens in his backpack since he was three! Benji loves studying the details and learning facts about each species. He calls himself Benjamin Fallow after fallow deer, because deer are his favourite animals. He’s passionate about protecting nature, and he hopes his artwork will encourage people to care for wildlife and for nature.

    Benji says:

    We have to let nature be wild and not harm it. Nature is the most amazing thing to learn about, and we must look after it. All plants and animals and humans are connected, and we can’t survive without each other.

    I hope people will see my artwork and remember to care for nature.”

    Benji has very generously decided to donate the proceeds from some of his artwork to support Wild Justice. Thank you, Benji, what a star!

    Benji drew this Hen Harrier especially for Hen Harrier Day 2022, and all the proceeds from sales of his Hen Harrier card and print, Goshawk card and print, Peregrine Falcon, Badger and Fox cards, will go to help Wild Justice.

    All the artwork are prints of Benji’s own work, made by himself from scratch at ages 6 – 8. They are printed on beautiful sustainably produced Mokawk paper with high quality inks. The packaging is all recycled and compostable.

    You can view (and buy!) Benji’s artwork on his Etsy page:

    https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/BenjaminFallow

  71. We write to Defra about gamebirds and avian flu

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    This summer has seen unprecedented levels of highly pathogenic avian flu in wild birds in the UK (and elsewhere). In recent years, this has been a winter disease, reaching the UK each autumn as migratory birds arrive but dying out in the warmer summer months. This year the deaths of wild birds have been much greater with many seabird species (eg Gannet and Great Skua) being seriously affected at their breeding colonies.

    Much concern was expressed by a range of conservation bodies about the impacts of releasing captive-bred gamebirds (essentially Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges) into the countryside in very large numbers in late summer for the shooting industry. Might the captive-bred birds bring the virus with them, or might they create another large reservoir of the virus so that it was more difficult for the disease to peter out?

    Defra decided that it wasn’t going to introduce any restrictions on gamebird releases at all – click here. There have been many more cases of bird flu in gamebirds this year, already, than in previous years – click here.

    Having let the genie out of the bottle, or opened Pandora’s box, Defra will have to live with the consequences. But they face another dilemma now, completely of their own making.

    Although many millions of gamebirds are imported into the UK from continental Europe each year (as eggs or chicks or sometimes as poults), some of the breeding stock comprises released gamebirds that have survived the shooting season and are caught up and taken back into captivity. This is part of the Schrodinger’s Pheasant (or Red-legged Partridge) paradox to which we have drawn attention in the past. Gamebirds can flip between being livestock and wild birds several times in their lives – mainly to suit the preferences of the shooting industry.

    We are approaching the time when catching up happens – late December through to the end of the shooting season at the end of January. Is Defra happy to allow catching up (of gamebirds which may well have been infected with the avian flu virus) in a time of widespread avian flu outbreaks among commercial poultry farms, and strict restrictions which apply to commercial poultry industry? Or is Defra going to prevent catching up this year? Again, it’s a difficult call – but the difficulty was entirely predictable and is a consequence of ignoring a great deal of advice that gamebirds should not be released. Our guess will be that Defra will not impose any restrictions on the shooting industry – that’s so often the case.

    Wild Justice wrote to Defra last week asking them what they are going to do. Maybe they haven’t given it any thought until now because we haven’t had a response yet.

    Here’s our letter – we’ll tell you whether we get a reply.

    gg

  72. New report on wildlife crime reveals lack of progress by Government

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    Wildlife & Countryside LINK, a coalition of 67 wildlife organisations, including Wild Justice, has today published its 6th annual report on wildlife crime.

    The report, covering the year 2021, reveals that wildlife crime has soared and the Government has made little progress on tackling it. The wildlife crimes covered in this report cover a range of species including badgers, birds of prey, bats, amphibians and reptiles, hares, foxes, marine mammals plants and fungi, as well as crimes associated with hunting, fisheries and the international trade in wildlife.

    Dr Richard Benwell, chief executive of the Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “Wildlife crime soared during the pandemic and remained at record levels this year. Progress on convictions is positive, and we welcome Defra’s efforts to stiffen sentencing, but overall that is of little use while the rate of successful prosecutions remains so low.

    The snapshot in our report is likely to be a significant under-estimate of all kinds of wildlife offences. To get to grips with these cruel crimes, the Home Office should make wildlife crime notifiable, to help target resources and action to deal with hotspots of criminality.

    The Retained EU Law Bill threatens to be a serious distraction, and could even lead to important wildlife laws being lost. Instead, seven years on from its publication, the government should implement the Law Commission’s 2015 wildlife law report.

    Surely it is better to spend time and money improving laws that are as much as two centuries old, than wasting time reviewing effective environmental laws under the REUL bill.”

    Martin Sims, chair of Link’s wildlife crime working group, said: “We must empower police forces to act on wildlife crime.

    We already see how, with proper resources and training, a real difference can be made in the work against awful crimes like hare coursing. It’s the counties with well-funded and resourced projects in place where we’re seeing the most positive progress.

    Also essential to efforts to better protect our wildlife is making wildlife crime notifiable, and recorded in national statistics. This would better enable police forces to gauge the true extent of wildlife crime and to plan strategically to address it.

    The Wildlife & Countryside LINK 2021 wildlife crime report can be downloaded here

  73. Chris Packham discusses our Woodcock petition with Olivia Blake MP and Lord John Randall

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    Our latest petition, calling on the Government to limit the shooting season of Woodcock, has been zipping along as it heads for 100,000 signatures and hopefully a Parliamentary debate.

    Chris Packham has been talking with Olivia Blake MP and Lord John Randall about this species, about our petition, and about other Wild Justice projects.

    You can watch the video here (and sign the petition here!):

  74. Our Woodcock petition passes 70,000, 71,000 and 72,000 signatures

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    Our petition to limit the Woodcock shooting season is going great guns – if you’ll pardon the expression. Yesterday it passed 70,000, 71,000 and 72,000 signatures!

    Here again are the leading constituencies – 16 of them – all with more than 300 signatures, and West Dorset now way out in front with over 500;

      1. West Dorset, Chris Loder MP556 signatures
      2. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP458 signatures
      3. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP449 signatures
      4. Central Devon, Mel Stride MP427 signatures
      5. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP417 signatures
      6. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP405 signatures
      7. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP401 signatures
      8. North Dorset, Simon Hoare MP371 signatures
      9. Broadland, Jerome Mayhew MP364 signatures
      10. S Dorset, Richard Drax MP 357 signatures
      11. Norwich S, Clive Lewis MP349 signatures
      12. Mid Norfolk, George Freeman MP343 signatures
      13. Totnes, Anthony Mangnall MP342 signatures
      14. High Peak, Robert Largan MP329 signatures
      15. North Devon, Selaine Saxby MP321 signatures
      16. Tiverton & Honiton, Richard Foord MP310 signatures
      17. North West Norfolk, James Wild MP305 signatures
      18. East Devon, Simon Juppy MP307 signatures

    Here’s a map of where the signatures come from – everywhere! But SW England and East Anglia are particularly strong areas of support. It’s good to see that Therese Coffey’s constituents are still sending the Defra Secretary of State a strong message on what she should do.

    For the last 58 days and for the next 3 days it is legal to shoot Woodcock in the UK – we are trying to change that. We want the shooting season curtailed to protect the declining UK breeding population. Our petition calls for shooting to cease in October and November and be limited to December and January. This is even what some shooters and shooting organisations want but they are prepared to leave it up to the good will of shooters to abstain from a legal activity whereas we want the shooting season to stipulate no shooting in October and November.

    Westminster Parliament petitions run for 6 months, and we still have just under two months to go. We’re hopeful that we will reach 100,000. We need your help – not just in signing the petition yourself but in finding a few others to sign it too.

    Every signature counts, whether it is the 13th in Foyle or the 560th in West Dorset. 

    Please share the petition link – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/619615 – you can help move things along even faster. Thank you.

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  75. Judicial review of Northern Ireland badger cull

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    Our legal challenge against the badger cull in Northern Ireland was heard at Belfast’s High Court on Monday 21st November 2022 with The Honourable Mr Justice Scoffield presiding.

    Details of our case, run in partnership with the Northern Ireland Badger Group, can be found here.

    At the hearing on Monday, Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA) was given two weeks to submit further evidence. Our legal team will then be given a week to consider and respond, with a judgement expected “in due course”.

    We are grateful to our brilliant legal team (Carol Day & Ricardo Gama from Leigh Day, and Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh & David Wolfe KC from Matrix Chambers) with Phoenix Law acting as agents in Northern Ireland.

    This case was only possible thanks to the generosity of our supporters who contributed £45K to our crowdfunder earlier this year, enabling us to take on the legal challenge.

  76. Our Woodcock petition passes 60,000 and 61,000 signatures

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    Our petition to limit the Woodcock shooting season is moving on again (after a little snooze). Yesterday it passed 60,000 signatures and 61,000 signatures – and Chris Packham is very happy about it!

    We wonder whether Chris Loder, the MP for West Dorset, is as thrilled as Chris – his constituents are now a long way ahead in the list of constituencies.

    Here are the leading 35 constituencies – all with more than 200 signatures;

      1. West Dorset, Chris Loder MP412 signatures
      2. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP345 signatures
      3. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP345 signatures
      4. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP332 signatures
      5. Central Devon, Mel Stride MP317 signatures
      6. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP310 signatures
      7. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP297 signatures
      8. Broadland, Jerome Mayhew MP277 signatures
      9. Totnes, Anthony Mangnall MP263 signatures
      10. North Dorset, Simon Hoare MP261 signatures
      11. Norwich S, Clive Lewis MP260 signatures
      12. High Peak, Robert Largan MP260 signatures
      13. Mid Norfolk, George Freeman MP254 signatures
      14. S Dorset, Richard Drax MP 253 signatures
      15. Stroud, Siobhan Baillie MP244 signatures
      16. Tiverton & Honiton, Richard Foord MP241 signatures
      17. St Ives, Derek Thomas MP236 signatures
      18. Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake MP234 signatures
      19. Wells, James Heappey MP233 signatures
      20. Somerton and Frome, David Warburton MP233 signatures
      21. North West Norfolk, James Wild MP232 signatures
      22. Lewes, Maria Caulfield MP231 signatures
      23. East Devon, Simon Jupp MP223 signatures
      24. Isle of Wight, Bob Seely MP222 signatures
      25. Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas MP, 220 signatures
      26. Brecon and Radnorshire, Fay Jones MP219 signatures
      27. Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake MP216 signatures
      28. Bury St Edmunds, Jo Churchill MP 214 signatures
      29. Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith MP208 signatures
      30. South East Cambridgeshire, Lucy Fraser MP208 signatures
      31. Ceredigion, Ben Lake MP207 signatures
      32. Arundel and South Downs, Andrew Griffith MP206 signatures
      33. Central Suffolk & N Ipswich, Dan Poulter MP 202 signatures
      34. S Suffolk, James Cartlidge MP 202 signatures
      35. SW Norfolk, Liz Truss MP 200 signatures

    Here’s a map of where the signatures come from – everywhere! But SW England and East Anglia are particularly strong areas of support. It’s good to see that Therese Coffey’s constituents are sending the Defra Secretary of State a strong message on what she should do.

    For the last 53 days and for the next 8 days it is legal to shoot Woodcock in the UK – we are trying to change that. We want the shooting season curtailed to protect the declining UK breeding population. Our petition calls for shooting to cease in October and November and be limited to December and January. This is even what some shooters and shooting organisations want but they are prepared to leave it up to the good will of shooters to abstain from a legal activity whereas we want the shooting season to stipulate no shooting in October and November.

    Westminster Parliament petitions run for 6 months, and we still have a little over two months to go. We think it will be a struggle to reach 100,000. We need your help – not just in signing the petition yourself but in finding a few others to sign it too.

    Every signature counts, whether it is the 7th in Foyle or the 413th in West Dorset. 

    Please share the petition link – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/619615 – you can help move things along even faster. Thank you.

  77. POSTPONED: Join us at the People’s Walk for Wildlife 2

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    PLEASE NOTE: THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO RAIL STRIKES. IT’LL NOW TAKE PLACE IN SPRING 2023.

    On Sunday 27 November, we’ll be heading to London to take part in the People’s Walk for Wildlife 2. We hope to see you there! Read on for a bit of background about the walk, and please make sure to let the organisers know (link below) if you’re planning on coming along.

    Who are the organisers? Well lots of people are involved and the walk is supported by many wildlife conservation organisations – including the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Badger Conservation and Butterfly Conservation, but our own Chris Packham is the main organiser, and of course Wild Justice supports the walk.

    Walk Details:

    Date: Sunday 27 November, 12pm – 4pm, London.

    Timings:
    Gather from 12pm. Walk from 1pm. Speeches, music and infotainment from 2pm. 4pm finish and home.

    Route: We’ll muster from 12pm at Portland Place, and walk down to Parliament Square.

    Bring with you:

    The style: Your wildest look – the walk will be fancy dress, so don your best wildlife outfit, be it a hen harrier, a hedgehog or a humble slug. Feel free to make wild signs and placards too – family-friendly of course.

    The sound: Rather than chants and shouting, we’ll be letting birdsong do the talking. No instruments or drums please. Download the RSPB’s free Birdsong Radio App (Android or Apple) onto your phone, and fill the streets with birdsong on the day.

    Important info: If you’re planning on coming along, please let us know so we can estimate numbers. Pledge to walk at peopleswalkforwildlife.org. Please also consider donating to the walk costs if you can.

    Why walk?

    You might have attended the first Walk for Wildlife in 2018. It was led by Chris Packham, and attended by 10,000 soggy wildlife lovers, conservationists and environmentalists, ecologists, students, families, scientists, ecologists, land managers and members of the public – all concerned about the state of nature.

    So far, 2022 has been politically extraordinary (to say the least). In the midst of multiple waves of turmoil, several worrying threats have emerged – ones that could be disastrous for wildlife and the environment in the UK. Chaos in implementing the Environmental Land Management Scheme, threats to environmental laws under the Retained EU Law Bill, and the unknown impact of Investment Zones and development have all amounted to what many in the sector see as an Attack on Nature.

    Nature’s already severely depleted, battered and bruised. This is death by 1000 cuts. Death by countless slashes, burns, persecutions, fells, chops and spillages. We’re asking you as Wild Justice supporters to join us in this walk in solidarity with wildlife and fellow nature lovers.  We need politicians to do more for nature, not to mount attacks on it.

    This is a peaceful, joyful and family friendly walk. There will be an atmosphere of urgency, and of joy. Wildlife will be celebrated, and our concern for its fate will be stressed.

    We hope to see you there. Pledge to walk at peopleswalkforwildlife.org.

    Stewards, infrastructure, acquiring licences to shut roads and public areas for the duration of the walk – all of this costs money to do safely. These walks can only go ahead with your support – if you feel able to, you can donate at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/walkforwildlife2 

  78. 1 November, our Woodcock petition stands at 57,000 signatures

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    As we enter November, our Woodcock petition has passed 57,000 signatures and we’re only a little over half way through the 6 months of its life.

    Every signature added before 25 January increases the pressure on DEFRA to limit the shooting season.

    For the last 31 days and for the next 30 days it is legal to shoot Woodcock in the UK – we are trying to change that. We want the shooting season curtailed to protect the declining UK breeding population. Our petition calls for shooting to cease in October and November and be limited to December and January. This is even what some shooters and shooting organisations want but they are prepared to leave it up to the good will of shooters to abstain from a legal activity whereas we want the shooting season to stipulate no shooting in October and November.

    Please share the petition link – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/619615 – you can help move things along even faster. Thank you.

    We don’t assume that we will get to 100,000 signatures – but that is definitely our aim. Thank you for your support so far.

    Here are the leading 19 constituencies – all with more than 200 signatures;

      1. West Dorset, Chris Loder MP269 signatures
      2. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP267 signatures
      3. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP249 signatures
      4. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP241 signatures
      5. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP236 signatures
      6. Stroud, Siobhan Baillie MP234 signatures
      7. St Ives, Derek Thomas MP230 signatures
      8. Wells, James Heappey MP228 signatures
      9. Somerton and Frome, David Warburton MP223 signatures
      10. Lewes, Maria Caulfield MP222 signatures
      11. Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake MP221 signatures
      12. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP220 signatures
      13. Isle of Wight, Bob Seely MP216 signatures
      14. Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas MP, 214 signatures
      15. Central Devon, Mel Stride MP209 signatures
      16. Brecon and Radnorshire, Fay Jones MP209 signatures
      17. Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake MP207 signatures
      18. Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith MP201 signatures
      19. Totnes, Anthony Mangnall MP201 signatures

    Westminster Parliament petitions run for 6 months, and we still have just under three months to go. But we think it will be a struggle to reach 100,000. We need your help – not just in signing the petition yourself but in finding a few others to sign it too. Every signature counts, whether it is the 7th in Foyle or the 270th in West Dorset. 

  79. Very good news on Northern Ireland General Licences

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    Yesterday afternoon, and out of the blue, we received very good news on the future of general licences in Northern Ireland. This follows events of 10 months ago (see this blog) when the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs was forced by Wild Justice to revoke its general licences. There have been interim licences in place since that time and a consultation in the summer to which many Wild Justice supporters responded (see our blog on the subject). It has seemed to us that DAERA have been dragging their feet but their proposals have now been revealed and are good (though we await sight of the finished licences).

    The letter we received yesterday demonstrates that the species which can be killed under the proposed new Northern Ireland General Licences are pretty much in line with those already in force in Scotland, Wales and England – all of which have been considerably modified since Wild Justice first took action on the English licences in spring 2019. Here is the letter:

    DAERA have omitted (presumably by accident) Carrion Crow from the list but you can see that the large area of black type in the table shows that many species have simply been removed from each of the three proposed general licences – that is excellent. We also note with pleasure that the ‘conservation’ licence is limited to just some months.

    We regard this as a great victory – not just for Wild Justice but also for the other organisations who supported change and most notably those Wild Justice supporters who responded to the consultation. And most of all it is a victory for wildlife.

    Almost 2000 responses were made to the consultation and although we do not accurately know how many Wild Justice supporters contributed views, we do know that hundreds of you responded – because you told us so! And many of you thanked us for the guidance we provided and said that you had never responded to a government consultation before. Well, now you have, and you must have made a difference. Take a look at the simple breakdown of number of responses and what people said:

    Government departments and agencies usually react to both the weight of opinion in consultations, and the quality of those opinions in terms of being informed and soundly based. It’s not all about numbers – but you’d be foolish to discount the impact of a strong response. That means that everyone, on either side of the issues at debate in this consultation, had some impact on the result. Thank you if you did respond but don’t worry if you didn’t as there will be, for sure, other opportunities in future.

    We will look closely at the details of the licences when they are published but this feels like a very good result. Thank you for your support.

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free campaign newsletter – click here.

  80. New, poor, response from Defra on Woodcock shooting season

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    Woodcock. Photo: Tim Melling

    The story so far:

    • 21 March, Wild Justice writes to Defra asking for a change to the shooting season for Woodcock – see here
    • 5 July, after no response from Defra, despite reminders, Wild Justice submits a parliamentary petition calling for a change to the open season dates for Woodcock shooting in the UK
    • 11 July, Wild Justice’s petition to limit the shooting season for Woodcock is published Limit the shooting season of Woodcock – Petitions (parliament.uk)
    • 12 July, Wild Justice publicises the petition, which passes 10,000 signatures on Day 1, qualifying for a government (Defra) response.
    • 28 July, Defra responds to the petition
    • 1 August, Wild Justice writes to Petitions Committee pointing out that the Defra response is vague and evasive – see here.
    • 7 August, petition passes 20,000 signatures
    • 6 September, George Eustice responds to Wild Justice promising review of shooting season – see here.
    • 7 September, Petitions Committee agrees with Wild Justice and tells Defra to produce a new response to the petition – see here.
    • 30 September, petition passes 30,000 signatures
    • 4 October, petition passes 40,000 signatures
    • 10 October, petition passes 50,000 signatures
    • 11 October, Defra published a new, poor, response to the petition
    • Today, 14 October, petition passes 55,000 signatures

    Below we reproduce Defra’s new, poor, response to our petition on Woodcock shooting seasons. The words in black type are Defra’s words (some of which we have deleted with strikethroughs) and the red words are ones that Defra should have, and could have, written in an honest response.

    You will see that Defra still ignores the case made by shooting organisations, as well as by Wild Justice, and now supported by the RSPB too (see here), that shooting before 1 December each year is a threat to the UK breeding population. It would have done Defra no harm at all, to spell this out and to say that has persuaded them to act.

    But instead, the new, poor, Defra response claims that future unimplemented and unknown measures will make a difference. It’s always vague promises of future action from this government.

    We welcome the promise of a review of shooting seasons but note that there is no promise of change to that of Woodcock and there is no indication of when this review will take place. Another vague promise of jam tomorrow…

    See what you think:

    .

    .

    “Defra intends to review the list of species, including woodcock, on Schedule 2 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 including the benefits of altering the close season.”

    “All wild birds are protected in accordance with the provisions set out in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Some species of birds, including the woodcock, are listed on Schedule 2 of the Act and may be hunted during the open season. In England, and Wales and Northern Ireland, the open season for woodcock is from 1 October to 31 January. Outside of this period, the close season helps to make sure that woodcocks are able to breed successfully and move between breeding and wintering grounds. The first breeding woodcock survey was undertaken in 2003 and estimated a breeding population of 78,000 pairs in Britain. A further survey in 2013 estimated 55,000 pairs, representing a decline of 29%. As a result, the woodcock has been on the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern in the UK since 2015.

    Concern has been expressed by BASC and GWCT that shooting of woodcock within the current open season months of October and November (and September in Scotland), may contribute to a decline of the UK breeding population. For this reason, shooting organisations have asked recreational shooters not to shoot woodcock during this period. It is hoped that as a result, shooting pressure on the declining resident UK woodcock population may have decreased but in the absence of recent and robust estimates of both breeding population numbers and numbers of birds shot then it cannot be certain that it has decreased and, even if it has, that it has decreased sufficiently. Furthermore, since this petition was posted a scientific study has highlighted woodcock as a species for which there is concern over the impact of shooting on the population (An initial assessment of the sustainability of waterbird harvest in the United Kingdom – Ellis – Journal of Applied Ecology – Wiley Online Library). The current petition asks us to recognise the concerns which have led to calls for voluntary shooting restraint and formalise them in the statutory shooting seasons.

    Defra is committed to reviewing the protection we afford to wild birds listed on Schedule 2 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, in particular establishing the evidence underpinning the listing of species such as the woodcock, so we can ensure that recreational shooting is sustainable and does not undermine species recovery. This might include amending the close season for native species such as the woodcock. Defra will complete this review by ?????

    During winter, our resident birds are joined by migrants from breeding populations in Northern Europe, and Western Russia and central Asia, increasing the Great Britain non-breeding population to 1.4 million individuals.

    The reasons for the decline of the breeding population of woodcock in Great Britain are not fully understood but are likely to may also include: disturbance; habitat loss as a result of land drainage; the drying out of natural woodlands; changes in surrounding woodland management; the maturation of new plantations; and overgrazing by deer. Further work is needed to fully understand the causes of its decline.

    Whilst the Department undertakes this review, the woodcock will continue to be supported by may benefit from a number of measures already in train future policy developments. We are committed to species recovery in England, and that is why, within the Environment Act 2021, we have set a new legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. Furthermore, Defra published a Nature Recovery Green Paper consultation on proposals to support our ambitions to restore nature and halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. We are considering the responses to the now closed consultation and the Government will publish its response in due course.

    The woodcock will may benefit from a number of woodland grant schemes funded by both the Countryside Stewardship scheme and the Nature for Climate Fund, some of which specifically target management for declining woodland birds. These grants include the Woods into Management Forestry Innovation Funds, which aim to restore vulnerable woodland habitats, improve biodiversity and conserve threatened species, as well as the England Woodland Creation Offer.

    More broadly, environmentally sustainable farming is fundamental to our agricultural transition outside of the EU. We are may be introducing three environmental land management schemes: the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local Nature Recovery, and Landscape Recovery although our position on these is under review. These schemes will may pay for activities to create, manage and restore habitats such as woodland, connecting isolated habitats to form networks, and species management, all of which will may benefit some  woodland bird species, perhaps such as the woodcock.

  81. Our Woodcock petition passes 51,000 signatures

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    Our Woodcock petition has passed 50,000 signatures (and 51,000) so we’re over half of the way to gaining a Westminster Hall debate on the subject. And every signature increases the pressure on DEFRA to do something sensible.

    Please share the petition link – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/619615 – you can help move things along even faster. Thank you.

    We don’t assume that we will get to 100,000 signatures – but that is definitely our aim. Thank you for your support so far.

    And we now have the RSPB supporting this petition too – see their blog today – click here. Thank you RSPB!

    We’ve been listing leading constituencies here now and again. We’ve listed those constituencies with more than 100 signatures – but that is now a very long list indeed (over 180 constiuencies) so we are changing tack. This time we are listing those constituencies with 154+ signatures. Why at least 154? Seems an odd number? Well, 100,000 signatures, divided across 650 constituencies means that the average constituency has to produce 154 signatures.

      1. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP248 signatures
      2. West Dorset, Chris Loder MP241 signatures
      3. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP225 signatures
      4. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP221 signatures
      5. St Ives, Derek Thomas MP211 signatures
      6. Stroud, Siobhan Baillie MP210 signatures
      7. Somerton and Frome, David Warburton MP209 signatures
      8. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP209 signatures
      9. Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake MP208 signatures
      10. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP202 signatures
      11. Wells, James Heappey MP198 signatures
      12. Isle of Wight, Bob Seely MP196 signatures
      13. Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake MP195 signatures
      14. Lewes, Maria Caulfield MP194 signatures
      15. Central Devon, Mel Stride MP185 signatures
      16. Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas MP, 185 signatures
      17. Mid Norfolk, George Freeman MP – 183 signatures
      18. Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith MP183 signatures
      19. Broadland, Jerome Mayhew MP180 signatures
      20. North Herefordshire, Bill Wiggin MP 179 signatures
      21. Brecon and Radnorshire, Fay Jones MP178 signatures
      22. High Peak, Robert Largan MP178 signatures
      23. Ceredigion, Ben Lake MP178 signatures
      24. Arundel and South Downs, Andrew Griffith MP177 signatures
      25. Totnes, Anthony Mangnall MP177 signatures
      26. Macclesfield, David Rutley MP174 signatures
      27. Ross, Skye and Lochaber,  Ian Blackford MP174 signatures
      28. Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron MP174 signatures
      29. West Worcestershire, Harriet Baldwin MP173 signatures
      30. South Cambridgeshire, Anthony Browne MP172 signatures
      31. Norwich S, Clive Lewis MP168 signatures
      32. New Forest East, Julian Lewis MP167 signatures
      33. Ludlow, Philip Dunne MP167 signatures
      34. New Forest West, Desmond Swayne MP165 signatures
      35. South East Cambridgeshire, Lucy Fraser MP165 signatures
      36. Bridgwater & W Somerset, Ian Liddell-Grainger MP164 signatures
      37. Rutland and Melton, Alicia Kearns MP163 signatures
      38. East Devon, Simon Jupp MP163 signatures
      39. Bristol West, Thangam Debonnaire MP161 signatures
      40. Hexham, Guy Opperman MP – 160 signatures
      41. Truro and Falmouth, Cherilyn Mackrory MP159 signatures
      42. Monmouth, David Davies MP159 signatures
      43. North Cornwall, Scott Mann MP157 signatures
      44. Penrith and the Border, Neil Hudson MP – 157 signatures
      45. Forest of Dean, Mark Harper MP157 signatures
      46. Chichester, Gillian Keegan MP156 signatures
      47. North Somerset, Liam Fox MP156 signatures

    Westminster Parliament petitions run for 6 months, and we still have three and a half months to go – and we’re over half way there. But we think it will be a struggle to reach 100,000. We need your help – not just in signing the petition yourself but in finding a few others to sign it too. Every signature counts, whether it is the 7th in Tyrone or the 249th in North Norfolk. 

  82. Our Woodcock petition passes 45,000 signatures

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    Our Woodcock petition has passed 45,000 signatures five days after the shooting season opened in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    Please share the petition link – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/619615 – you can help move things along even faster. Thank you.

    The leading constituencies for support, so far, are as follows (all those with 100+ signatures). As expected, they are mostly Conservative rural constituencies, but signatures are very welcome from anywhere and anyone. The number of constituencies in this list is now well over 100.

      1. West Dorset, Chris Loder MP211 signatures
      2. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP210 signatures
      3. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP201 signatures
      4. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP200 signatures
      5. Somerton and Frome, David Warburton MP188 signatures
      6. Stroud, Siobhan Baillie MP187 signatures
      7. Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake MP186 signatures
      8. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP185 signatures
      9. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP182 signatures
      10. St Ives, Derek Thomas MP179 signatures
      11. Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake MP178 signatures
      12. Wells, James Heappey MP176 signatures
      13. Lewes, Maria Caulfield MP171 signatures
      14. Isle of Wight, Bob Seely MP170 signatures
      15. Arundel and South Downs, Andrew Griffith MP162 signatures
      16. Central Devon, Mel Stride MP161 signatures
      17. Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas MP, 160 signatures
      18. Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron MP159 signatures
      19. Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith MP158 signatures
      20. North Herefordshire, Bill Wiggin MP 158 signatures
      21. South Cambridgeshire, Anthony Browne MP158 signatures
      22. Brecon and Radnorshire, Fay Jones MP156 signatures
      23. Macclesfield, David Rutley MP156 signatures
      24. Ceredigion, Ben Lake MP155 signatures
      25. Ross, Skye and Lochaber,  Ian Blackford MP153 signatures
      26. Broadland, Jerome Mayhew MP153 signatures
      27. High Peak, Robert Largan MP151 signatures
      28. West Worcestershire, Harriet Baldwin MP151 signatures
      29. Totnes, Anthony Mangnall MP151 signatures
      30. New Forest East, Julian Lewis MP149 signatures
      31. Rutland and Melton, Alicia Kearns MP144 signatures
      32. South East Cambridgeshire, Lucy Fraser MP147 signatures
      33. North Cornwall, Scott Mann MP147 signatures
      34. New Forest West, Desmond Swayne MP145 signatures
      35. Truro and Falmouth, Cherilyn Mackrory MP142 signatures
      36. Argyll and Bute, Brendan O’Hara MP139 signatures
      37. Monmouth, David Davies MP139 signatures
      38. North Somerset, Liam Fox MP138 signatures
      39. Hexham, Guy Opperman MP – 138 signatures
      40. Penrith and the Border, Neil Hudson MP – 138 signatures
      41. Forest of Dean, Mark Harper MP135 signatures
      42. Hereford and South Herefordshire, Jesse Norman MP135 signatures
      43. Preseli Pembrokeshire, Stephen Crabb MP134 signatures
      44. South West Surrey, Jeremy Hunt MP – 134 signatures
      45. North Dorset, Simon Hoare MP134 signatures
      46. Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Drew Hendry MP134 signatures
      47. Chichester, Gillian Keegan MP130 signatures
      48. Newton Abbot, Anne Marie Morris MP130 signatures
      49. South West Wiltshire, Andrew Murrison MP130 signatures
      50. Berwick-upon-Tweed, Ann-Marie Trevelyan MP – 129 signatures
      51. Wealden, Nusrat Ghani MP – 129 signatures
      52. Wantage, David Johnston MP – 129 signatures
      53. Chippenham, Michelle Donelan MP128 signatures
      54. Tiverton & Honiton, Richard Foord MP128 signatures
      55. North West Norfolk, James Wild MP – 127 signatures
      56. Winchester, Steve Brine MP – 127 signatures
      57. Hastings & Rye, Sally-Ann Hart MP – 127 signatures
      58. Yeovil, Marcus Fysh MP126 signatures
      59. Bexhill & Battle, Huw Merriman MP – 125 signatures
      60. Camborne & Redruth, George Eustice MP 124 signatures
      61. Dumfries and Galloway, Alistair Jack MP124 signatures
      62. North Devon, Selaine Saxby MP124 signatures
      63. Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner MP122 signatures
      64. Mid Dorset and Poole, Michael Tomlinson MP122 signatures
      65. Hove, Peter Kyle MP121 signatures
      66. Witney, Robert Courts MP – 121 signatures
      67. Ludlow, Philip Dunne MP120 signatures
      68. Romsey and Southampton North, Caroline Nokes MP120 signatures
      69. Norwich South, Clive Lewis MP119 signatures
      70. Montgomeryshire, Craig Williams MP 119 signatures
      71. Mid Norfolk, George Freeman MP – 118 signatures
      72. Scarborough and Whitby, Robert Goodwill MP118 signatures
      73. York Outer, Julian Sturdy MP117 signatures
      74. Calder Valley, Craig Whittaker MP117 signatures
      75. Eastleigh, Paul Holmes MP 117 signatures
      76. Bristol West, Thangam Debonnaire MP116 signatures
      77. The Cotswolds, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP – 116 signatures
      78. Folkestone & Hythe, Damian Collins MP – 110 signatures
      79. Lancaster and Fleetwood, Cat Smith MP116 signatures
      80. N Wiltshire, James Gray MP115 signatures
      81. Mole Valley, Paul Beresford MP 115 signatures
      82. SW Norfolk, Liz Truss MP 114 signatures
      83. Exeter, Ben Bradshaw MP 112 signatures
      84. E Worthing & Shoreham, Tim Loughton MP 112 signatures 
      85. Louth & Horncastle, Victoria Atkins MP 112 signatures
      86. St Austell & Newquay, Steve Double MP 112 signatures
      87. Horsham, Jeremy Quin MP 111 signatures
      88. Sheffield Central, Paul Blomfield MP 111 signatures
      89. Taunton Deane, Rebecca Pow MP 110 signatures
      90. Folkestone & Hythe, Damian Collins MP 110 signatures
      91. Central Suffolk & N Ipswich, Dan Poulter MP 110 signatures
      92. Daventry, Chris Heaton-Harris MP 110 signatures
      93. Canterbury, Rosie Duffield MP109 signatures
      94. NW Hampshire, Kit Malthouse MP109 signatures
      95. Buckingham, Greg Smith MP 110 signatures
      96. N Shropshire, Helen Morgan MP 109 signatures
      97. Oxford W & Abingdon, Layla Moran MP 109 signatures
      98. NE Hampshire, Ranil Jayawardena MP 107 signatures
      99. Henley, Greg Smith MP 108 signatures
      100. Meon Valley, Flick Drummond MP 106 signatures
      101. Waveney, Peter Aldousy MP 105 signatures
      102. Bath, Wera Hobhouse MP 105 signatures
      103. S Suffolk, James Cartlidge MP 104 signatures
      104. Keighley, Robbie Moore MP 104 signatures
      105. NW Cambridgeshire, Shailesh Vara MP 103 signatures
      106. Twickenham, Munira Wilson MP103 signatures
      107. Sleaford & N Hykeham, Caroline Johnson MP 103 signatures
      108. Carmarthen S & W Pembrokeshire, Simon Hart MP 102 signatures
      109. S Thanet, Craig Mackinlay MP 102 signatures
      110. Worthing W, Peter Bottomley MP 102 signatures 
      111. Huntingdon, Jonathan Djanogly MP 102 signatures
      112. Christchurch, Christopher Chope MP 101 signatures
      113. Moray, Douglas Rosss MP 101 signatures
      114. W Suffolk, Matt Hancock MP 101 signatures
      115. Ochill & S Perthshire,  John Nicolson MP100 signatures
      116. Stratford-on-Avon, Nadhim Zahawi MP 100 signatures
      117. Mid Sussex, Mims Davies MP 100 signatures
      118. Clwyd W, David Jones MP 100 signatures
      119. Banbury, Victoria Prentis MP 100 signatures
      120. Harrogate & Knaresborough, Andrew Jones MP 100 signatures
      121. Saffron Walden, Kemi Badenoch MP 100 signatures

    Prominent shooters: Bill Wiggin, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Simon Hart

    Cabinet members: Liz Truss, Therese Coffey, Ann-Marie Trevelyan, Alistair Jack, Michelle Donelan, Kemi Badenoch, Nadhim Zehawi, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Kit Malthouse, Ranil Jayawardena, Chris Heaton-Harris

     

  83. Our Woodcock petition passes 36,000 signatures

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    Our Woodcock petition has passed 36,000 signatures two days after the shooting season opened in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    Please share the petition link – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/619615 – you can help move things along even faster. Thank you.

    The leading constituencies for support, so far, are as follows (all those with 100+ signatures). As expected, they are mostly Conservative rural constituencies, but signatures are very welcome from anywhere and anyone. The number of constituencies in this list has almost doubled since Friday.

    1. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP176 signatures
    2. West Dorset, Chris Loder MP175 signatures
    3. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP172 signatures
    4. Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake MP165 signatures
    5. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP161 signatures
    6. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP161 signatures
    7. Somerton and Frome, David Warburton MP160 signatures
    8. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP158 signatures
    9. Stroud, Siobhan Baillie MP157 signatures
    10. Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake MP152 signatures
    11. Wells, James Heappey MP149 signatures
    12. St Ives, Derek Thomas MP144 signatures
    13. Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith MP143 signatures
    14. Lewes, Maria Caulfield MP141 signatures
    15. Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron MP139 signatures
    16. Arundel and South Downs, Andrew Griffith MP135 signatures
    17. North Herefordshire, Bill Wiggin MP 132 signatures
    18. Central Devon, Mel Stride MP131 signatures
    19. Isle of Wight, Bob Seely MP131 signatures
    20. Macclesfield, David Rutley MP131 signatures
    21. Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas MP, 131 signatures
    22. New Forest East, Julian Lewis MP130 signatures
    23. Rutland and Melton, Alicia Kearns MP128 signatures
    24. Brecon and Radnorshire, Fay Jones MP128 signatures
    25. West Worcestershire, Harriet Baldwin MP128 signatures
    26. South East Cambridgeshire, Lucy Fraser MP128 signatures
    27. Broadland, Jerome Mayhew MP127 signatures
    28. High Peak, Robert Largan MP126 signatures
    29. South Cambridgeshire, Anthony Browne MP126 signatures
    30. New Forest West, Desmond Swayne MP125 signatures
    31. Truro and Falmouth, Cherilyn Mackrory MP124 signatures
    32. Ross, Skye and Lochaber,  Ian Blackford MP123 signatures
    33. Ceredigion, Ben Lake MP121 signatures
    34. Totnes, Anthony Mangnall MP121 signatures
    35. Argyll and Bute, Brendan O’Hara MP121 signatures
    36. Ludlow, Philip Dunne MP120 signatures
    37. Norwich South, Clive Lewis MP119 signatures
    38. Mid Norfolk, George Freeman MP – 118 signatures
    39. Monmouth, David Davies MP118 signatures
    40. Scarborough and Whitby, Robert Goodwill MP118 signatures
    41. York Outer, Julian Sturdy MP117 signatures
    42. Calder Valley, Craig Whittaker MP117 signatures
    43. Bristol West, Thangam Debonnaire MP116 signatures
    44. Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey,  Drew Hendry MP116 signatures
    45. North Cornwall, Scott Mann MP116 signatures
    46. North Somerset, Liam Fox MP116 signatures
    47. Wantage, David Johnston MP – 114 signatures
    48. Dumfries and Galloway, Alistair Jack MP113 signatures
    49. Forest of Dean, Mark Harper MP113 signatures
    50. Hexham, Guy Opperman MP – 113 signatures
    51. The Cotswolds, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP – 113 signatures
    52. North West Norfolk, James Wild MP – 113 signatures
    53. Winchester, Steve Brine MP – 112 signatures
    54. South West Wiltshire, Andrew Murrison MP109 signatures
    55. Hereford and South Herefordshire, Jesse Norman MP109 signatures
    56. Preseli Pembrokeshire, Stephen Crabb MP108 signatures
    57. South West Surrey, Jeremy Hunt MP – 108 signatures
    58. North Dorset, Simon Hoare MP107 signatures
    59. Berwick-upon-Tweed, Ann-Marie Trevelyan MP – 107 signatures
    60. Witney, Robert Courts MP – 106 signatures
    61. North Devon, Selaine Saxby MP106 signatures
    62. Lancaster and Fleetwood, Cat Smith MP105 signatures
    63. Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner MP104 signatures
    64. Yeovil, Marcus Fysh MP104 signatures
    65. Mid Dorset and Poole, Michael Tomlinson MP103 signatures
    66. Chippenham, Michelle Donelan MP103 signatures
    67. Bexhill and Battle, Huw Merriman MP102 signatures
    68. Penrith and the Border, Neil Hudson MP – 101 signatures

     

    Prominent shooters: Bill Wiggin, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

    Cabinet members: Therese Coffey, Ann-Marie Trevelyan, Alistair Jack, Michelle Donelan

    Other government ministers: James Heappey, Andrew Griffith, David TC Davies, Jesse Norman, Marcus Fysh

  84. Our Woodcock petition passes 30,000 signatures

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    Our Woodcock petition has passed 30,000 signatures on the day before the shooting season opens in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Please share the petition link – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/619615 – you can help move things along even faster. Thank you.

    The leading constituencies for support, so far, are as follows (all those with 100+ signatures). As expected, they are mostly Conservative rural constituencies, but signatures are very welcome from anywhere and anyone.

    1. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP150 signatures
    2. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP148 signatures
    3. Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake MP137 signatures
    4. West Dorset, Chris Loder MP136 signatures
    5. Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake MP135 signatures
    6. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP130 signatures
    7. Stroud, Siobhan Baillie MP130 signatures
    8. Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith MP130 signatures
    9. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP126 signatures
    10. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP125 signatures
    11. Wells, James Heappey MP124 signatures
    12. Somerton and Frome, David Warburton MP122 signatures
    13. Macclesfield, David Rutley MP119 signatures
    14. Rutland and Melton, Alicia Kearns MP115 signatures
    15. St Ives, Derek Thomas MP114 signatures
    16. Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron MP114 signatures
    17. North Herefordshire, Bill Wiggin MP 113 signatures
    18. Broadland, Jerome Mayhew MP113 signatures
    19. Lewes, Maria Caulfield MP113 signatures
    20. West Worcestershire, Harriet Baldwin MP110 signatures
    21. Brecon and Radnorshire, Fay Jones MP108 signatures
    22. Central Devon, Mel Stride MP108 signatures
    23. South East Cambridgeshire, Lucy Fraser MP106 signatures
    24. High Peak, Robert Largan MP105 signatures
    25. New Forest East, Julian Lewis MP104 signatures
    26. New Forest West, Desmond Swayne MP103 signatures
    27. South Cambridgeshire, Anthony Browne MP103 signatures
    28. Totnes, Anthony Mangnail MP103 signatures
    29. Arundel and South Downs, Andrew Griffith MP103 signatures
    30. Dumfries and Galloway, Alistair Jack MP102 signatures
    31. Ross, Skye and Lochaber,  Ian Blackford MP102 signatures
    32. Scarborough and Whitby, Robert Goodwill MP102 signatures
    33. Norwich South, Clive Lewis MP101 signatures
    34. York Outer, Julian Sturdy MP100 signatures
    35. Monmouth, David Davies MP100 signatures
  85. Ofwat desperation

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    At Tuesday’s in-person hearing in front of Mr Justice Bourne to decide whether Wild Justice will be given permission to proceed to a substantive hearing for judicial review of Ofwat’s failure to regulate discharges of sewage into rivers, the relationship between judicial review and environmental review by the new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) was raised.

    Ofwat suggested (only days before the hearing) that the commencement of an OEP investigation (prompted by a complaint by WildFish (formerly Salmon and Trout Conservation)(click here for details of the complaint)) should undermine the case for permission being granted for examination of Wild Justice’s legal challenge. The OEP wrote to the court in response to Ofwat’s skeleton argument and Charles Morgan (representing the OEP) appeared at the hearing to confirm that the functions of an OEP investigation, and any subsequent enforcement action, are quite distinct from the pursuit of a remedy via judicial review.

    This will be a comfort to claimants who may otherwise have been deterred from pursuing judicial review on the basis that a future complaint to the OEP could be used by defendant public bodies as a way of preventing their claim from going ahead and pursuing the remedies available through judicial review.

    Wild Justice is grateful to the OEP for taking immediate steps to clarify the relationship between the two parallel processes.

    In our view, Ofwat is casting around somewhat desperately to try to avoid public scrutiny of its actions.

  86. Defra to review impacts of shooting – including Woodcock

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    On his last day in the job George Eustice wrote to Wild Justice in what amounts to a massive U-turn on his department’s previous responses to us on the Woodcock shooting season. Today’s Times carries a piece on this news (DEFRA shooting rethink offers lifeline to endangered Woodcock).

    Here is the letter, which commits DEFRA (including his successor Ranil Jayarwardena as Secretary of State) to consult the administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and review the impacts of shooting on species which can legally be shot.

    This letter followed the Petitions Committee requiring DEFRA to provide a proper response to our petition (see here).

    If you haven’t signed our petition yet – then please have a look – click here.

  87. We’re in court today

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    We’re in court today. Our legal team will be making the case that Ofwat has failed to meet their responsibilities to regulate discharges of raw sewage and Mr Justice Bourne will decide whether or not our challenge can go to a full legal hearing at a later date.

    We wrote to Ofwat about this matter in April and launched a crowdfunder when we filed detailed legal papers in June (see here for more details).

    We are certain that we have a strong case, and we know that this subject is one that attracts considerable attention from the general public – which is why our crowdfunder was so successful.  Thank you for getting us this far, and we hope that we can take the challenge further. Fingers crossed!

  88. Wild Justice granted permission for judicial review of badger cull in Northern Ireland

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    Our legal challenge against the badger cull in Northern Ireland took a step forward last Friday when we were granted permission for judicial review in the High Court.

    Judicial review is a type of court proceeding where a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body, in this case DAERA, Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs. The first stage of a judicial review is to apply to the court for ‘permission’ to proceed. The test for obtaining permission is that the judge considers there is an arguable case.

    Our legal challenge, in partnership with the Northern Ireland Badger Group and supported by the Born Free Foundation, is that the consultation by DAERA on options to control the badger population to tackle bovine tuberculosis (bTB) did not meet the requirements for a lawful consultation. Therefore the resulting decision to choose to control the badger population by allowing farmer-led groups to shoot the free-roaming animals with rifles was also unlawful.

    The presiding judge at Belfast’s High Court last Friday, The Honourable Mr Justice Scoffield, agreed that these were arguable and our judicial review challenge will be heard in court on 21st November 2022.

    We also argue that DAERA Minister Edwin Poots’ decision, announced in March 2022, to allow farmers to use rifles to kill up to 4,000 badgers a year, is unlawful because he issued the Article 13 (power to destroy wildlife) order under the Diseases of Animals 1981 Order without making sure that there is no reasonably practicable alternative way of dealing with bTB in Northern Ireland.

    Mr Justice Scoffield ‘stayed’ a decision on this legal point, in other words it was neither rejected nor accepted but will be considered at a later date, perhaps when the first two grounds are decided.

    We are grateful to our brilliant legal team (Carol Day & Ricardo Gama from Leigh Day, and Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh & David Wolfe KC from Matrix Chambers) with Phoenix Law acting as agents in Northern Ireland.

    This case was only possible thanks to the generosity of our supporters who contributed £45K to our crowdfunder earlier this year, enabling us to take on the legal challenge.

  89. Northern Ireland to extend unlawful General Licences for killing wild birds after failing to complete consultation review

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    Press release from Leigh Day (8 September 2022)

    Environmental group Wild Justice has protested delays by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in reviewing responses to a consultation on Northern Ireland’s General Licences for the killing of wild birds.

    The delay means that current licences already conceded to be unlawful will be extended for use until 17th October 2022.

    DAERA admitted its general licences are unlawful in a landmark victory for Wild Justice last year when the department promised a consultation and to publish amended general licences.

    However, after an initial delay that was put down to elections in Northern Ireland, DAERA now says it will not meet its own extended deadline to complete the review of consultation responses and will not be able to share new draft general licences with stakeholders until 19 September 2022.

    DAERA conceded that its general licences were unlawful after Wild Justice launched a legal challenge in September 2021 to three general licences that permit the killing of certain species of wild birds.

    DAERA then provided written assurances that its flawed general licences would be replaced by interim licences and that a full consultation would be launched. The interim licences were intended to be in place until 10 September 2022 to give plenty of time for the consultation and for draft general licences to be shared with interested parties before their final publication on 11 September 2022.

    However, DAERA has written to Wild Justice saying it will not be able to complete its consultation review and will need to once again extend the interim general licences. They are expected to be extended by five weeks to 17 October and the new general licences are not expected to be provided until 19 September.

    Wild Justice first raised concerns with DAERA about its approach to general licences for bird killings in May 2019, following a successful legal challenge to Natural England’s 2019 general licences. Wild Justice wrote again to DAERA last year regarding serious flaws in its 2020 general licences, and called on DAERA to revise the licence replacements which were due to be issued in September 2021. DAERA’s response, which was provided only after protracted delay and after Wild Justice sought the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office, made clear that DAERA had failed to comply with the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 when issuing the 2020 general licences. DAERA subsequently launched a mini consultation but withdrew it just days later, stating only that it contained “errors”. A full consultation was eventually launched in 2022.

    According to DAERA, 1882 responses were received to the latest consultation. While DAERA has yet to indicate what revisions it may make to its general licences, Wild Justice considers that DAERA’s current licences are overly permissive and stand in stark contrast to those in other countries such as Wales where licences have already been revised in response to Wild Justice’s concerns.

    Wild Justice, led by Dr Mark Avery, Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham CBE, have urged DAERA to withdraw the unlawful 2021 general licences.

    Commenting in response to the latest delays, Wild Justice said:

    “DAERA are dragging their feet on this issue and it’s simply not good administration. This seems to be a systemic failure as we have found DAERA to be slow and unfocused on other matters such as Badger culls and Woodcock shooting. The Northern Ireland public, and wildlife, deserve a better response from the department which has Environment in its name.”

    Wild Justice is represented by Leigh Day lawyers Tom Short and Carol Day acting through their agent in Northern Ireland Phoenix Law, and barrister David Wolfe QC at Matrix Chambers.

    Leigh Day solicitor Tom Short said:

    “Our client has long been concerned that DAERA’s approach to wildlife licensing is not fit for purpose and this latest delay is further evidence that DAERA is struggling to get on top of the issue. After conceding in late 2021 that its general licences are flawed, it is unacceptable that DAERA is now proposing to once again extend interim general licences on the same terms. Last year our client welcomed DAERA’s commitment to reform the general licences. We urge DAERA to do all it can to ensure that there are no further delays to that process, particularly in circumstances where the current interim licences do meet statutory requirements and any reliance on them may place shooters at risk of criminal liability.”

    ENDS

  90. Defra rapped on knuckles by Petitions Committee – an update on our Woodcock Petition

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    Woodcock by Olly Smart

    This morning we received an update from the Petitions Committee, in relation to our petition to limit the shooting season for Woodcock. It seems they were, like us, dissatisfied with the response we received from the Government when the petition reached 10,000 signatures earlier this summer.

    You can read their response here:

    Dear Chris Packham,

    You recently created the petition “Limit the shooting season of Woodcock”:
    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/619615

    The Petitions Committee (the group of MPs who oversee the petitions system) have considered the Government’s response to this petition. They felt that the response did not directly address the request of petition and have therefore written back to the Government to ask them to provide a revised response.

    When the Committee have received a revised response from the Government, this will be published on the website and you will receive an email. If you would not like to receive further updates about this petition, you can unsubscribe below.

    Thanks,
    The Petitions team
    UK Government and Parliament

    We’ll of course publish the revised response as soon as we receive it. In the meantime, please add your name to our petition if you’ve not already, and spread the word!

  91. Press Release: Wildlife groups’ court hearing challenge to Northern Ireland badger cull by shooting

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    Campaigners have a hearing on Friday 9 September at the High Court in Belfast to challenge a cull of badgers in Northern Ireland by shooting.

    Wild Justice and Northern Ireland Badger Group (NIBG) say a decision announced in March 2022 by Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots to allow farmers to use rifles to kill up to 4,000 badgers a year is unlawful.

    Wild Justice and NIBG, supported by the Born Free Foundation, argue that the consultation by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) on options to control the badger population to tackle bovine tuberculosis (bTB) did not meet the requirements for a lawful consultation. Therefore the resulting decision to choose to control the badger population by allowing farmer-led groups to shoot the free-roaming animals with rifles was also unlawful.

    The campaigners will also argue that Mr Poots’ decision is unlawful because he issued the Article 13 (power to destroy wildlife) order under the Diseases of Animals 1981 Order without making sure that there is no reasonably practicable alternative way of dealing with bTB in Northern Ireland.

    The consultation proposed a badger cull as the preferred option for addressing bTB, based on a “business case” which was not disclosed as part of the consultation documents. This meant that the consultation was not procedurally fair, because consultees could not make a properly informed response to the proposal for a cull without seeing the business case which underpinned it.

    The arguments will be made at a judicial review hearing to be held at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast on Friday morning. Wild Justice and NIBG are represented by law firm Leigh Day.

    They will argue that Mr Poots’ consultation on controlling the badger population in Northern Ireland gave them inadequate and insufficient information to allow them to engage with it properly and that he failed to consider the responses they were able to make.

    The consultation, held in summer 2021, was the second of three initiated by DAERA. The first was held in 2017 and the third was in 2022. NIBG responded to all three. The paper set out DAERA’s long term aim to control bTB by vaccination, but stated that first the infection load in the badger population must be reduced by culling.

    The several options to achieve that goal referred to “the business case underpinning the bTB eradication strategy” but it lacked the necessary detail for a meaningful response. Detail about the business case was also refused in response to a Freedom of Information request. Wild Justice and NIBG argue that without information on assumptions made by the business case it was impossible to properly respond to the consultation exercise.

    DAERA singled out Option 8 – culling by shooting of roaming badgers by farmer-led companies – as its preferred option and asked its consultees if they agreed. But without the business case, Wild Justice and NIBG say it could not understand or properly respond to Option 8.

    They argue that the humaneness of the options available does not appear to have been factored into considerations. The possibility that informed consultation responses could have affected the outcome is clear because when the options were scored, the most humane option (a selective cull via test, vaccinate, remove (TVR)) scored only 10 per cent lower than the least humane option chosen.

    Wild Justice said:

    “We’re on the side of badgers, and we also expect governments to stick by the rules. DAERA cut corners in their consultation and that disadvantaged those who responded to make the case for badgers. This cull should not go ahead.”

    Mike Rendle of NIBG said:

    “Consultees were not given sufficient information to allow them to make an informed decision about the proposed badger intervention. The consultation was clearly not fit for purpose, yet the Minister chose to carry on regardless. The Minister went on to announce the cruellest possible badger intervention open to him, despite the large consensus of expert opinion that badger culling is inhumane and ineffective.”

    Dr Mark Jones of the Born Free Foundation said:

    “DAERA’s refusal to disclose the full details of its Business Case during the consultation process on its policy made it impossible for consultees to scrutinise the financial and other arguments it had in mind in proposing to introduce badger culling. The introduction of an England-style badger cull, when the latest peer-reviewed science from England clearly demonstrates the failure of this approach to reduce bovine TB in cattle, should be immediately withdrawn. Born Free has long opposed the culling of badgers as a means of controlling bovine TB in cattle on the basis that it is unscientific, inhumane, ineffective, and unnecessary.”

    Wild Justice and NIBG are represented by Carol Day and Ricardo Gama at Leigh Day, with Phoenix Law as agents in Northern Ireland.

    Leigh Day environmental law specialist, solicitor Ricardo Gama said:

    “The Northern Ireland executive failed to provide consultees with the information that they needed to have any hope of providing informed responses to their suggestion of a badger cull. They have also failed to show that there aren’t other reasonably practicable alternatives to culling, which is what is needed in order for the executive to allow, and even encourage, the killing of this protected species.”

  92. Court hearing this week to challenge the badger cull in Northern Ireland

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    Press release from Leigh Day:

    Wildlife groups’ court hearing challenge to Northern Ireland badger cull by shooting

    Campaigners have a hearing on Friday 9th September 2022 at the High Court in Belfast to challenge a cull of badgers in Northern Ireland by shooting.

    Wild Justice and the Northern Ireland Badger Group (NIBG) say a decision announced in March 2022 by Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots, to allow farmers to use rifles to kill up to 4,000 badgers a year is unlawful.

    Wild Justice and NIBG, supported by the Born Free Foundation, argue that the consultation by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) on options to control the badger population to tackle bovine tuberculosis (bTB) did not meet the requirements for a lawful consultation. Therefore the resulting decision to choose to control the badger population by allowing farmer-led groups to shoot the free-roaming animals with rifles was also unlawful.

    The campaigners will also argue that Mr Poots’ decision is unlawful because he issued the Article 13 (power to destroy wildlife) order under the Diseases of Animals 1981 Order without making sure that there is no reasonably practicable alternative way of dealing with bTB in Northern Ireland.

    The consultation proposed a badger cull as the preferred option for addressing bTB, based on a “business case” which was not disclosed as part of the consultation documents. This meant that the consultation was not procedurally fair, because consultees could not make a properly informed response to the proposal for a cull without seeing the business case which underpinned it.

    The arguments will be made at a judicial review hearing to be held at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast on Friday morning. Wild Justice and NIBG are represented by law firm Leigh Day.

    They will argue that Mr Poots’ consultation on controlling the badger population in Northern Ireland gave them inadequate and insufficient information to allow them to engage with it properly and that he failed to consider the responses they were able to make.

    The consultation, held in summer 2021, was the second of three initiated by DAERA. The first was held in 2017 and the third was in 2022. NIBG responded to all three. The paper set out DAERA’s long term aim to control bTB by vaccination, but stated that first the infection load in the badger population must be reduced by culling.

    The several options to achieve that goal referred to “the business case underpinning the bTB eradication strategy” but it lacked the necessary detail for a meaningful response. Detail about the business case was also refused in response to a Freedom of Information request. Wild Justice and NIBG argue that without information on assumptions made by the business case it was impossible to properly respond to the consultation exercise.

    DAERA singled out Option 8 – culling by shooting of roaming badgers by farmer-led companies – as its preferred option and asked its consultees if they agreed. But without the business case, Wild Justice and NIBG say it could not understand or properly respond to Option 8.

    They argue that the humaneness of the options available does not appear to have been factored into considerations. The possibility that informed consultation responses could have affected the outcome is clear because when the options were scored, the most humane option (a selective cull via test, vaccinate, remove (TVR)) scored only 10 per cent lower than the least humane option chosen.

    Wild Justice said:

    “We’re on the side of badgers, and we also expect governments to stick by the rules. DAERA cut corners in their consultation and that disadvantaged those who responded to make the case for badgers. This cull should not go ahead.”

    Mike Rendle of NIBG said:

    “Consultees were not given sufficient information to allow them to make an informed decision about the proposed badger intervention. The consultation was clearly not fit for purpose, yet the Minister chose to carry on regardless. The Minister went on to announce the cruellest possible badger intervention open to him, despite the large consensus of expert opinion that badger culling is inhumane and ineffective.”

    Dr Mark Jones of the Born Free Foundation said:

    “DAERA’s refusal to disclose the full details of its Business Case during the consultation process on its policy made it impossible for consultees to scrutinise the financial and other arguments it had in mind in proposing to introduce badger culling. The introduction of an England-style badger cull, when the latest peer-reviewed science from England clearly demonstrates the failure of this approach to reduce bovine TB in cattle, should be immediately withdrawn. Born Free has long opposed the culling of badgers as a means of controlling bovine TB in cattle on the basis that it is unscientific, inhumane, ineffective, and unnecessary.”

    Wild Justice and NIBG are represented by Carol Day and Ricardo Gama at Leigh Day, with Phoenix Law as agents in Northern Ireland.

    Leigh Day environmental law specialist, solicitor Ricardo Gama said:

    “The Northern Ireland executive failed to provide consultees with the information that they needed to have any hope of providing informed responses to their suggestion of a badger cull. They have also failed to show that there aren’t other reasonably practicable alternatives to culling, which is what is needed in order for the executive to allow, and even encourage, the killing of this protected species.”

    ENDS

  93. Lead-free promise – we ask the NGDA

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    We wrote to the National Game Dealers Association over 10 days ago but have not yet had a response to our enquiry:

    Wild Justice understood that NGDA were going to go lead-free from 1 July 2022 and that game supplied by your members would only have been shot with non-toxic ammunition. Now we are led to understand that decision has been reversed. Please let us know your current position. 

    • Are Red Grouse shot this season and sold through NGDA members killed with non-toxic ammunition? 
    • Will partridges (Grey and Red-legged) shot from 1 September 2022 be lead-free or not? 
    • How about Pheasants from the 2022 shooting season?

    We’ll let you know whether we get a reply, and what it says, but if you are interested in this subject and would like to enquire yourselves then try here Contact Us | National Game Dealers Association

    Wild Justice is also writing to supermarkets and others asking them about their plans to sell lead-free or lead-heavy game meat this autumn. Watch this space.

  94. Leading constituencies for our Woodcock petition

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    Our Woodcock petition is approaching 24,000 signatures and we have a range of things lined up that we are sure will give it a decent boost up to the end of this month (and beyond!). Please share the petition link – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/619615- you can help move things along even faster. Thank you.

    The leading constituencies for support, so far, are as follows (all those with 90+ signatures). As expected, they are mostly Conservative rural constituencies (with one former Conservative now sitting as an Independent), the semi-rural Labour constituency of Sheffield Hallam and the very rural LibDem constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale.

    1. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP127 signatures
    2. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP125 signatures
    3. Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake MP119 signatures
    4. Thirsk and Malton, Kevin Hollinrake MP118 signatures
    5. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP106 signatures
    6. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP106 signatures
    7. West Dorset, Chris Loder MP106 signatures
    8. Somerton and Frome, David Warburton MP103 signatures
    9. Macclesfield, David Rutley MP102 signatures
    10. Stroud, Siobhan Baillie MP101 signatures
    11. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP101 signatures
    12. Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith MP99 signatures
    13. Wells, James Heappey MP98 signatures
    14. Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron MP92 signatures
    15. Brecon and Radnorshire, Fay Jones MP92 signatures
    16. North Herefordshire, Bill Wiggin MP 91 signatures
    17. Lewes, Maria Caulfield MP90 signatures

    And, Birmingham Ladywood now has a signature, meaning that all 650 UK Westminster parliamentary constituencies have contributed to the total – that’s good.

  95. Leading constituencies for our Woodcock petition

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    The leading constituencies supporting our Woodcock petition, so far, are as follows. As expected, they are mostly Conservative rural constituencies (with one former Conservative now sitting as an Independent) and the semi-rural Labour constituency of Sheffield Hallam.

    1. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP115 signatures
    2. Thirsk and Molton, Kevin Hollinrake MP110 signatures
    3. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP110 signatures
    4. Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake MP102 signatures
    5. Somerton and Frome, David Warburton MP – 99 signatures
    6. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP – 97 signatures
    7. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP94 signatures
    8. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP – 92 signatures
    9. Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith MP – 92 signatures
    10. Stroud, Siobhan Baillie MP91 signatures

    And bottom of the list still, with not a single signature so far, still, is Birmingham, Ladywood, Shabana Mahmood MP

    We’re on 20,600 signatures, nearly (tomorrow) a month into the six-month life of this petition, and just over a fifth of the way to 100,000 signatures – but it’s a long road to a parliamentary debate.  We’ll keep you updated on progress.

    Please help to promote this petition – click here

  96. Our Woodcock petition – the leading constituencies

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    The leading constituencies supporting our Woodcock petition, so far, are as follows. As expected, they are mostly Conservative rural constituencies (with one former Conservative now sitting as an Independent) and the semi-rural Labour constituency of Sheffield Hallam.

    1. Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines MP102 signatures
    2. Thirsk and Molton, Kevin Hollinrake MP99 signatures
    3. North Norfolk, Duncan Baker MP96 signatures
    4. Somerton and Frome, David Warburton MP95 signatures
    5. Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake MP90 signatures
    6. Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox MP87 signatures
    7. Dumfries and Galloway, Alistair Jack MP84 signatures
    8. Stroud, Siobhan Baillie MP83 signatures
    9. South Norfolk, Richard Bacon MP82 signatures
    10. Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey MP81 signatures
    11. Skipton and Ripon, Julian Smith MP81 signatures

    And bottom of the list still, with not a single signature so far, is Birmingham, Ladywood, Shabana Mahmood MP

    We’re on 17,500 signatures, not yet a month into the six-month life of this petition, and over a sixth of the way to 100,000 signatures – but it’s a long road to a parliamentary debate.  We’ll keep you updated on progress.

    Please help to promote this petition – click here

  97. Defra’s vague and evasive response to our Woodcock petition

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    Our petition seeking an important change to the Woodcock shooting season has received a response from DEFRA – it’s a poor response which is pasted below in seven numbered paragraphs but it amounts to 25 words highlighted in red.

    We’re not satisfied with this as a response and Chris Packham has written to the Petitions Committee asking them to exercise their power to seek a proper response from DEFRA.

    We’ll also now be seeking further signatures to the petition to increase the pressure and we ask you for your help in promoting the petition widely to gain more signatures.

    There is still time for DEFRA to act before the shooting season opens, prematurely, on 1 October. We still want that date pushed back to 1 December as has been recommended by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust of all people.

    Here’s what Chris Packham wrote to the Petitions Committee:

    Dear Petitions Committee

    I am writing in response to Defra’s response to the Wild Justice petition to limit the shooting season of Woodcock (Petition 619615).

    The DEFRA response is not a proper response to our petition – most of it is just faff and padding. It is the type of response that will turn the public off engaging in the petitions process because it treats their request with disdain and entirely avoids addressing its key issue. Actually it’s insulting. So could I respectfully ask the Petitions Committee to solicit a proper response from DEFRA and ask for it to be provided as a matter of urgency because as it stands there is still time for DEFRA to adjust this year’s shooting season for this seriously threatened bird.

    DEFRA’s response amounts to the 25 words highlighted in red below. It says that it doesn’t think that shooting is relevant but gives absolutely no science or evidence to back up this view. Nothing. This is unsatisfactory . . . it implies that Government could write down any old unjustified stuff to brush off petitions that are hugely supported by the public . . . and this would render the whole petition process pointless. It’s lazy, counterproductive, undemocratic and betrays a lack of accountability. But DEFRA are accountable to the public, the public who signed this petition. They need to get out of bed, summon some respect and prepare a proper reply.

    In fact, as DEFRA must well know, and as spelled out in the link provided in our petition, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust recommend (on the basis of their own research) just what we suggest – that shooting of Woodcock should not start until 1 December rather than the current 1 October. Our petition asks that this is made a legal condition of shooting by changing the opening of the shooting season. This has not been in any way addressed by their response . . . Instead their response blathers on about grants, plans and schemes which are not yet running, may never run, and have not been practically tested in any regard for positive conservation outcomes and certainly not for Woodcock. Whereas what our petitioners request could be actioned now, for nothing, and the science says it would help.

    Thus our petition is specific and scientifically well-informed whereas DEFRA’s response is vague and evasive – we ask for a specific well-justified government action, DEFRA waffles on about lots of other things it is doing or might possibly do. Thus this response is not adequate, like I said , it’s insulting and inadequate.

    If this is how DEFRA responds to well justified conservation measures that can so easily, very cheaply and certainly quickly be implemented then we stand absolutely no chance of meeting the legally binding target of stopping wildlife decline by 2030.

    I append the Defra response with further comments on its shortcomings below.

    Best wishes

    Chris Packham

    In brief, paragraph by paragraph of DEFRA’s response: para 1, true but not a response to the petition and not specific to it, and promising nothing concrete; para 2, true but forms the background to our petition and is not a response to it; para 3, true, and is relevant to our petition but is not a response to it; para 4, DEFRA claims that many factors may be at play, they might be, but we have pointed to one simple government action that would address one factor and DEFRA has not ruled it out with any evidence, in fact it ignores the evidence that has led GWCT and ourselves to want shooting not to start until 1 December, therefore this is an inadequate response; paras 5-7, these all relate to aspirations to create or restore priority habitat in general (not necessarily habitat for Woodcock in particular) and planting trees won’t create habitat for woodcock until those trees are woodlands. This is an inadequate response and is not specific to our petition. They amount to saying ‘We’re doing some general stuff, or at least we might do in future, so we can’t do this very easy and simple thing that will help this species now’.

    The DEFRA response:

    1. Defra published a Nature Recovery Green Paper considering options for reforming protection to better support the recovery of species, such as woodcock.
    2. All wild birds are protected in accordance with the provisions set out in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Some species of birds, including the woodcock, are listed in Schedule 2 of the Act, and may be hunted during the open season. In England and Wales, the open season for woodcock is from 1 October to 31 January. Outside of this period, the close season helps to make sure that woodcocks are able to breed successfully and move between breeding and wintering grounds.
    3. The first breeding woodcock survey was undertaken in 2003 and estimated a breeding population of 78,000 pairs in Britain. A further survey in 2013 estimated 55,000 pairs, representing a decline of 29%. As a result, the woodcock has been on the red list of Birds of Conservation Concern in the UK since 2015. During winter, our resident birds are joined by migrants from breeding populations in northern Europe and western Russia, increasing the Great Britain non-breeding population to 1.4 million individuals.
    4. The reasons for the decline of the breeding population of woodcock in Great Britain are not fully understood but are likely to include: disturbance; habitat loss as a result of land drainage; the drying out of natural woodlands; changes in surrounding woodland management; the maturation of new plantations; and overgrazing (reduction of the field layer) by deer. While further work is needed to enhance our understanding, the Government’s current view is that the woodcock population is more likely to be influenced by the extent and quality of habitat, rather than shooting. We will continue to keep this evidence under review.
    5. Woodcock will be supported by a number of measures already in train. We are committed to the recovery of species in England, and that is why within the Environment Act 2021 we have set a new legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. Since 2010, 364,803 football pitches of new priority habitat has been created or restored and we will continue to build on this as we develop the Nature Recovery Network. Furthermore, Defra published a Nature Recovery Green Paper consultation on proposals to support our ambitions to restore nature and halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. The consultation has now closed. We are considering the responses to the consultation and the Government will publish its response in due course.
    6. The woodcock will benefit from a number of woodland grant schemes funded by both the Countryside Stewardship scheme and the Nature for Climate Fund, some of which specifically target management for declining woodland birds. These grants include the Woods into Management Forestry Innovation Funds, which aim to restore vulnerable woodland habitats, improve biodiversity and conserve threatened species, as well as the England Woodland Creation Offer.
    7. More broadly, environmentally sustainable farming is fundamental to our agricultural transition outside of the EU. We are introducing three environmental land management schemes: the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local Nature Recovery, and Landscape Recovery. These schemes will pay for activities to create, manage and restore habitats such as woodland, connecting isolated habitats to form networks, and species management, all of which will benefit woodland bird species, such as the woodcock.
  98. Hen Harrier Fest – Thank you for coming!

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    Photo by Hugh Warwick

    A big thank you! To the hundreds of you who turned out in the rain, stood in the rain, listened in the rain and cheered… in the rain! Hen Harrier Fest was a day of inspiration, shared joy, collaboration and hope – as well as just a little bit of sogginess.

    Hen Harrier Fest took place this Sunday. The gates opened shortly before the heavens, and an anorak-sporting crowd descended upon the beautiful grounds of Adlington Hall and Gardens in Cheshire. Our fantastic host, Camilla Legh, welcomed us to the Hall which proved to be a brilliant venue for the day – we’re really grateful to Camilla and her team for having us!

    Throughout the day a suite of passionate, knowledgeable and articulate speakers took to the stage – covering everything from the right to roam, to beavers; from the plight of Hen Harriers to inspiring nature poetry. We’d like to say a big thank you to lots of people who brought the day together.

    Thank you to all of our speakers for their time and dedication:Jenny Shelton (RSPB), Indy Kiemel Greene, Dr Cathleen Thomas (Hen Harrier Action), Natalie Bennett, Brittany Maxted (Poole Harbour Ospreys), Guy Shrubsole (Right to Roam), Sandra King (Beavers Trust), Olivia Blake (Labour Party), Hugh Warwick, Gill Lewis (Hen Harrier Action), Megan McCubbin and Carol Day (Leigh Day).

    Thank you also to our superstar team of volunteers – whether it was helping cars park, making children’s crafts or building make-shift rain shelters, your support made the day such a success!

    And a big thank you to all of the organisations, charities, groups and caterers who brought their stalls and tasty treats to keep the crows entertained.  

    To those of you who came – thank you! We hope you had a great day and have managed to dry off. We’ll leave you with some photos of the day, kindly taken by Guy Shorrock and Hugh Warwick. Scroll through our gallery below (click the little arrows either side of the image), and please share yours with us on social media!

    Photos by Guy Shorrock and Hugh Warwick

  99. Woodcock shooting in England opens in 75 days unless Defra acts

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    https://www.woodcock-hunting.com/shoot-details/woodcock-shoot-north-devon/61

    There’s a remarkable amount of ignorance about Woodcock shooting – even among shooters. We’ve been told several times since we started our petition to shorten the Woodcock shooting season that nobody shoots Woodcock these days. Well that must be news to this shoot in North Devon advertising Woodcock shooting starting from 1 October even though the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust advice is;

    You’ll note that this is a Woodcock shoot, specifically targetting (literally) Woodcock, and from 1 October. It also claims to be ‘a very popular shoot and days go quick’.

    Here’s another one which states that the best time to shoot is November-January. It’s specifically a driven Woodcock shoot with access to a ‘tailor-made Woodcock estate’ where 70-100 Woodcock can be killed in a day – that’s what they are selling here;

    https://www.woodcock-hunting.com/shoot-details/driven-woodcock-hunt-in-somerset-nr-taunton/24

    Here’s another example , this time in Cornwall where a lot of Woodcock shoots can be found.

    https://www.woodcock-hunting.com/shoot-details/woodcock-shoot-near-lauceston-cornwall/62

    Woodcock shooting in England opens in 75 days time on 1 October, that’s 61 days earlier than the science says is sensible, unless Defra acts now to change the shooting season.

    Please sign our petition to put back the Woodcock shooting season until 1 December as recommended by the science – click here.

  100. Our new petition – thank you for such great support

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    On Tuesday morning we launched our newest petition, to the Westminster government, asking for a shortening of the Woodcock shooting season. By Tuesday bedtime the petition had far surpassed the 10,000 signatures needed to trigger a response from the Westminster government. We’re keen to see what our environment department, responsible for wildlife conservation, says about our very modest, cost-free and science-led proposal. We wrote to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs on 21 March on this subject and they have both been dragging their heels so this petition is a sharp nudge in the ribs to make them address this need.

    Even the pro-shooting Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust favour a delay in shooting but their rather quiet pleas to shooters have not been heeded, and now, it seems that GWCT is resiling on their advice for non-scientific reasons – their position is comical.

    This is a UK issue and is highly appropriate for a UK petition. Our letter was copied to the politicians in Wales and Scotland with responsibility for these issues and for there to be progress in Britain we assume that discussions would need to take place between Westminster, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

    We’ve been asked why we aren’t asking for an outright ban of shooting – this Twitter thread is relevant to that question – click here.

    Seven weeks today, on 1 September, the Woodcock shooting season will open in Scotland, and a month later in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Whereas the best scientific advice is for shooting not to start until 1 December. This can be remedied very easily, just about at the stroke of a pen if politicians act. We want them to act.

    And so do you, as the reception to our petition shows. 648 out of 650 UK parliamentary constituencies have contributed signatures to this petition (only West Tyrone and Birmingham Ladywood are missing) and here are the current leading constituencies:

    1. North Norfolk (Con) 79 signatures
    2. Sheffield Hallam (Lab) 76 signatures
    3. Thirsk and Moulton (Con) 76 signatures
    4. Somerton and Frome (Independent) 75 signatures
    5. Dumfries and Galloway (Con) 72 signatures
    6. Derbyshire Dales (Con) 71 signatures
    7. Suffolk Coastal (Con) 71 signatures
    8. South Norfolk (Con) 66 signatures
    9. Westmorland and Lonsdale (LibDem) 65 signatures
    10. Stroud (Con) 65 signatures

  101. Please respond to Northern Ireland consultation on General Licences

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    We’d like to invite you to take c20 minutes to respond to a consultation on general licences in Northern Ireland. It is important that you do (please) respond because otherwise improvements to the licences that we have achieved through our successful legal challenge  – see here – might be lost. Also, we feel there is more to be gained if we can secure a strong response.  Anyone, living anywhere in the UK can respond to the consultation but if you do live in Northern Ireland then your response will probably be even more valuable.

    There are 45 questions but not all of them need to be answered and some require only a choice between YES and NO although a few words of explanation would probably be useful too.

    Here is the link to the consultation – click here – and the closing date is Thursday 21 July which gives you 13 days, including two weekends, to find the time please.

    The questions are grouped in four sections; one for each of the three general licences and a few general questions at the end. Wild Justice is most concerned that the so-called conservation licence is reformed properly – if you are strapped for time then please at least answer questions 30-38.

    OK.  Deep breath!  Let’s go!

    Q1-5 – these are simple and about you.

    Q6-17   General Licence TPG1 – preserving public health or safety.

    These 12 questions relate to 12 species of bird and ask whether each should be included on this general licence. The answer for each, we suggest, is NO. [Feral Pigeon is the only species listed on the equivalent licences for Scotland and Wales, Feral Pigeon and Jackdaw are listed for the England equivalent licence. Northern Ireland is suggesting removing 3 gull species, Rook and Wood Pigeon from the  licence but we believe that House Sparrow, Starling, Hooded Crow, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw and Magpie, as well as Feral Pigeon, should also be removed].

    So please tick the box NO for every species and, if minded to, add the following words in the boxes for the following species:

    Feral Pigeon ‘An individual licence could be issued if there were a good enough case.‘  

    All other 11 species ‘An individual licence could be issued if there were a good enough case. General licences for this species for this purpose do not exist anywhere else in the UK.

    Q18-29  General Licence TPG2 – protection of livestock, crops etc

    These 12 questions relate to the same 12 species of birds and ask whether you think that a general licence should exist to enable them to be controlled to protect crops and livestock etc.

    Wild Justice would, at this stage, live with general licences for 5 of these species and would tick the box YES (but you may disagree and should go with whatever you think). For the other 7 species we suggest the following words to go in the boxes.

    YES Hooded Crow, Carrion Crow, Rook, Wood Pigeon and Feral Pigeon – as we believe they can cause damage to crops (pigeons and Rooks) or can attack livestock (the crows).

    NO Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull,   with the words ‘An individual licence could be issued if there were a good enough case.’  

    NO Magpies and Jackdaw with the words ‘No evidence of such an impact. An individual licence could be issued if there were a good enough case.‘  

    NO  House Sparrow and Starling  with the words ‘An individual licence could be issued if there were a good enough case. General licences for this purpose do not exist anywhere else in the UK. No evidence for such an impact. This is a Red-listed UK species.

    Q30-38  General Licence TPG3 – the ‘conservation’ licence

    These questions relate to just 9 of the species.

    Wild Justice would, at this stage, live with general licences for just 2 of these species and would tick the box YES (but you may disagree and should go with whatever you think). For the other 7 species we suggest the following words to go in the boxes.

    YES  Hooded Crow and Carrion Crow – as we believe that they can have serious impacts on some endangered breeding waders such as Curlew.  

    NO  Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls   with the words ‘An individual licence could be issued if there were a good enough case. General licences for this purpose do not exist anywhere else in the UK.

    NO Jackdaw with the words ‘An individual licence could be issued if there were a good enough case. Jackdaw has been removed from similar general licences in England and Wales recently – Northern Ireland should do the same.

    NO Magpie with the words ‘An individual licence could be issued if there were a good enough case.  Magpie was removed from the Welsh general licence this year – Northern Ireland should do the same

    NO  Rook, Wood Pigeon and Feral Pigeon  with the words ‘No evidence of any conservation impact whatsoever. General licences for this purpose do not exist anywhere else in the UK.’

    Q39 – 44  Some general questions

    Q39-40 Skip, unless you have any particular expertise or views

    Q41 YES with the words ‘That is what the law requires. Lethal methods should only be used as a last resort.‘ 

    Q42  NO  with the words ‘Northern Ireland should follow the same process as in other UK nations. Designated sites are extra special and should not be places where unregulated, unmonitored, unjustified and unlimited killing of wildlife can take place.

    Q43  NO

    Q44  ‘Yes. Follow Wales and limit use of conservation general licence to breeding season and only to protect a published list of species of conservation concern.’

    Q45  Over to you.  

    And you’re done so you can submit your response.  Closing date midnight 21 July.  Thank you.

    Such consultations are a bit tedious but we know that vested interests such as shooters will respond to the consultation and put pressure on the Northern Ireland authorities to go backwards rather than forwards.  

  102. Join us for Hen Harrier Fest, 24th July 2022!

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    Hen Harrier Fest will take place at Adlington Hall & Gardens in Cheshire on Sunday 24th July, and we’d love to see you!

    If you’re planning to attend, please register on our Hen Harrier Fest webpage, where you’ll also find lots of other information about this event.

    We look forward to seeing you there!

  103. Our ‘right of reply’ letter in The Field magazine

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    In April this year, The Field magazine published an inaccurate and unpleasant article about Wild Justice, authored by Tim Bonner, CEO of the Countryside Alliance.

    We asked the editor for a right of reply, either as our own comment piece or as a letter. The editor allowed us to submit a letter as a right of reply, limited to 500 words and subject to editing.

    That letter has now appeared in the July 2022 edition of The Field:

    The endless attacks on Wild Justice, either as an entity or on its three Directors as individuals, are what we’ve come to expect (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). The level of abuse over many, many years reflects the impact of our campaigning and legal challenges and we won’t be deterred by what is quite obviously a widespread attempt to undermine our integrity and standing.

    Judging by the speed with which our most recent legal challenge was crowdfunded (over £40K raised in a single day), neither will our supporters.

    Thank you all for your continued backing and encouragement.

    If you would like to support the work of Wild Justice despite the ongoing abuse towards us, or maybe because of it, then you can donate to our work here and/or subscribe to our free newsletter here.

  104. Your comments when donating to yesterday’s crowdfunder

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    Thank you!

    Yesterday, between 0530 and 2030, 1519 people donated over £40,000 to ensure that we can pay our brilliant legal team (and court costs and, if we lose, adverse costs against us) for the work they’ve done so far on this challenge. That has involved legal research, talking to experts, preparing a formal legal letter (see here – it’s not just a friendly note!) and filing a much more detailed legal case which sets out a statement of facts and grounds for judicial review.

    Thank you to all who have made that possible – and we loved the comments that you made. Here are just a few examples:

    Sheila – Thank goodness for Wild Justice. I would be in complete despair if you were not here to defend our beautiful wildlife & environment. I am so worried for our flora & fauna. Thank you for all that you do. You are heroes.

    Judi – Long awaited action and from people who get results! Bravo, wish I could give more.

    Chris – Great work I think for many reasons this is the most important fight you are taking on.

    Colin – Fully supportive. Enforcement seems to have been sacrificed on the altar of low taxes! Regulators must do their jobs effectively.

    Anon – So important, the profits need to go to upgrading the sewerage system and not to shareholders. Increased population demands it.

    Jacqui – I live close to the Thames at Maidenhead and can often see discharges floating down it. It needs to be much cleaner to protect local people and wildlife.

    Mark – I am a kayaker, wild swimmer and love to see our waterways from the water. With its rich and varied wildlife both in and living from the water all this is at risk because of sewerage plants up and down the country. Thank you for fighting for our beautiful waterways.

    Mark – Thank you for your good work – which should be unnecessary if government did its job properly.

    Michael – I expect every other angler in Britain to support this action, with their cash.

    Linda – Water is the life blood of this planet and imperative that we keep it clean.

    Carol – Good luck! We need a clean up!

    Andrew – I am proud to be associated with the good work that you do.

    Richard – Good luck, team. Stop regulators becoming Government stooges.

    Joanna – Excellent work as usual. Love what you are doing and will always chip in if I can. Thank you so much.

    Sarah – Thank you for taking on this challenge – it is essential work to call the regulatory bodies to account.

    Brian – Live by the Wye, which has virtually died in last few years.

    Gwenllian – I am so glad that I read the article in the Guardian this morning and followed the crowdfunding link.

    Steve – The UK’s record on environmental security and preserving biodiversity is bad enough as it is without Ofwat failing to do its job.

    Colin – Thank goodness someone is holding the dysfunctional Government Agency Ofwat to account for their fecklessness.

    Vivian – Time to link Shareholders dividend to the amount of sewage discharge each company makes. The more discharges the less money available for Shareholders. That would soon put a stop to such practice.

    Anon – Good luck fighting this. Its disgusting how much is being pumped into waterways.

    Janet – Thank you for speaking on behalf of all of us who deplore the dumping of sewage in our waterways. Disgusting acts of vandalism. This has to stop.

    Andrew – I make this donation because I know that Wild Justice’s campaigns are effective and powerful.

    Susan – So sorry I can’t donate more x

    Anon – Isn’t it ironic that citizens have to mobilise and self-fund to challenge and make accountable a government body, funded with tax payers’ money, that should make companies that are getting away with environmental murder accountable but doesn’t.

    Anon – From the Guardian 22 May 2022, about the rivers where I live. “Only one popular river spot for bathing and water sports in and around Oxford has bacteria within safe levels, a survey by a campaign group has found”.

    Liz – I really applaud your efforts and get up and go to challenge Ofwat on this. Hats off to you. Amazing job and thank you. As an open water swim in both lakes and the sea, the work you’re doing is so important trying to maintain our biodiversity and health.

    Paula – What would we do without you. Thank you.

  105. A new ambitious legal challenge – Ofwat where are you?

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    You don’t need to be an expert to know that dumping raw sewage into rivers, lakes and the sea is bad news for those who use our waterways – from fish to those who want to take a dip in the water. And yet untreated sewage was discharged into watercourses over 350,000 times in each of the last two years.

    We wrote to Ofwat (the water services regulator for England and Wales) back in April telling them that we believed they were failing to meet their responsibilities to regulate discharges of raw sewage – this was our formal legal letter click here. Their response didn’t convince us and so we have now filed detailed legal papers with the high court asking for permission for a judicial review of Ofwat’s inactivity.

    Ofwat – where are you?

    Water quality matters to all of us whether we are anglers, wildlife watchers, wild swimmers, kayakers or any other type of water lover. How crazy is it that raw sewage is so often dumped into watercourses?

    We aim to get Ofwat to face up to its legal responsibilities and the only way to do that is to go to court. Please support the crowdfunder we have launched today – we’ve stuck our necks out to bring the case this far without fundraising so we definitely need your help in raising the funds to carry this challenge all the way.

    To learn more about this legal challenge – please click here.

  106. Wild Justice’s Raptor Forensics Fund helps secure 3rd gamekeeper conviction

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    We’re delighted to learn that our Raptor Forensics Fund, established in 2020 to help support police investigations into alleged raptor persecution crime, has played a part in the conviction of a criminal gamekeeper in Wiltshire.

    21-year old Archie Watson, employed as a gamekeeper for a pheasant shoot on Galteemore Farm, near Avebury, was convicted of multiple raptor persecution and firearms offences at Swindon Magistrates Court on 1st June 2022.

    The corpses of at least 15 birds of prey (11 buzzards and 4 red kites) were found decomposing at the bottom of a well on the estate in 2020, and Watson was caught on a secret camera tossing corpses inside. Experts at the Natural History Museum at Tring, Hertfordshire, were asked to identify and verify the corpses, many of which were in an advanced state of decomposition. This was funded by our Raptor Forensics Fund.

    Watson pleaded guilty to possessing three red kites and four buzzards, but denied killing them. He claimed he had ‘found’ them on the estate. He received a 12-month community order to carry out 180 hours unpaid work and was ordered to pay £393 costs and £95 surcharge. The court ordered the forensics costs (£288) to be reimbursed to the Raptor Forensics Fund.

    This is the third conviction that our Raptor Forensics Fund has helped secure. The first one was gamekeeper Hilton Prest who was found guilty in December 2021 of the unlawful use of a trap in Cheshire (see here). The second one was gamekeeper John Orrey who was convicted in January 2022 of beating to death two buzzards he’d caught in a trap in Nottinghamshire (here).

    Thank you to all those who contributed to our Raptor Forensics Fund and thanks also to the PAW Forensic Working Group (a sub-group of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime) who administer our fund and ensure that police officers can access it without delay to help progress their investigations into raptor persecution crimes.

    If you’d like to donate to our work, please click here.

  107. Conservationists seek explanations from Dorset & Sussex police forces re: investigations into poisoned white-tailed eagles

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    In recent months, at least two young white-tailed eagles from the Isle of Wight Reintroduction Project have been found poisoned on game-shooting estates in southern England – one in Dorset and one in West Sussex.

    The police handling of the two investigations has caused serious concern amongst both the public and conservationists. Dorset Police has closed, prematurely, its investigation and Sussex Police has failed to comment on its investigation, seven months after the dead eagle was discovered (October 2021).

    This week, Wildlife & Countryside LINK, the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, has written letters to the Chief Constables of Dorset and Sussex Police to express concern about the handling of these investigations. In the case of the poisoned eagle in Dorset, LINK has asked for a full explanation of why the investigation was closed so abruptly before even a search had been conducted.

    These letters have been written by LINK’s Wildlife Crime Working Group, of which Wild Justice is a member.

  108. Hen Harrier Fest 2022 – venue announced

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    We’re delighted to be able to tell you that Hen Harrier Fest will be held at Adlington Hall & Gardens in Cheshire on Sunday 24th July 2022.

    Thanks to the enormous generosity of our host, Camilla Legh, this event will be free to attend!

    However, to enable us to manage numbers we will be asking you to let us know if you plan to come along – registration will be open shortly.

    Plans are well underway for this event and we’ll be making further announcements shortly.

    Chris, Mark and Ruth look forward to welcoming you to what promises to be an excellent day in a stunning location.

    To be amongst the first to hear news and updates about this event and our other activities, we recommend you subscribe to our free newsletter HERE

  109. Chris Packham in conversation with Wild Justice lawyers

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    As many of you already know, we are privileged to be able to work with some brilliant environmental lawyers at Leigh Day and barristers from Matrix Chambers.

    A few weeks ago, Tessa Gregory (partner at Leigh Day) hosted an exclusive interview with leading silk David Wolfe QC (Matrix) and Chris Packham for a broad discussion on environmental legal challenges and a bit of an insight in to some of Wild Justice’s cases. Chris also talks about why he took the decision to take libel action against a number of individuals, in a case that is currently in progress in the High Court.

    The interview is now available to watch on You Tube:

  110. Rivers and Sewage

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    You’ve probably seen water pollution mentioned a lot in the news recently. Cases of sewage discharge and run-off from farming being released into rivers (like the River Wye), lakes (like Windermere) and into the sea (like in Kent) have hit the headlines repeatedly.

    These incidents have rightly caused outrage and concern. Campaigning groups like WASP and petitions like Matt Staniek’s have drawn attention to the problem and are calling for change.   

    The problem is widespread and it’s a big one – but who actually is responsible for sorting it out? Why is nobody being held accountable? As far as we can see, nobody wants to own up to being responsible for monitoring and enforcement when it comes to the issue of water quality and sewage pollution.

    Whilst water companies are responsible for what actually flows into our rivers, it’s not very clear who has the responsibility for monitoring and regulating planned and unplanned sewage discharges. We asked questions of three public bodies about their roles: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), The Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) and the Environment Agency (EA).

    The responses to our Environmental Information Regulations requests reveal a confused tangle of finger-pointing; each body suggesting another bears the responsibility for monitoring and dealing with this issue. We’ve had a look at what the law says and we believe Ofwat is ducking its responsibilities and we’ve written a Pre-action Protocol letter to them, to which we expect a response next week. You can read our letter below; section 6 lays out the case most clearly and section 6.30 describes the unlawfulness, we claim, of Ofwat’s approach:

    PS yesterday we heard from Ofwat that they need another two weeks to respond to our letter – they are clearly finding it difficult to explain their position. We’ll keep you posted and we’ll keep Ofwat on their toes.

  111. More high lead levels in Waitrose game meat

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    The story so far: Lead is a poison and has been removed from many formerly common uses such as for water pipes and fishing weights, and in petrol and paints. But it is still legal to use lead ammunition to shoot gamebirds such as Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge and Red Grouse (amongst others). Maximum lead levels are set for meats such as beef, pork, chicken etc but not, utterly bizarrely, for game meat. The maximum legal lead level for most meats in the UK is 0.1mg of lead per kg of meat, measured as wet weight.

    It is well known these days that lead ammunition which passes through a bird or mammal leaves tiny fragments of lead in the flesh of the shot animal. Most of these are too small to be noticed in food preparation or consumption. Non-toxic ammunition for shotguns, primarily steel, is available at similar prices to lead ammunition. Some jurisidictions (eg some US states, Denmark) have banned the use of lead ammunition in many contexts. The UK is thinking about controls on the use of lead ammunition which might come in in 2025 or so.

    If you go into a supermarket or a game dealer or a butcher and buy, say, Pheasants for human consumption it is perfectly legal for that meat to contain very high levels of lead – much higher than the maximum legal level for non-game meat. We see this as a serious failure of regulation by the authorities.

    Waitrose stuck its head above the parapet in 2019 and said that it was going lead-free for game meat, and received considerable praise for taking this stance (see here). However, testing of game meat on sale in Waitrose stores in 2020 and 2021 showed that this promise had not been met. Our tests published in December 2021, and covered in The Times, showed high levels of lead in Waitrose Pheasant meat. At the time Waitrose’s position was that these high lead levels must have been acquired from the environment. That seems to us, and all the experts we have spoken to, to be ridiculous. We don’t believe it, we don’t know anyone else who believes it, and we don’t really think that Waitrose can believe it.

    The Waitrose results for lead in their game meat are pretty similar to those found in Sainsbury’s and Harrods game meat – it would be very difficult to make a case that they are much better or much worse.

    So we decided to test some more game meat from Waitrose and collected Pheasant breasts and Woodpigeon breasts from Waitrose stores in north London and Essex in late January 2022, sent them off to a laboratory in the north of Scotland and received the results at the end of March.

    Here are the results of those tests, and tests of farmed duck samples from Waitrose, highlighted in yellow and set in the context of our previous findings;

    Our samples are quite small – the shelves weren’t packed with game meat when we sampled them – but they are worth reporting. First, farmed duck on sale in Waitrose had low lead levels as expected, as all samples of chicken and pork we have tested have had, and as is required by law. The Woodpigeon and Partridge (we don’t know which species of partridge they were) samples had lead levels that would be illegal to sell in other meats – 15/16 of the samples had levels higher than the maximum legal levels for non-game meats.

    These samples were from the same shooting season, 2021/22, as our previous samples reported before Christmas so it’s not surprising that Waitrose haven’t had time to fix this issue yet. But they do have an issue if they are going to live up to their ‘going lead-free’ promise.

    Talking to Waitrose: after Waitrose came out with its incredible ‘explanation’ that the high lead levels in their game meat were due to environmental contamination we asked to meet with Waitrose and that meeting finally happened on 30 March, a few days after we received our latest test results reported here.

    We had a good meeting with Waitrose’s John Gregson and we indicated the headline results of our further sampling. Wild Justice believes that Waitrose has performed poorly after being praised by us and others for their ‘lead-free’ promise. We suggested that Waitrose must have been let down by its supply chain but that if Wild Justice could test Waitrose game for lead levels then surely a company that made £7.5bn sales in the year ending January 2022 might spare a few quid to test the standards of its food. We understand from Waitrose that they are seriously considering testing their game meat for lead levels next season. We intend to continue testing game meat from Waitrose and other stores next season.

    Wild Justice is a not-for-profit organisation set up by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery. We are entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

    Notes:

    1. One sample of Waitrose duck, the first of a batch, was excluded from these results because its high lead levels were suspected to be due to contamination by an earlier sample. So we have followed the advice of the laboratory and discounted its value. For the record, it was 0.21mg/kg WW.
    2. One sample of Waitrose Woodpigeon meat returned very high lead levels, >2500 mg/kg WW, and this sample was thought to have contained a lead pellet that was missed in the preparation of samples as all whole or large pellet fragments were removed before testing. Obviously, the lead levels in Woodpigeon meat would be much higher if this sample were included but again, we discount it on the advice of the testing laboratory.
  112. Glyphosate levels in human urine – preliminary results

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    We asked you, in late January whether you would take part in a study of glyphosate levels in human urine – our taking the p*ss study. As always, you responded brilliantly and from 9 February until last week the results gradually rolled in. Thank you.

    We received 120 results and if you were one of the participants you will have received, or will soon receive, an email thanking you for taking part and giving you the option of adding to our knowledge later in the year.

    The range of glyphosate levels was from ‘below detectable levels’ to 3.4ng/ml with a median value of 0.9ng/ml, and 84% of participants had detectable levels of glyphosate in their urine.

    How do these results compare with other studies? Our results are very much in line with previous results obtained in the UK, Europe and North America but more detailed comparisons are difficult since many previous studies were of small sample sizes (whereas our study, thanks to you, is a very decent size) and previous studies, and ours, are not representative samples of the population as a whole. Our participants are middle-aged and older with few under-40s in the sample and we have noticeably more females than males in our sample. None of this is surprising and doesn’t affect the value of what we are investigating.

    To see previous results from across Europe, including from the UK, but from self-selected samples of people, have a look at this website – click here.

    The next stage of this study will be to ask most of the current participants to repeat the process of taking a urine sample, sending it off for analysis and reporting the results to us later in the year. If we get enough repeat measures then we will find out more about two things: do people with higher/lower measured urine glyphosate levels from our first sample have higher/lower urine glyphosate levels when measured a second time? In other words, are there consistent differences between individuals? And, do measured urine glyphosate levels differ between different times of year? Is there seasonal variation. The answers to these questions are helpful in pinning down what influences glyphosate levels. And to look at potential correlates of urine glyphosate levels we will be asking participants in the next stage to fill in a short questionnaire about their age, gender, lifestyle, location, diet etc.

    This first stage of our study has produced a large sample of interesting results which seem very consistent with previous studies. The next stage of our study is much more ground-breaking and may (who knows? it depends on what we find) take knowledge of factors affecting glyphosate levels in human urine further forward. Thank you to everyone who has answered the call to action and we hope that you will be able to carry on being a part of this study.

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  113. Call for UK Government to timetable plans for tackling wildlife crime

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    Wild Justice is a member of Wildlife & Countryside LINK, which is the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, bringing together 65 organisations to use their strong joint voice for the protection of nature.

    LINK covers many policy areas and Wild Justice is represented on a number of committees, including the very active Wildlife Crime Group.

    The Wildlife Crime Group is calling for the Westminster Government to commit to a detailed timetable for the progression of a number of recommendations made in a recent United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime report on how to tackle wildlife crime in the UK, including recommendations covering legislation, enforcement, prosecution, sentencing and monitoring.

    A detailed blog outlining some of these recommendations has been written by the LINK Wildlife Crime Group Chair, Martin Sims, and can be read here.

  114. GWCT – ‘I’m only a simple farmer but…’

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    Dear Teresa

    I trust you are well, but I wonder whether you may have been on holiday recently as I’ve received a rather strange letter from one of your staff. It’s about the request, by Wild Justice, that I change the shooting season for Woodcock in England, Wales and Scotland to protect the declining UK breeding population. Your letter doesn’t really seem to add anything to this matter.

    Let me deal with the three points in your letter after making a more important point first.

    First, and fundamentally, the Wild Justice request asks for the open season for Woodcock shooting only to start on 1 December so that the declining UK population is, shall we say, shielded, by the much larger numbers of continental birds which arrive in late autumn/early winter. Wild Justice correctly cites a GWCT paper published in British Birds less than two years ago which says that shooting should not start until that date. Moreover, that advice is currently on your website, today, I’ve just been looking at it. If you have forgotten it then you can check it here – click here. Now I know I am only a simple farmer but it seems pretty clear to me that GWCT is recommending that shooting of Woodcock does not start until 1 December. Your letter doesn’t withdraw that view, your website still states it, and your recently published paper said that. If you are now resiling from that view then you’d better explain why and on what grounds, please, and put the science on your website. Can you tell me that you are sure that doing what Wild Justice has asked would definitely not help the UK breeding Woodcock population? I’m guessing not, partly on the basis of what is on your website, right now, today, visible to all.

    And now to turn to your three ‘points’:

    1. You say that there is an ‘indication’ that shooting pressure has declined but your letter does not provide any evidence or figures to support that view. I’ve got plenty of boffins here in the department and when they say ‘indication’ they usually mean ‘just a hint’ or ‘not very reliable evidence’ – is that what your letter meant? We are in a difficult position here because the UK does not require hunters to report on their shooting totals and so there are no official data on this matter at all. I understand that GWCT has good contacts in the shooting industry but your data are self-reported, non-verified numbers from shooters – nobody would regard those as being highly reliable. They are also very unlikely to be representative of all shooting since your supporters, many of whom are my friends, tend to be at the slightly wealthier end of the scale and may not represent what other shooters do. This point is made much better than I could make it, as a simple farmer, by the highly respected Nicholas Aebischer of your staff in his paper Fifty-year trends in UK hunting bags of birds and mammals, and calibrated estimation of national bag size, using GWCT’s National Gamebag Census where he states ‘In an ideal world, sites would be selected at random from among the pool of available sites, as is the case with, for instance, the Breeding Birds Survey (Gregory et al. 2000; Harris et al. 2018). In a situation where the collection of bag statistics depends on the good will and cooperation of shoots and shooters, and where the pool of available sites is un-known, this is not possible‘. That is the same point that I have made above, is it not? That paper states that ‘…woodcock Scolopax rusticola bags increased by 50% during the first 25 years, but stabilised or slightly declined since‘ – is that what the ‘indication’ is based upon? I don’t think we can rely on that very strongly, can we? And, of course, it does not distinguish betweeen pre-December and post-November shooting so fails to illuminate the point with which I am wrestling.
    2. Your letter argues that any restraint in shooting Woodcock will reduce the chance that suitable habitat measures will be carried out. Really? This is contradicted in your next point when you say that lots of Woodcock are shot in places where they don’t breed – sooooo, which do you really mean? Your letter states that ‘importance of … ‘enlightened self-interest’ in delivering practical, privately funded conservation should not be underestimated‘ but I think we’d both have to admit in private, if not in public, that the importance of ‘enlightened self-interest’ shouldn’t be overestimated either and that there are many examples, in shooting but in other areas too (I have to deal with fisheries remember!) where enlightened self-interest is completely obscured by actions based on short-term selfish gain.
    3. Your third point is that some areas don’t have breeding Woodcock so the birds shot there, at any time of year, must be continental birds. Are you sure? This seems to me, as a simple farmer, to ignore two important points. First, you have stated, and still state, that not shooting Woodcock until after the end of November is a good thing to protect the UK breeding population. So how, all of a sudden, has it become OK to shoot earlier in the year? Second, even with my knowledge of birds, I know that birds can breed in one part of the UK and winter in another part of the UK – indeed I believe this is commonplace. So how do you know, indeed do you know, that birds present in early autumn are not UK breeding birds? If you had tagged a great number of these birds, in non-breeding areas, early in the season, and followed them back to their breeding grounds then there might be something in this but my reading of your excellent study is that the sample size of such birds would be vanishingly small and would not provide me with any confidence that what is conjectured in your letter is, in fact, true.

    I wish you had written to me privately because then these matters would just have been between us but you’ve slapped this letter on your website, followed by a request for donations, and so everyone can see it. I’m afraid that it looks such a poorly argued case that it doesn’t make it easy for me to accept it at all. It’s rather difficult to get past the fact that GWCT said (and still says) ‘Don’t shoot Woodcock until December‘ but that when someone else takes notice of that, and let’s be clear, most shooters haven’t taken any notice at all, then you say you didn’t really mean it. People will wonder what else you say when it suits you but then repudiate when anyone takes notice of it, won’t they?

    In this case, I will probably come under pressure from Wales and Scotland to act and I will have to have a pretty good case to ignore the case for action. In fact, I wonder if this is a subject on which I ought to give the pesky Wild Justice a win – their case is perfectly fair, based on science (your science, the advice that is on your website still) and is pretty moderate. No-one can argue that shooting Woodcock is of great importance financially and no-one can argue that the UK breeding population of Woodcock is not falling. No-one would argue that shooting can’t be having an impact, and you yourselves suggest that it really might be. Whereas it was easy for us to brush off a petition calling for a complete ban on shooting this Red-listed UK species (see here), it is much more difficult to ignore Wild Justice’s call without looking as though I am pretty uninterested in taking modest measures that could lead to a recovery of declining species and am actually more interested in maintaining outdated, scientifically unjustified shooting practices. I’ll be thinking hard about these matters.

    with warm best wishes as always, and I hope you did enjoy your holiday,

  115. GWCT can’t read their own advice, it seems

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    GWCT can’t play an honest and straight game these days.

    Here is their statement in response to Wild Justice’s letter to DEFRA and DAERA on Woodcock shooting;

    https://www.gwct.org.uk/blogs/news/2022/april/gwct-woodcock-statement-in-response-to-wild-justice/

    And here is their own advice still present on their own website;

    Just to make it a bit easier for GWCT’s Head of Advisory to see what his organisation’s advice is let’s put it in larger letters for him:

    Woodcock should not be shot when it’s too early in the season, generally we recommend not shooting Woodcock before 1st December.

    We hope that’s not too nuanced.

  116. Badgers in Northern Ireland: Update 1.4.22

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    Over the last month, we’ve been getting ready for a potential challenge of a proposed Badger cull in Northern Ireland. Thanks to your generous support, this morning we’ve surpassed £30,000 towards our legal costs in our Crowdfunderthank you to every one of you who has donated.

    Last week, we heard some news – news of a Badger cull was formally announced by Edwin Poots,

     Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland. This proposed cull will likely see around 4,000 Badgers killed in one year, largely using the inhumane method of shooting.

    Wild Justice is challenging this decision in the courts alongside our friends and partners in the Northern Ireland Badger Group (NIBG). We’re hitting the ground running; a cull could start as early as July this year so we need to act fast. On Tuesday we filed an application for judicial review of this decision at the Royal Courts of Justice in Northern Ireland, asking for an early hearing.

    We say the consultation about whether to go ahead with the controversial programme of shooting Badgers withheld vital information so that contributors were not able to participate effectively. Our legal team have been working hard so far, but we’ve still a long way to go.

    We can’t do this without your support. Over 1,100 of you; wildlife advocates and campaigners, have donated to our Crowdfunder so far. We’re blown away. Please spread the word and consider donating if you can.

  117. We ask for changes to the Woodcock shooting season.

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    Woodcock. Photo: Tim Melling

    The Woodcock is a wading bird, a bit like a large Snipe, which generally roosts in the day, often in woodland, and feeds by probing for invertebrates in soggy areas at night.  It is also a gamebird and some 160,000 Woodcock are shot in the UK, in recreational shooting, each year.

    Last week, Wild Justice wrote to George Eustice, the Secretary of State at DEFRA, and to Edwin Poots, the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, asking them to exercise their powers to change the seasons for Woodcock shooting across the UK. Slightly surprisingly, it seems that Mr Eustice still has the power to vary the shooting seasons in Wales and Scotland as well as in England but we assume this would be done in consultation with the Welsh Minister, Leslie Griffiths, and Scottish Cabinet Secretary, Mairi Gougeon.

    The UK Woodcock breeding population is in decline and that is not in doubt. It has been moved from the UK Amber list to Red list because of this ongoing, well-documented population decline.  Under those circumstances there is an argument that all Woodcock shooting should be halted but our suggestion is more modest than that – it is for the shooting season to open not on 1 October (1 September in Scotland) but on 1 December.

    The rationale for such a change has been set out by the pro-shooting Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and rests on the fact that the UK Woodcock population is swelled by large numbers of migrants from Europe and Asia in winter, and in mid winter the continental birds outnumber the UK birds by about 10:1. The arrival of Woodcock in late autumn is well known to naturalists and gives rise to the full moon in November often being known, to shooters and conservationists alike, as the Woodcock moon (for examples see here, here, here).

    GWCT have asked shooters to show restraint and not to shoot Woodcock until 1 December but we are asking Mr Eustice and Mr Poots to make that suggestion a matter of law by a small but significant change to the shooting season.

    A change to the shooting season is a simple matter and does not require primary legislation. It could be done, at no cost and with no delay in the next few weeks and be in place for next autumn’s shooting season.  There is ample evidence from advertisements offering Woodcock shooting that the call for voluntary restraint has not been heeded.

    This simple and precautionary change in order to reduce the pressure on a declining species of conservation concern is a modest request of politicians.  We see it as a test of their commitment to wildlife conservation. If the decline of UK biodiversity is to be halted and reversed then much more expensive and radical action will be needed in many other areas of wildlife policy. Our proposal is simple, is based on science, is administratively easy and has trivial financial implications.  If politicians cannot take action like this, then we cannot trust them to make good their promises to deliver a better future for wildlife.

    Our letter to ministers:

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  118. Debating Badgers in Parliament – some first thoughts

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    https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-03-21/debates/3A62786C-3340-47E7-9DC0-D95B1EE9BD57/BadgerCulling

    Westminster Parliamentary petitions: Wild Justice supports the use of parliamentary petitions across the UK parliaments. They are a valuable way of bringing matters to the attention of politicians that might otherwise be avoided. All UK residents and citizens living abroad are entitled to sign such petitions. A Petitions Committee exists to run the process in the Wetminster parliament and acts as a gatekeeper to which petitions can go ahead and if and when they are debated. Almost always, a petition that receives 100,000 signatures in a 6-month period is subsequently debated in Westminster Hall, primarily by backbench MPs but with closing remarks from Opposition Shadow Ministers and Government ministers. Any petition which reaches 10,000 signatures receives a response from the government department responsible for that matter in England. Relatively few petitions reach 10,000 signatures, very few of those started get anywhere near 100,000 signatures.

    Petition 333693 on how Badgers are killed in England: this petition was initiated by Wild Justice. Since someone has to submit the petition, in this case it was submitted by Mark Avery and the parliamentary process regards him as ‘the petitioner’. We regard ‘Wild Justice’ as the petitioner but that is of little importance since this petition was signed by 106,108 people and they all have an equal share in it. Thank you to all who signed the petition.

    This petition was very clearly about how Badgers are culled in the DEFRA-sponsored Badger cull which purports to be a key means of eradicating bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle. Here is the complete text of the short petition;

    Shooting of Badgers is licensed by Natural England as part of the DEFRA Badger cull. 24,000+ Badgers were shot in 2019.

    Shooting is poorly monitored and Wild Justice believes it has never met the animal welfare standards recommended by a 2014 Independent Expert Panel, whose recommendations were accepted by DEFRA. This method of culling is inhumane and should be banned immediately.

    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/333693

    This petition was submitted by Wild Justice on 3 August 2020, immediately received the half a dozen signatures that each petition needs to jump the first hurdle but was not considered by the petitions team until late September (let’s put it down to covid). There was initial pushback from them saying that this petition was very similar to an existing petition until we pointed out that our petition was quite clearly about shooting, and about whether shooting was humane, and did not even mention vaccination. Our petition was published on 24 September 2020 and closed 6 months later on 24 March 2021 having passed 100,000 signatures. It took almost a year, until 21 March this year, for this successful petition to be debated (let’s put it down to covid although many petitions which reached 100,000 signatures after ours have been debated in the interim).

    Support for this petition came from across the UK, but unsurprisingly primarily from England, and unsurprisingly, mainly from rural areas many of which are experiencing Badger culls.

    At the time when this petition started Wild Justice pursued a legal challenge to the lawfulness of this method of culling – that challenge was unsuccessful (which doesn’t, of course, mean that shooting Badgers is acceptable).

    In the run up to the debate many Wild Justice supporters drew the debate to the attention of their MPs (thank you for doing that), Mark Avery met, virtually, Nick Fletcher MP from the Petitions Committee to brief him on the petition and our thoughts, and we and other organisations, particularly the Badger Trust (many thanks!) briefed MPs on the issues.

    The debate: and so, at 4:30pm on Monday afternoon, a small number of MPs met to debate this petition and in the public gallery Mark Avery and the Executive Director of the Badger Trust, Peter Hambley, attended in person. You can read the transcript of the debate – click here – or watch the video of it – click here and move to 10 minutes into the video for the start of the debate.

    Here are our initial thoughts on the debate.

    1. Nick Fletcher MP’s introduction: we are grateful to Mr Fletcher (Conservative, Don Valley) for the time and care he took to get briefed on the subject. His introduction was polite and fair. He stressed that ‘I have spoken to the petitioner, Mark Avery, and his main request is whether, should the Government continue with culling, it can be carried out more humanely. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has just gone through Parliament. Surely that attitude to improving animal welfare should be reflected in our approach to TB reduction. Trapping and then killing is far better than wounding a badger and then letting it die a slow, painful death.‘. He might have added that the British Veterinary Association withdrew support for shooting free-running Badgers because this method is not humane as long ago as 2015. He might have pointed out that government did not adopt the welfare standards (fewer than 5% of badgers should take >5minutes to die) recommended by an expert panel and that monitoring of shooting shows that those standards have not been met in any subsequent year of Badger culls involving over 100,000 animals being shot.
    2. Mike Amesbury MP (Labour, Weaver Vale): Mike didn’t say much, but it was good to hear ‘Not only does culling not respect animal welfare…’
    3. Chris Loder MP (Conservative, Dorset West): if this name sounds familiar to you then it might be because Mr Loder went out on a limb, and has not been supported by fellow Conservative MPs when he said that White-tailed Eagles weren’t welcome in his constituency. Mr Loder comes from a farming family. It is unclear that Mr Loder actually read or thought about the petition and he certainly didn’t address the point made by his colleague Mr Fletcher in opening the debate, that this is about how to cull (if such a cull is to continue, as Mr Loder clearly thinks it should). Mr Loder failed to address the choice in front of this government about the method of culling – should it continue with the current less humane method or ensure that all Badgers culled (if the cull is to continue) should be culled by the most humane method available. If this were an exam question then Mr Loder failed to read the question carefully and deserves to get low marks.
    4. Jim Shannon MP (Strangford, DUP): Mr Shannon agrees with Mr Loder, and owns a farm and is a member of the Ulster Farmers Union. He is also the treasurer of the All Party Group on shooting. Mr Shannon said that he supported the culling of badgers but failed to address the issue of the petition, pointed out by Mr Fletcher at the start, of whether he supported the less humane method of shooting at free living Badgers (though we can infer that he does). Although he uttered the rather empty words that Badgers ‘must be handled compassionately’ he did not say whether he thought shooting at Badgers in the dark was compassionate or whether he would favour a move to a more humane method. If this were an exam question then, like Mr Loder, Mr Shannon failed to read the question carefully and deserves to get low marks.
    5. Sir Bill Wiggin (Conservative, North Herefordshire): Sir Bill is a farmer too, and a shooter too, funny that. Sir Bill regards, it seems, gassing as the only alternative to shooting in the dark with rifles – it clearly is not. Sir Bill, like Mr Loder and Mr Shannon, failed to read the question carefully and deserves to get low marks.
    6. Daniel Zeichner (Labour, Cambridge): spoke for the Opposition EFRA team. He was well-briefed and on top of the subject to a large degree. Labour’s position would, in theory, avoid these welfare issues by switching to Badger vaccination, biosecurity and movement controls. Mr Zeichner made these points of direct relevance to the petition ‘The petition has a significant number of signatures. It focuses on the killing of badgers rather than the bovine TB issue, which I shall return to. The view expressed is that the shooting of badgers is poorly monitored and inhumane. Anecdotally, one is certainly told of cases where badgers are not shot cleanly and are left with injuries. According to Natural England’s compliance monitoring report for 2020, badgers were shot at but not retrieved in 11.4% of cases, but only one case of a badger being shot at but wounded and lost was reported; presumably some of the rest may not have been found. As with all such figures, the situation is not clear. I suggest that there is some cause for concern.‘ and ‘Can the Minister say why the number of badgers culled through free shooting rather than cage-trapping has changed so dramatically? According to the figures in the very good briefing prepared by the House of Commons Library, those numbers have increased from rough parity in 2014 to around four in five in 2020, creating a greater risk of inhumane culling. What is the reason for that? It seems that that is directly relevant to the question raised by the petitioners.‘. Mr Zeichner had read the exam question and scored high marks from us as a result.
    7. Dr Lisa Cameron MP (Scottish National Party, East Kilbride): made a useful short intervention on vaccination.
    8. Sir Robert Goodwill MP (Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby): made short interventions in favour of continued culling but failed to differentiate between shooting free running Badgers in the dark and the welfare issues it poses and cage-trapping. Sir Robert, like Sir Bill, Mr Loder and Mr Shannon, failed to read the question carefully and deserves to get low marks. That’s a clean sweep of back-bench MPs who favour continued culling who swerved the welfare issues associated with shooting in the dark – it’s almost as if they cannot face up to the issue even though they come from rural constituencies, claim to be farmers or know about farming and are largely supporters of fieldsports. Hmm.
    9. Jo Churchill MP, (Conservative, Bury St Edmunds), Parliamentary under Secretary of State, DEFRA: the Minister, briefed by all those officials in DEFRA did not address the question of the welfare issues associated with the current and planned methods of Badger culling. The closest she came was to say, very briefly ‘we need to approach this issue in the most humane way possible‘ without giving any indication of what that is, despite the recommendations of an expert committee in the early years of this large-scale cull which her department have neglected to implement. Like Sir Robert, Sir Bill, Mr Loder and Mr Shannon, all those who spoke in favour of culling, the minister of the very department responsible for the cull and the way it is carried out could not bring herself to address the welfare issues involved.

    It would be possible to read into this failure to address the welfare issues associated with a government-led massive cull of wildlife; that the Department responsible for it does not really care about the suffering its policy is imposing on our wildlife.

    Wild Justice will be writing to DEFRA for clarification of their views on the welfare issues associated with shooting of free-running Badgers.

  119. Debating Badgers in Parliament

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    Yesterday afternoon, parliament debated our petition from last year, signed by over 106,000 of you. MPs gathered to discuss the issue of culling, following our call to ban the shooting of badgers immediately.

    The discussion was generally civilised, with points presented from both sides of the debate. Some MPs, like Daniel Zeichner, spoke to defend badgers, and for his party’s support of a TB vaccination programme. Other MPs spoke in favour of continued culling, despite recent new research questioning its effectiveness.

    You can watch the full debate back here, or if you prefer you can read the whole transcript here. We’ll be analysing the discussion in full, and will report back with some of our thoughts very soon…

  120. Update: DAERA and delays, delays delays…

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    It seems we’ve encountered yet another delay with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA) promised consultation on General Licenses in Northern Ireland. The consultation, which was promised by 21 March 2022, has yet to materialise on DAERA’s website.

    In December last year, Wild Justice were successful in a legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s general licences for the killing of wild birds.

    At the time, DAERA conceded that their general licences were flawed and unlawful. They also said they’d replace them with interim licences, and reassured us that a full public consultation would be launched in due course. After several delays, we were told the consultation would finally launch on March 21.

    Once again we’re left waiting, and once again we’ll keep you updated as things develop…

  121. More progress on general licences in Wales

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    A Jackdaw – should soon be better protected in Wales

    UPDATE: THESE RECOMMENDATIONS WERE APPROVED BY THE NRW BOARD ON THURSDAY 24 MARCH

    At their Board meeting next week, Natural Resources Wales is expected to approve further improvements to their general licences in line with what Wild Justice has argued both in consultation responses and in the courts. And many Wild Justice supporters can take credit for their responses to the consultation being a part of that process – thank you!

    The board paper (Review of NRW’s approach to regulating the shooting and trapping of Wild Birds: General Licences 22-03-15 click here – paragraphs 31 and 32) takes on board Wild Justice’s arguments about the ‘conservation licence GL004’ by:

    • restricting the scope of the protected species to those which actually nest in Wales (see our blog on this subject almost two whole years ago – click here)
    • restricting the period under which the conservation licence can be used (see the judgment of Justice Jarman – click here)
    • removing Magpie, Jackdaw and Jay (see previous Wild Justice blog on Jackdaws, and Mark Avery’s several blogs on Jays) from GL004 (leaving only one species, namely Carrion Crow).

    NRW is being too modest about its proposals. They will, if approved, mean that Wales has by far the best, the most scientifically robust, conservation general licence across the UK (see this comparison – click here).

    We’ll have to see what the NRW Board says about the paper but given that NRW has done an evidence review, carried out a public consultation and told a judge what the limits on their licence GL004 are, it would be an exceptional slap in the face for the science, the public, the courts and NRW staff if the Board were not to approve these recommendations.

    We note that elsewhere in the paper (paragraph 30) NRW proposes to ‘define in the general licence the particular species-to-purpose combinations where lethal control is authorised’. That sounds sensible if it means, as we believe it does, that it will be made clear that you can’t kill a Woodpigeon because it might attack a lamb nor a Magpie because it might eat your Oil Seed Rape crop. We’ll look closely when more detail is available but on the face of it, this too reduces the casual licensing of casual killing of birds. We recommend this approach to other nations.

    Well done, NRW staff! Let’s hope your Board follows through on these sensible measures. You will be leading the way across the four UK nations…

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  122. Important new study on Badger culling

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    Today an important paper on Badger culling has been published in the journal Veterinary Record. The paper reports on new and detailed analysis, and concludes that Badger culling has been ineffective in reducing bovine Tuberculosis in cattle herds.

    It is significant because it is is the largest examination of Government data on Badger culls, which have seen over 140,000 Badgers killed, to date.

    Authored by biologist Thomas Langton, and vets Dr Mark Jones and Dr Iain McGill, the study compares both the incidence and prevalence of bovine TB in areas where Badger culls have taken place, and those where they haven’t. Over the duration of the study, incidences of TB peaked and began to decline; however there was no statistical evidence showing any difference in the rate and nature of decline between culling and  no-culling areas. You can read the full study here; we’ve shared the abstract from it below.

    To us, this looks like yet another reason to be highly sceptical about whether culling works – whether it reduces bTB levels. Looking at the evidence, it seems killing large numbers of Badgers isn’t beneficial for farmers and their industry. It certainly isn’t good for Badgers, and it’s often carried out in an inhumane way.

    Wild Justice will review this study carefully in the coming days, and we’ll of course update you with any developments from here…

    Analysis of the impact of badger culling on bovine tuberculosis in cattle in the high-risk area of England, 2009–2020
    Thomas E. S. Langton, Mark W. Jones, Iain McGill

    Abstract
    Background
    Since 2013, badger culling has been part of the UK Government’s strategy for controlling bovine tuberculosis (bTB) within a high-risk area (HRA) in England. Government surveillance data now enables an examination of bTB herd incidence and prevalence, its headline indicators, within and outside cull areas over the period 2009–2020.

    Methods
    Analysis compared herd incidence and prevalence data from within and outside badger culling areas. A range of models (GLMs, GLMMs, GAMs and GAMMs) were used to analyse incidence and prevalence in culled and unculled areas using frequentist and Bayesian approaches. Change in incidence across ten county areas within the HRA for the period 2010–2020 was also compared.

    Results
    Analyses based on Defra published data using a variety of statistical methodologies did not suggest that badger culling affected herd bTB incidence or prevalence over the study period. In 9 of 10 counties, bTB incidence peaked and began to fall before badger culling commenced.

    Limitations
    There are limitations around the data available on culling location, temporal information and other confounding factors. As such, further analysis of any future datasets that may be released on bTB levels in areas where badger culling has been implemented is warranted.

    Conclusion
    This examination of government data obtained over a wide area and a long time period failed to identify a meaningful effect of badger culling on bTB in English cattle herds. These findings may have implications for the use of badger culling in current and future bTB control policy.

  123. Link Guest Blog: Ask your MP to end Badger cull cruelty on 21 March

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    Today the Wildlife and Countryside Link have hosted a blog from Wild Justice on their website. You can read what we said below:

    In 2020 Wild Justice launched a Parliamentary Petition calling for an immediate ban on the licensing of the shooting of Badgers by Natural England. When it closed in March 2021, the petition had gathered 106,108 signatures from the public.

    After almost a year’s wait, we’ve finally got a date for the petition to be debated in the Westminster Parliament; Monday 21 March 2022 [NOTE, previously advertised as 14 March but rescheduled by the Petitions Committee]. We’re asking the public to encourage their MPs to attend on that day and make the case for Badgers.

    Since the first Badger culls were proposed in England in 2010, an estimated 140,000 badgers have been killed in England, for which shooting was the preferred method. Earlier in 2020, Wild Justice challenged the legality of free shooting of Badgers. We argued that Badger shooting is inhumane and that in licensing it Natural England is not taking account of the recommendations made to government by an expert panel on the animal welfare aspects of culling. In June 2021, we heard our challenge had been unsuccessful.

    In 2014, an Independent Expert Panel, chaired by Sir Ranald Munro, delivered a report to the Government following the first year of culling. The report concluded that shooting Badgers was likely to cause suffering in a significant proportion of cases. Between 7.4% and 22.8% of Badgers that had been shot took more than five minutes to die from blood loss, bullet wounds and organ failure. After the following year of pilot culls, the Independent Expert Panel was disbanded by DEFRA Secretary of State Owen Paterson. Since then, independent monitoring of cull contractors has reduced, and shooting has remained the primary method of killing Badgers in cull areas.

    Support for this method of culling has continued to dwindle; in 2015, the British Veterinary Association stated that they “can no longer support the use of controlled shooting as the pilot culls have failed to demonstrate that this method can be used effectively and humanely”.

    The coming debate is another opportunity to register public concern about the Badger cull which has grown in projected scale since it first started. The number of signatures demonstrated that this is an important public issue.

    When the date for the Parliamentary debate was announced, we in turn asked our supporters to consider writing to their MP. The more Badger-friendly voices we can encourage to attend, the better. There is still time to do this; if you live in England, consider sending an email to your MP and ask them if they’ll attend on Monday 21 March. We’ve included some suggested wording on our blog, but feel free to use your own words too.

    If you’d like to watch the debate yourself, it can be streamed from the Parliament YouTube channel.

    Add the date to your diary: Monday 21 March, at 16:30.

  124. What’s happening with Badgers in Northern Ireland?

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    Our Crowdfunder for a legal challenge of a proposed Badger cull in Northern Ireland has just passed £25,000 in donations. Thank you to everyone for your support and contributions!

    So, where are we at with news of this proposed cull? Wild Justice have been in detailed correspondence with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) about our challenge. Throughout this correspondence, DAERA have repeatedly told us they believe our challenge, should it be launched at the moment, would be premature. We’ve still had no formal statement from DAERA on whether they intend to go ahead with their proposed cull or not.

    In the meantime, the news and comment in the wider political and farming sector suggests very strongly that DAERA are in fact intending to implement a Badger cull. An article in Irish Farmers Journal last week mentioned the proposed cull and that DAERA’s officials are working ‘at pace’ to finalise their new TB Strategy which remains one of DAERA’s ‘top priorities’. That doesn’t sound like the decision to implement a cull is in the balance to us.

    Wild Justice have also heard that DAERA will be reporting on this strategy, and their plans for a cull, to the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs on Wednesday morning, at 10am. We’ll be watching this with interest, and you can too.

    So, whilst DAERA may be telling us that filing the next set of legal papers would be premature, we’re still actively preparing, with our friends in the Northern Ireland Badger Group, to challenge any plans to cull Badgers in Northern Ireland and to take that challenge through the courts.

  125. Allegations about Chris Packham are defamatory, High Court rules

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    Wild Justice co-director Chris Packham is suing three defendants for libel after a series of articles, videos and tweets, published in 2020 and 2021 accused Chris of mis-using his role as a BBC presenter to ‘defraud’ the public.

    A preliminary hearing took place at the High Court in February 2022 and yesterday the judgement was published.

    Chris, partner Charlotte and some of his legal team at the High Court in February

    The following is a press statement from Chris’s lawyers, Leigh Day:

    Country Squire articles, videos and tweets about Chris Packham were defamatory.

    A series of nine articles in Country Squire magazine, two videos on YouTube and eight tweets about Chris Packham were defamatory, according to a judgement handed down today.

    An initial trial of preliminary issues about the meaning of the articles, videos and tweets rejected the contention that all were expressing an opinion.

    The defendants claimed that when they contended that Mr Packham misused his role as a BBC presenter to defraud the public into making charitable donations on the false pretext that tigers had been mistreated by a circus and rescued by a zoo, they were expressing an opinion.

    They relied on question marks, reference to the need for clarifications, an invitation to the reader to “make up your own mind” as part of their case.

    However Mr Justice Johnson held that the meaning of each article is defamatory of Mr Packham at common law and amounts to a statement of fact.

    He rejected arguments that serious allegations of fraud were mitigated. References to the police and other investigating bodies “were not presented in a way to suggest that the reader should keep an open mind. They again reinforce the central theme of the publications that the claimant has perpetrated a fraud on the public”.

    He said the parts of the publications that express opinions were ancillary to the defamatory meanings that the articles convey.

    Following the determination of the meanings of the publications, it is expected that a substantive trial will be held towards the end of the year.

    Mr Packham began proceedings following repeated allegations in Country Squire magazine that he defrauded the public into donating funds for the Wildheart Trust, where he is a trustee, by falsely claiming that it had rescued emotionally and physically broken tigers from European circuses.

    The claims were independently investigated by the Fundraising Regulator and found to be unsupported, but the defendants refused to remove the articles, tweets and videos from the public domain and since the proceedings were issued, repeated the allegations.

    Following the judgment, Chris Packham said:

    “Truth and love, and a love of truth are things we cherish. They give us the ability to proceed, to become better people. They give us a chance of making a better world. So we must protect them, sometimes at great personal cost. And that is why I have no choice but pursue this course of litigation.
    “In this case the three defendants have proactively sought to damage my reputation. There is a line in the sand and it’s been crossed and I aim to ensure that they and any others who seek to employ such methods cross back again. And stay there.”

    Chris Packham is represented by Leigh Day partner Tessa Gregory and solicitor Carol Day, who said:

    “Our client is pleased the judge has recognised these very serious allegations are defamatory at common law. The burden of proof is now on the defendants to show a lawful defence to these claims in a substantive trial.”

    ENDS

    The full judgement can be read here:

  126. Update: The Schrodinger’s Pheasant conundrum.

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    You might remember our recent head-scratcher involving gamebirds; when is a Pheasant livestock, and when is it wildlife? Today news of our legal challenge to DEFRA was reported in the Guardian online – we expect it’ll be in the print edition tomorrow.

    Updates to the English General Licence GL42, earlier this year, meant gamebirds, such as Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges, were classified as livestock if they were ‘dependent’ on food, water or shelter provided by gamekeepers even after they had left their release pens in the countryside. By being classified as livestock, this opened the door for gamekeepers to shoot other wild birds, like Rooks, Jackdaws, Crows and Magpies in order to ‘protect’ the gamebirds for a longer period, and under wider circumstances, than had previously been the case.

    The article in the Guardian reports on today’s news of a U-turn by Defra brought about by Wild Justice’s threat of legal action (not simply public outcry, as the article suggests). DEFRA conceded that only food, water or shelter provided ‘by or within the release pen’ is relevant when assessing if a gamebird is wild, or livestock.

    Defra agreed to revise the definition, telling Wild Justice’s lawyers: “The secretary of state does not consider pheasants to be livestock within the meaning of the WCA 81 [Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981] once they cease to be kept”.

    We consider this to be good news. Wild Justice are, however, still deeply sceptical about whether the whole General Licence system is the best way to regulate activity in the murky field of ‘pest control’. We’ll be keeping an eye on things, as always…

  127. Update: DAERA delays again on Consultation on General Licences…

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    Back in December, Wild Justice were successful in a legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s general licences for the killing of wild birds.

    The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) conceded that their general licences were flawed and unlawful. At the time they said they’d replace them with interim licences, and reassured us that a full public consultation would be launched in due course.

    Initially we were told the consultation would begin in early February. Early February came and went. Following some prodding, DAERA then promised the consultation would happen sometime between late February and early March – but definitely no later than March 7 2022. 

    March 7 has now passed. Yesterday, we heard from DAERA that they’re aiming for the consultation to go public on 21 March 2022. The reason given for multiple delays was a vague one; Officials are awaiting final clearance from the Minister.”

    Will we see the consultation appear on the 21st? We will wait and find out, and of course keep you updated as we go…

  128. Please write to your MP about Badgers

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    Last year, over 106,000 of you signed our petition asking for a ban on shooting Badgers in England. Yesterday, we finally heard that our petition will be debated in Parliament very soon – Monday 14th March at 16:30. Update: The debate on Shooting Badgers in England has been postponed to Monday 21st March, at 4:30.

    Once again, we need your help. We’d like to make sure we have as much impact as possible in this debate, arguing in defence of these charismatic animals and pushing to enact the ban we called for.

    You can help in two ways:

    1. Watch the debate live on the Parliament YouTube channel.
    2. Write to your MP, and ask them to attend the debate in person.

    Writing to your MP.

    Please write to your MP, informing them about the debate and asking them to attend. We’ve provided some suggested wording below, and here is some introductory guidance:

    • Where you live: Writing to your MP about this debate is particularly useful if you live in England, as this was the remit of our petition – however, please still consider writing if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. This debate could have repercussions across the four nations. For example, we’re currently fundraising for a legal challenge to a proposed Badger cull in Northern Ireland, which would use shooting as the method of killing Badgers.
    • Who exactly your MP is: If your MP is a Government or Shadow Minister, it is unlikely they’d attend. Do still ask – and perhaps ask them to share your views with their backbench colleagues who may be able to attend instead. You can find your MP’s contact details here.
    • Your details: Don’t forget to include information about yourself – MPs often require an address, and even telephone number, in order for them to respond to a constituent’s email.
    • Your signature: If you signed our petition in 2020 – don’t forget to mention it!


    Dear_____

    I am writing to you as one of your constituents, to ask you to stand up for a wildlife issue that is very important to me. Last year a petition calling for an immediate ban on shooting Badgers in England gathered over 106,000 signatures.

    The petition is being debated in Westminster Hall, on Monday March 21st at 16:30. As your constituent, I am asking you to attend this debate, and support the call for a ban on the inhumane practice of shooting Badgers.

    I feel that this is an important and timely debate, coming at a crucial time for Britain’s wildlife. As you know, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill (2021-22) is currently making its way through the House of Commons, drawing attention to animal welfare issues and recognising animals as sentient beings. In England, the Environment Act has set in stone targets to end the decline of species by 2030.

    It seems to me that in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, we should not be pursuing massive culls of a native species. These types of interventions should only be considered if there’s robust scientific evidence to show they’re the only way to address a problem and they can be carried out humanely.  I don’t believe either of these factors is true in the case of the culling of Badgers.

    May I please ask you to attend the debate on shooting Badgers on Monday 21st March at 16:30?

    Yours sincerely,

    Provide name (including surname) and address and telephone number (to show that you really are a constituent and therefore deserve a proper response)


  129. Breaking News: Date confirmed for Badger-shooting debate

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    Photo credit: Vincent Van-Zalinge

    Breaking news: you may remember our petition calling for a ban on shooting Badgers in England. You might have been one of the the 106,108 people who signed it back in 2020.

    At the time, we argued that shooting is poorly monitored and is a method of culling that is inhumane. We said we believe it has never met the animal welfare standards recommended by a 2014 Independent Expert Panel, whose recommendations were accepted by DEFRA. We therefore called for a ban on shooting Badgers in England. 

    Today we’ve heard our petition will be debated by MPs in Westminster Hall at 16:30 on Monday March 14th. Update: The debate on Shooting Badgers in England has been postponed to Monday 21st March, at 16:30. This is rather short notice, so we’d like your help in making sure Badgers get a fair debate on the day. Nick Fletcher MP, a member of the Petitions Committee, will open the debate.

    If you live in England, please consider writing to your MP and asking them to attend the debate on the 21st. By speaking up, you’ll demonstrate there is a widespread support of this ban across the country.

    We’ll be updating shortly on the time and full details of the debate [updated 17:10, 2 March], and will also share some suggested wording for contacting your MP in due course and initially through our newsletter. For now, please add the date to your diaries, and consider watching live on the day.

    More details soon…

  130. Chris Loder MP and the eagles (3) – Poll Results & MP Responses

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    Recently Chris Loder MP ruffled feathers after declaring that his constituency county of Dorset ‘is not the place for eagles to be reintroduced’. Following the news of two White-tailed Eagles found dead under suspicious circumstances, one of which was on a shooting estate in Dorset, Mr Loder’s views highlighted the frustrating and far-too-frequently seen culture of intolerance towards birds of prey in the UK.

    We wanted to see if this feeling was shared widely– so we launched a simple Twitter poll asking if birds of prey, like White-tailed Eagles, are welcome where you are.

    Twitter Poll: 99.3% of respondents said ‘birds of prey welcome’, 0.3% said ‘birds of prey, no thanks!’.

    We’re pleased to say of the nearly 4,000 of you who responded, the overwhelming majority (97.3%) welcome birds of prey. The tiny minority (0.3%) saying ‘no thanks’ to birds of prey represented less than 30 people. This is quite a clear-cut result, even if we know our audience is generally a wildlife-friendly one.

    We were also interested to see if this anti-eagle sentiment was shared by other MPs and elected representatives across the UK – so we asked you to write to them. Thank you to those who did; we’ve now started hearing some responses back. They’re mixed, and interesting.

    Some, like this response from, are generally supportive of the reintroductions and welcomed an investigation into the two recently reported deaths:

    Dear ________
    
    Thank you for contacting me about White-Tailed Eagles.
    
    I would like to assure you that my ministerial colleagues are committed to the recovery of species, including wild birds. I welcome that the Environment Act 2021 includes a new legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. I know that ministers continue to provide opportunities for successful reintroductions such as white-tailed eagle to the Isle of Wight, pine marten in the Forest of Dean, and restoring populations of hen harrier and curlew.
    
    I am aware that several schemes to reintroduce white-tailed eagles have been working across the UK. Like you, I was very concerned to hear that two of these eagles have recently been found dead. I welcome that police are investigating these deaths, with post-mortem and toxicological examinations being conducted.
    
    Thank you again for contacting me on this issue.

    Others were more aligned to Mr Loder’s views – sharing a similar scaremongering rhetoric about the risk of White-tailed Eagle reintroduction to people’s pets:

    Thank you for your email concerning the potential reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to Herefordshire.
    
    I am not against the reintroduction of certain species in principle.
    However, I am reluctant to support the reintroduction of large predators and raptors due to their impact on livestock and people’s pets.
    
    As a resident of Herefordshire, I am sure that you can appreciate the stress and misery which is caused to farmers by dogs which attack or worry their livestock.
    However, in the case of dogs worrying livestock, there is at least an owner that is legally responsible for the behaviour of their pet.
    
    Eagles of course have no owner, and there would therefore be no way of compensating farmers affected when they attack sheep.
    That is not even to mention the potential anguish which could be caused when eagles kill or carry away beloved family pets.
    
    The cost of these reintroduction programmes cannot be ignored.
    I believe that the money spent on these could be used better in other areas of conservation.
    
    Thank you again for writing to me.
    Yours sincerely

    Then some were short but sweet – like this one:

    Thanks. Mr Loder’s views are his own and he is not accountable to me. I support the Eagles!
    

    Whilst only a tiny sample, it goes to show opinions are divided. These three responses were all from Conservative MPs, so attitudes differs even within political parties. The fact that misinformed opinions and inaccuracies about wildlife are shared quite widely is a worrying thing. As always, we’ll be working to correct and challenge this.

  131. New research: lead levels in pheasant meat haven’t reduced two years on from voluntary transition to non-toxic shot.

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    Two years ago a group of shooting organisations, including BASC and the Countryside alliance, announced a five-year, voluntary transition away from using toxic lead shot in the UK. 

    New research, reported yesterday in The Guardian, has shown that to date, this voluntary phase-out has had no measurable effect in reducing the levels of lead in pheasant meat. Of 215 birds found to containing pellets or pellet fragments, 99.5% were shown to have been shot using lead.

    In response to the news, Wild Justice said: “Another 12 months of zero progress from the shooting industry. All talk and no action. UK governments should simply ban the use of lead ammunition rather than let this charade continue.”

  132. Please help us defend Badgers in Northern Ireland

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    This morning Wild Justice launched a new fundraising appeal. Once again we are looking to challenge a proposed cull of Badgers – this time in Northern Ireland.

    So far, over 500 of you have backed our fundraiser, donating over £12,000 towards our challenge. Thank you to everyone who’s donated!

    So, what’s this about?

    Back in 2021, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) proposed a cull of Badgers that could commence as early as July 2022.  

    Working closely with our friends, the Northern Ireland Badger Group (NIBG), we looked into the legality of DAERA’s proposal, and we spotted an issue. In their proposal, DAERA made repeated references to there being a ‘business case’ for culling badgers. Despite multiple requests being made, neither Wild Justice nor NIBG have been granted access to this ‘business case’, nor the evidence used to make it. For this reason, we believe that DAERA’s proposition to carry out a cull of Badgers has not been subject to lawful consultation with the public.

    Wild Justice are now seeking a Judicial Review of the lawfulness of DAERA’s proposed Badger cull and have sent DAERA a formal legal letter as the first step in this process. Now comes the part when we ask for your help!

    The first stage of the challenge will cost £50,000; these funds will go towards paying our lawyers, court costs, the costs of research and costs awarded against us if our challenge is unsuccessful. Wild Justice is meeting the costs of the NIBG in this case. Some of this money has already been spent from our savings but we can’t take the challenge all the way without raising more funds.

    Please support our fundraising appeal here. We’re really grateful for any support you can give us.

    This is just the latest attempt to cull Badgers in the UK; it’s a topic Wild Justice have campaigned on a lot in the past, particularly relating to culls in England. This time we’re taking the fight to Northern Ireland, and we’d really appreciate your support.

  133. Chris Loder MP and the eagles (2) – what does your elected representative think?

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    Chris Loder MP’s views (see preceding blog post) don’t seem to be getting much support on social media – our little poll has passed 2000 votes and there are fewer than 1% of responses saying ‘No thanks’ to birds of prey.

    But given the continuing unremitting news of illegal killing of birds of prey, and persecution of other wildlife and general lack of respect for wildlife, this seems like an opportune moment to check in with our elected representatives and speak up for birds of prey as iconic and threatened wildlife.

    So, Wild Justice is asking you to write to your MP or MSP, MS or MLA (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) along the following lines, just as a guide;

    TEXT TO CONSIDER SENDING TO YOUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVE:

    Dear ______

    I am writing to you as a constituent, to ask for your opinion on a wildlife issue that is very important to me. I was saddened to hear the recent news that two White-tailed Eagles have been found dead in Southern England, but I was dismayed to read Chris Loder MP’s view that ‘Dorset is not the place for eagles to be reintroduced’ and that eagles are ‘killing our lambs and plaguing our farmers’.

    White-tailed Eagles are a native UK species; they belong here. Dedicated conservation organisations, such as the Roy Dennis Foundation, have worked hard to reintroduce this remarkable bird, which was previously driven to extinction in the UK through a range of factors but mainly the type of human persecution that is now, rightly, illegal.

    White-tailed Eagles have been successfully reintroduced to Scotland, thanks to a lengthy and expensive, but very successful, project by many individual conservationists and conservation organisations. Since the recent releases on the Isle of Wight, members of the public have been thrilled to spot White-tailed Eagles soaring in skies across the UK; from Scotland to the Midlands, and even over Westminster.  On Mull the reintroduced White-tailed Eagles draw people to the island to see the birds, enjoy the scenery and spend their tourist money in the local community. Whichever way you look at it, they are an asset.

    Birds of prey, including eagles, have suffered centuries of persecution in the UK. It’s disheartening to see outdated, anti-bird-of-prey sentiments being expressed by elected political representatives. Raptor persecution is still a problem today, despite it being a wildlife crime, and perpetuating these antiquated opinions is not what we need in the midst of today’s biodiversity crisis.

    I hope to see the UK become a place that White-tailed Eagles, and indeed all native birds of prey, are both welcome and able to thrive in a healthy natural environment, free from persecution.

    Can I ask if you would welcome White-tailed Eagles and other birds of prey in your constituency?

    Yours sincerely,

    Provide name (including surname) and address (to show that you really are a constituent and therefore deserve a proper response)

    We’d be interested to see any responses you get. There will be some Wild Justice supporters who are constituents of Chris Loder himself – please do write to him politely but firmly if you disagree with his views.

    It seems very strange that when UK wildlife is in such a poor state, that elected representatives can speak out against restoring wildlife to its former areas, and when so often the reason for wildlife lossses is criminal behaviour, that elected representatives can act as though that criminality is a low priority. We need a re-boot of the political consciousness so that all that talk about restoring wildlife and stopping its decline is translated into action. Please send that message today.

  134. Chris Loder MP and the eagles (1) – a quick poll

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    Last week, following the news that two White-tailed Eagles from the Isle of Wight reintroduction project had been found dead, and an appeal from Dorset Police for information, Chris Loder MP took to Twitter to declare that ‘Dorset is not the place for eagles to be reintroduced’. He also stated that he’d prefer Dorset Police to focus on issues other than potential wildlife crime. Following widespread public criticism, Mr Loder doubled-down on his viewpoint, going on to accuse eagles of ‘killing our lambs and plaguing our farmers’.

    Mr Loder is entitled to have whatever views he wants on the matter of White-tailed Eagles (although his statements included inaccuracies which should have been checked) but his remarks exemplify the intolerance which is shown all too often to wildlife in our country.  Whenever conservationists seek to restore lost wildlife there seems to be an uproar, whether it be White-tailed Eagles, Pine Martens, Beavers or even restoring woodlands or wetlands. Mr Loder is not alone in his views and, in a strange way, he has done us all a favour by voicing them so publicly.

    So here is a quick and easy way you can voice your views. Yesterday evening we launched a simple poll on Twitter asking whether you welcome White-tailed Eagles or not – over 1000 responses have been received overnight with overwhelming support for eagles  – please add your voice in their favour here – the more the better. Thank you!

    We’ll come back to this issue later today.

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  135. Update: Consultation on General Licences in Northern Ireland

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    Back in December, Wild Justice were successful in a legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s general licences for the killing of wild birds.

    At the time, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) conceded our claim that the decision to issue three general licences on 10 September 2021 that permit the killing of birds in the province is unlawful.

    DAERA also stated they’d be replacing their flawed general licences with interim licences, and promised that a full public consultation would be launched in due course. We’ve been waiting patiently.

    So far in 2022, Wild Justice have pressed DAERA on when it will be consulting on general licences. Last week, we received a reply, saying the consultation will start in late February or early March. This is later than DAERA promised, but as least we have an idea of timelines.

    We will be keeping a close eye on this, and will update as things develop…

  136. It’s our birthday!

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    Three years ago Wild Justice had its public launch. We’re still very much new kids on the conservation block and yet, with your support, we’ve made some progress on a wide range of issues. We’ve had some successes, and some disappointments, but we’ve made waves and made public bodies sit up and pay attention – and begin to raise their game in some areas. That’s not bad for an organisation which is essentially three mates and is only in its infancy.

    As a birthday present we’d ask you to spend a moment thinking of whether you have some friends, relatives or colleagues who would be interested in Wild Justice’s campaigns and legal challenges. If so, please tell them about this website and our free newsletter and then maybe they’ll help us celebrate our fourth birthday and the achievements of the year to come. Thank you!

  137. Delaying tactics

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    We’ve learned, since our public launch on 13 February 2019, that public bodies almost always try to delay any legal challenge against them, despite the procedures set out for judicial review proceedings. We’ve decided to push back harder on these requests as below. The procedure in England requires all the relevant steps of a legal challenge to be carried out in a timely manner. If more time is sought then good reasons should be given.

  138. Our legal letter challenging Defra’s General Licence GL42

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    We recently blogged about our initial steps to challenge Defra on the lawfulness of General Licence GL42. Whilst we wait for a response, here is the letter setting out the legal issues which DEFRA has to address.

    Unless we receive a legally watertight and convincing response to that letter by 4pm a week today we will proceed to seek permission for judicial review of DEFRA’s decision.

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

    Comments Off on 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.

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  140. Wild Justice Raptor Forensic Fund helps secure conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey

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    Gamekeeper John Orrey, 63, of Hall Farm, Kneeton, Nottinghamshire was sentenced today at Nottingham Magistrates Court (see here) after being convicted of the following 5 x wildlife crime and 4 x firearms charges:

    • Possession of two dead stock doves.

    • Intentionally killing a common buzzard on 8/1/21

    • Intentionally killing a common buzzard on 9/1/21

    • Using a cage trap to kill or take a wild bird

    • Possession of an article (slash hook) capable of being used to commit an offence

    • Failure to comply with condition of shotgun certificate (weapon not securely stored)

    • Failure to comply with condition of firearms certificate (ammunition not securely stored)

    • Failure to comply with condition of firearms certificate (weapons and ammunition not securely stored)

    • Possessing ammunition for a firearm without a certificate

    Photo of John Orrey from BBC News

    In relation to the killing of the buzzards, for each bird he received an 18-week suspended sentence to run concurrently and a £500 fine for each bird. He was also ordered to pay £650 costs and £50 victim surcharge, and £180 compensation to the Raptor Forensics Fund established by Wild Justice in 2020.

    Our fund was used to pay for the cost of two post mortems on the Stock Doves found dead inside Orrey’s trap – they had both been shot (this is illegal as they’re a protected species). We’re delighted that Nottinghamshire Police were able to access this fund to help during the preliminary investigation into Orrey’s crimes and we’re even more delighted to hear that the District Judge ordered Orrey to pay a compensation fee covering the full amount. This money will go directly to the Raptor Forensic Fund to be recycled on another case.

    This is the second conviction that our Raptor Forensics Fund has helped secure. The first one was gamekeeper Hilton Prest who was found guilty in December 2021 of the unlawful use of a trap (see here).

    Thank you to all those who contributed to our Raptor Forensics Fund and thanks also to the PAW Forensic Working Group (a sub-group of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime) who administer our fund and ensure that police officers can access it without delay to help progress their investigations into raptor persecution crimes.

  141. An open letter to the statutory conservation sector

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    Wild Justice is one of a very large number of NGO signatories to this open letter to the statutory conservation sector in England, Wales and Scotland. It’s pretty strong wording for a letter of this type and that is because the NGO cosnervation community is losiong patience with the statutory sector as it continues to fail our wildlife despite warm words from politicians.

  142. Judicial Review and Courts Bill – we get a mention, but not by name

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    https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-01-25/debates/7807EF40-EB32-461F-9594-9BB21B919988/JudicialReviewAndCourtsBill

    Yesterday the Judicial Review and Courts Bill was debated in Committee. The Opposition were trying to get rid of Clause 1 which would allow, under some circumstances, judges to impose Suspended or Prospective-only Quashing Orders when a party, perhaps a party such as Wild Justice, wins a Judicial Review of a decision by a statutory body. This could mean, as we understand it, that you or we could take a legal challenge, at considerable expense, win it by persuading the courts that the public body had behaved unlawfully, but instead of getting a rapid change to matters on the ground such resolution of an unlawful state of affairs would be postponed. So you win, but nothing changes for ages.

    As the coalition of countryside and environmental organisations, Wildlife and Countryside Link, say:

    Judicial Review is an important tool for securing remedies for unlawful decisions which will or could harm the environment.

    Clause 1 of the Judicial Review Bill introduces changes to JR that could make it impossible for claimants to secure effective remedies for unlawful decisions.

    As currently drafted, clause 1 would … introduc[e] the possibility (through suspended and prospective quashing orders) that the decision could be found unlawful, but the remedy denied or delayed and harmful consequences allowed to continue.

    Claimants faced with this potential outcome will be significantly less likely to invest time and money overcoming the considerable JR hurdles, for fear of wasted effort and expense. The knowledge that winning might not actually prevent the damage that prompted litigation could prevent many potential claimants from starting proceedings.

    https://www.wcl.org.uk/docs/assets/uploads/The_Judicial_Review_Courts_Bill_and_the_Environment_Briefing_for_Report_stage_20.01.22.pdf

    The Justice Minister, James Cartlidge MP, did his job in opposing the amendment on this subject, thus:

    Amendment 1 and amendments 2 and 3, which are consequential on amendment 1, would remove one of the new tools we are proposing—namely, prospective-only quashing or quashing with limited retrospective effect. Let me remind the House of an example I have used previously of a real situation where the existence of the remedy could have been useful. It occurred when Natural England, in response to a threatened judicial review, decided to revoke general licences enabling farmers, landowners and gamekeepers to shoot pest birds. The revocation created immediate chaos for licence holders. I do not seek to re-litigate this case in the Chamber, but as I have said before, had the proposed remedies been available, Natural England may have been more willing to contest the judicial review, knowing that even if the existing licensing scheme was found to be unlawful, the court had the ability to protect past reliance on old licences. Such cases provide a tangible example of how more flexible remedies will allow courts to respond pragmatically and assist our constituents, rather than detract from their interests.

    Column 910 https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-01-25/debates/7807EF40-EB32-461F-9594-9BB21B919988/JudicialReviewAndCourtsBill

    That real situation was Wild Justice’s (they dare not name us, we are treated like V***emort) successful legal challenge of Natural England’s unlawful general licences – the challenge that has led the way to significant changes of general licences across the UK (and we hope there is more to come).

    Read the last sentence of the Minister’s words. He’s saying that the fact that the general licences were unlawful is very inconvenient to his constituents but what he might really mean is that it is a bit inconvenient to a tiny proportion of his constituents who were using those unlawful general licences but with whom he tended to associate himself. Or, that even if the licences were unlawful then it should be possible, under the government’s proposals, to carry on the behaviours unlawfully permitted to save some gamekeepers any inconvenience. It’s a very strange example to choose, but it’s interesting that it was the best he could do, and may not be the wisest line to take for a government mired in controversy over whether laws are meant for everyone except themselves.

    It’s interesting that the Justice minister suggests that in future Natural England might have taken the case to court – really? Knowing, as they did, on the basis of the strongest and clearest legal advice that their licences were unlawful? Really? And at public expense fight a doomed case? Really?

    What does this government really mean by the courts ‘responding pragmatically’? It should not mean turning a blind eye to unlawfulness and allowing it to persist. But that is the message we take from the minister’s own words on why Clause 1 is such a good thing. Why is a Justice Minister arguing for continued unlawfulness rather than a rapid adoption of the law? Mr Cartlidge, are you in the right job?

    Maybe the Minister should have a chat with his fellow Conservative and former Cabinet minister, David Davies MP, who said;

    Judicial review is a cornerstone of British democracy. It empowers everyday people to challenge decisions made by public bodies. Whether it be central government or local authorities, rule makers are held accountable by ordinary people. This is a small, but important, check on the balance of powers in our democracy.

    https://www.wcl.org.uk/docs/assets/uploads/The_Judicial_Review_Courts_Bill_and_the_Environment_Briefing_for_Report_stage_20.01.22.pdf
  143. Hapless Natural England on the wrong side of the argument again?

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    This new ‘guidance’ from Natural England looks very worrying to us.

    The whole drift of this guidance is to allow developers to do less for wildlife.

    This is a particularly striking example:

    Oh good oh! This is written by England’s statutory nature conservation body. Who’d have known?

    Natural England used to be a nature conservation body of repute – no longer.

    Wild Justice is seeking legal advice on this guidance. We would be interested to hear the opinions of experts on the ramifications of the policy shifts signalled in this paper. It might even be that Natural England staff are pretty uncomfortable with this. Please let us know at admin@wildjustice.org.uk All communications will be treated sensitively.

  144. Glyphosate: taking the p*ss study

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    Wild Justice is interested in the use of the powerful pesticide glyphosate in the environment – as are many others.  With your help – click here for details – we have contacted local authorities across the UK to ask about their compliance with the requirements of pesticide legislation and simply asking questions is nudging local authorities to make further reductions in use. Glyphosate, is also used in gardens and on farmland. 

    There are concerns, hotly disputed, that glyphosate may be a carcinogen. UK authorities do test some foods for glyphosate levels. 

    The renowned entomologist, Prof Dave Goulson, is campaigning for a ban on the use of glyphosate in gardens – see his petition here.  

    Based on fairly small sample sizes there is an indication, no more than that, that levels of glyphosate in UK residents are higher than the average in Europe. You probably have glyphosate in your body – over 70% of Europeans do, and the UK figures are slightly higher than average. Would you like to find out?  If so, and if you would consider participating in a future Wild Justice investigation of glyphosate levels in UK citizens, then read on.  

    How to discover your own glyphosate levels: this website will send you a glyphosate testing kit that you can use in your own home and send off a urine sample to a laboratory in Germany which will send you your results.  The cost of the testing and postage is about £40 (depending on the £/euro exchange rate) so it is a significant investment. And all you’ll get for it is a figure for the glyphosate level in your urine that you can compare with averages for other European countries.   However, if you share your results with us at Wild Justice, we will ask you whether you would like to take part in a study of glyphosate levels in UK citizens that will track glyphosate levels in individuals to discover more about their trends through the year and any links with lifestyle etc.  We will pay for all the test kits of those invited to participate in the study.  What we can study will depend on the number of you who are interested in participating.  

    Mark Avery sent off for a urine testing kit last autumn, followed its instructions and got his results by email a couple of weeks later. Mark’s glyphosate levels were 2.5nm/ml – a bit higher than both the European and UK averages.  Mark said ‘The process was pretty straightforward and I was interested to find that my levels were higher than average.  I wonder why. We don’t use pesticides in the garden but I live in an arable farming area where glyphosate is used, and my local authority uses glyphosate too. Perhaps I am picking up glyphosate from the food I eat.  I’m interested to know more but that would need a bigger sample of people. Will you join me in taking the p*ss?’.  

    So, the offer on the table to you is to find out your own glyphosate levels through buying a test kit and sending off your urine to be tested. When you get your results then if you’d like to share them with us please forward them to Wild Justice at admin@wildjustice.org.uk . Depending on the response, we may invite you to become part of a study to investigate glyphosate levels and their variability and lifestyle correlates.  Wild Justice will then reimburse the costs of testing kits.  

    Do consider this: you will probably find that you have glyphosate in your urine – 70% of people across Europe who have done similar tests do find that. Levels vary and there are no levels yet set by governments that indicate dangerous levels.  There is some evidence that glyphosate is a carcinogen but opinions differ, and the levels at which it has any human health impact, if any at all, are not well known. So it is just possible that you will find that you have ‘high’ levels of glyphosate in your urine and you might find that worrying. It is very likely that you will find that you have some glyphosate in your urine which will mean that you are like most other people living in Europe. If you would rather not know how much glyphosate you have in your urine then please don’t send off for a test kit.  If you are interested to learn what your glyphosate levels are and feel pretty confident that you can cope with any results that come through, then that is your choice.  Give it some thought before doing anything please.

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  145. A disappointment on burning regulations

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    Earlier this week, we had a disappointment when the Court of Appeal did not give us permission to appeal the refusal of our case against the Westminster government on its feeble burning regulations.

    We have taken this challenge as far as we can and we are very disappointed that, in this case, the courts have not been helpful in holding DEFRA to account. We still believe that we had a strong case (otherwise we would not have persevered with it) and that the decision that DEFRA made on limiting burning on blanket bogs was not only cowardly and feeble in its scope but unlawful in the way that it was made. But we haven’t persuaded the courts of our case.

    Protecting upland habitats from damage, and protecting the carbon stored in peatlands, will remain an area of importance and interest to Wild Justice, as it is to many other environmental organisations. Greater limits to burning on peatland soils should be brought in, and we’ll be working with others to bring this about as soon as possible.

  146. Top recognition for Wild Justice lawyer

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    Huge congratulations to David Wolfe QC, who has featured in The Lawyer’s Hot 100 list published today.

    David is a barrister at Matrix Chambers in London and here is what they had to say:

    The prestigious list – from the leading UK legal magazine The Lawyer – celebrates the work of the top 100 lawyers in the UK from private practice, in-house and the Bar. The list, which is published annually, recognises extraordinary lawyers who have completed ground-breaking work in the past 12 months.

    The Lawyer recognised David for his work on a number of significant environmental cases in 2021 including Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site and Wild Justice.

    The Lawyer commented:

    “…on many occasions Wolfe’s presence has resulted in real change in the battles for climate and social justice. His work is increasingly strategic in nature as he manages ever-larger teams, and helps equip the next generation of barristers with the skills to carry on the fight.”

    The full article is available here.

    Photo of David talking with Chris Packham during a Wild Justice gathering last year (photo copyright Wild Justice)

    We are privileged to be able to work with a team of exceptional lawyers from Leigh Day and Matrix Chambers who have been with us right from the start; indeed they encouraged us to form Wild Justice as a legal entity. Without their expertise and encouragement, we simply wouldn’t be making the progress we’ve achieved over the last few years.

    David has been central to our work and not only is he an intellectual dynamo, he’s also a thoroughly lovely guy. We’re delighted to see this richly-deserved recognition from his peers.

    Well done!

  147. The Bunker Podcast features Mark Avery explaining the ills of driven grouse shooting

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    The Bunker is an independent political podcast examining the big issues of the UK.

    In this week’s episode, Wild Justice Co-Director Mark Avery discusses driven grouse shooting with host Arthur Snell, with a particular focus on the illegal killing of birds of prey that takes place on many driven grouse moors.

    You can listen to the 25 minute podcast here : https://kite.link/BK1201Raptor

  148. Wild Justice’s Raptor Forensics Fund helps secure 2nd gamekeeper conviction

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    We’re delighted to learn that our Raptor Forensics Fund, established in 2020 to help support police investigations into alleged raptor persecution crime, has played a part in the conviction of a criminal gamekeeper in Nottinghamshire.

    The full details of this conviction will be made public after a sentencing hearing later this month but for now, a summary article can be read here.

    This is the second conviction that our Raptor Forensics Fund has helped secure. The first one was gamekeeper Hilton Prest who was found guilty in December 2021 of the unlawful use of a trap (see here).

    Thank you to all those who contributed to our Raptor Forensics Fund and thanks also to the PAW Forensic Working Group (a sub-group of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime) who administer our fund and ensure that police officers can access it without delay to help progress their investigations into raptor persecution crimes.

  149. What are regulators for? Wye, Wye, Wye?

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    There have been a few local media reports about Wild Justice taking legal action on the shocking state of environmental protection on the River Wye but we haven’t said anything about this case until today when we talked to the respected ENDS report.

    This just happens, a complete coincidence, to follow a long and good piece about the River Wye on the BBC R4 Today programme yesterday. Have a listen to it – click here (1:35 – 1:45) – it’s a good summary and well worth listening all the way through to the remarks of Jesse Norman MP, where he said he was much less confident about progress than the report made everything seem, and ‘I do not think it is right at this stage to strike a note of confidence of any kind‘ , and ‘The agencies involved, Natural Resources Wales, Natural England and the Environment Agency have, in my view, done a deplorable job, so far, in their failure to come together with an all-river action plan‘.

    That sounds about right to us, which is why we have been in legal correspondence with all three agencies for the past couple of months. Previous spokespeople in the piece seemed to be happy with the progress that had been made – we don’t think they should be. The trouble is that the progress made is a bit like a debtor paying off their massive debts at the rate of a pound a month – you can call it progress if you like, it’s marginally better than nothing, but it really doesn’t do the job, and never will.

    The Wye is a Special Area of Conservation (see here) and should have, in theory does have, the highest environmental protection that the UK can hand out, but as the radio piece said, last year it turned lime green because of pollution. That doesn’t sound very protected to us, and it doesn’t sound much like progress.

    Wild Justice has given the three agencies the chance to get things right, but we haven’t gone away and we will be monitoring the situation closely over the next few months.

    Wild Justice told ENDS: Statutory agencies exist to regulate damaging activities. The Wye is a test case. Wild Justice is watching things closely.

  150. New legislation proposed by Westminster government on hare coursing

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    Photo via shutterstock

    Yesterday the Westminster government announced its intentions to crack down on cruel and illegal hare coursing. Wild Justice welcomes these proposals.

    The main points are:

    • Increasing the maximum penalty for trespassing in pursuit of game under the Game Acts (the Game Act 1831 and the Night Poaching Act 1828) to an unlimited fine and introducing – for the first time – the possibility of up to six months’ imprisonment.
    • Two new criminal offences: firstly, trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare; and secondly, being equipped to trespass with the intention of using a dog to search for or pursue a hare both punishable on conviction by an unlimited fine and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.
    • New powers for the courts to order, on conviction, the reimbursement of costs incurred by the police in kennelling dogs seized in connection with a hare coursing-related offence.
    • New powers for the courts to make an order, on conviction, disqualifying an offender from owning or keeping a dog.

    Wild Justice has played a small part in helping government to get to this point. This is what we’ve done:

    • met senior police officers to learn what they thought was the way forward
    • met with the NFU and offered our help and support
    • promoted a petition on this subject by including it in our newsletter over a year ago
    • worked as part of Wildlife and Countryside Link to recommend some of the changes that have now been accepted by government

    As we say, we’ve only played a small role in this issue because it’s quite a crowded field (as it were). Hunting and farming organisations have largely worked on their own and separately from conservation and animal welfare organisations who have approached the issue from a different perspective. Wild Justice is obviously interested in the legal aspects of this issue, and the fact that this is one of the many wildlife crimes that need sorting out in the countryside. We look forward to seeing some action taken on wildlife crimes by government and landowners in other areas, particularly upland areas. There are clear parallels – crimes against wildlife, motivated by killing for entertainment and profit, occurring in remote rural areas.

    You may be interested to listen to this piece on yesterday’s Today programme (from 52.48 to 57.00) where Chief Inspector Phil Vickers describes some of the facts behind hare coursing. The strange part of the interview is that landowners are seen as the victims of this illegal activity and Brown Hares, who certainly are victims, hardly get a mention…

  151. General licence confusion continues – Schrodinger’s Pheasant

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    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jan/03/law-change-allows-wild-birds-killed-protect-game-birds-england?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

    Yesterday this piece appeared in the Guardian online – we guess it will be in today’s print edition.

    The story relates to the new general licences for England, which are very largely unchanged from last year’s licences. These are the licences, not just in England but across the UK, that Wild Justice has caused to be reformed since our original legal challenge back in spring 2019.

    The law hasn’t changed, despite the Guardian headline; what has changed (back to a previous version) is the wording of the conditions of the licences. And they have changed to being two-year licences rather than annual ones. Talking of changes, it’s good to see that the Guardian has changed their original image of two Rooks to one of two Carrion Crows – Rooks are not really predators of gamebirds at any stage of the gamebirds’ lives.

    Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges (RLPs) are not native UK species. RLPs are native to Europe but Pheasants are primarily Asian species. The reason that Pheasants are common sights in the countryside is that 51 million of them are reared in captivity and released into the countyside in summer for shooting in autumn/winter (see a previous blog here). They may not be native but they are certainly beautiful.

    Pheasant. Photo: Andrew Parkinson

    So, Pheasants and RLPs are ‘livestock’ when they are being hatched and reared in captivity – there’s no doubt about that – they are just like chickens. The captive-reared birds are then transferred into the countryside to release pens from which they are, you guessed it, released in July-September ahead of the shooting season (starts 1 September for RLPs and 1 October for Pheasants). Are they livestock then? Well, we think they probably are, but in very large pens without roofs are they really in captivity because some time in this period they will become able to fly. What the Guardian piece refers to is the situation after the birds are ‘released’ and they are free to roam the countryside – are they still livestock then? Well, at some stage they become wild birds and they are out of the control of their ‘owners’. How do you recognise this transition? In Wild Justice we refer to this dilemma as Schrodinger’s Pheasant – can a Pheasant which occasionally nips back to a release pen to have a look around but spends most of its time dodging Foxes and cars still be livestock?

    Once a Pheasant or RLP is a wild bird then it is unlawful to kill bird species listed on the general licences to protect them – because they are simply wild birds (that’s the law). In fact, this is perhaps an interesting dilemma but an almost entirely pointless discussion because well-grown Pheasants (and RLPs) are not predated by any of the species listed on the general licences – they are too big for species like Carrion Crow to tackle. They aren’t called Carrion Crows for nothing.

    Wild Justice is very interested in DEFRA’s definition and we have explored this issue with them before. We will take legal advice again. If any old Pheasant wandering around the countryside is livestock when it suits shooting interests then it may be livestock when it doesn’t suit them. Pheasants cause many road traffic accidents each year, including some of human fatalities – do shooting organisations really want their members to be liable for insurance claims because their livestock are running wild? How about the many, many gardens that are visited by large numbers of released gamebirds which damage vegetables and flowers? It seems to us, but we will seek advice, that there are quite considerable disbenefits to shooting interests of the route down which DEFRA has gone (we’re guessing at the behest of shooting organisations).

    Watch this space.

  152. Thank you for your feedback

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    We get hundreds of emails a week and all of them are read. We can’t possibly reply to them all but we do read them. Our free newsletter is our main means of communicating with people interested in our work and we’re always pleased to have new subscribers – click here.

    Our latest newsletter prompted many of you to respond to it wishing us a happy new year – thank you.

    Here are some of your comments:

    • Wishing you all the best and strength to continue this important campaign for the good of all.
    • Bless you all & thank you for your amazing work this year. Love you Chris!! Please keep up yr valuable efforts which Nature the environment & all of us depend .
    • Just donated, thank you for everything you do for animals. I am furious that we still have to fight the same battles at the start of 2022 but I think that despite all the horrendous things happening there are still more good people around than bad and together we can all make a difference. The bullies don’t like that so let’s keep doing it!
    • Happy New Year to you all. What fantastic things you have achieved.
    • As ever I find the news coming from your actions really heartening. It gives me hope. Thank you. Please continue in your great work with every effort, as I am trying in my small way.
    • I would just like to say how much I appreciate the work of everyone involved in this work. It’s great and really cheers me up. Much love and happy new year to everyone.
    • Thank you for all you do.
    • Thank you …all of you….for committing to all that you do. I donate when I can…as a 78 year old Great Grandmother…..I wish that Wild Justice Existed many years ago. I respect and admire the founders and all the volunteers. Thank you, all of you. A Healthy, Productive, successful, truthful 2022 are my sincere wishes.
  153. A quick review of Wild Justice’s 2021

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    Here’s a quick run through our work in 2021 – for more details see individual blog posts:

    January: our challenge of the legality of general licences in Wales elicits very useful clarification of the system including the highlighting of the need for there to be a ‘present danger’ to species of conservation concern for lethal control to be authorised.

    February: DEFRA launches gamebird release consultation as a result of Wild Justice’s legal challenge – hundreds and hundreds Wild Justice supporters take the opportunity to respond. Our petition to the Westminster government on Badgers passes 100,000 signatures (but still awaits a Westminster Hall debate)

    March: Wild Justice is a member of the Wildlife and Countryside Link partnership which launches a petition calling for legally binding targets in the Environment Bill – great response from Wild Justice supporters. We write to DAERA in Northern Ireland to point out flaws in their general licences which open them up for legal action, We write to Natural Resources Wales about their lack of response to the legal judgment in January on general licences.

    April: as part of Wildlife and Countryside Link, Wild Justice supports the End Wildlife Crime campaign ahead of the May elections for Police and Crime Commissioners.

    May: tests of Sainsbury’s game meat show that they have high levels of lead but we give Waitrose the benefit of the doubt in showing some signs of improvement in line with what they had told their customers. We highlight a potential breach of the general licences described in the pages of a shooting magazine.

    June: Wild Justice writes to Natural England about the very poor quality of their IUCN assessment for their Hen Harrier reintroduction project. WCL petition on Environment Bill passes 200,000 signatures. Wild Justice’s Ban driven grouse shooting petition is debated in Westminster Hall. Despite appeals, we lost our challenge on the humaneness of Badger culling in England.

    July: Wild Justice starts a legal challenge over the DEFRA feeble Heather and Grass Burning regulations. In Northern Ireland, DAERA issue a consultation on changes to their general licences in response to Wild Justice’s concerns over their scientific and legal flaws. Shooting Times columnist changes his story and says that what he wrote in the magazine was untrue.

    August: Wild Justice broadcasts a Hen Harrier Day programme highlighting the importance of the uplands for people, for the climate and for wildlife. NRW consults on general licences in Wales following our legal challenge. Wild Justice writes to several local authorities in England and Wales about their use of glyphosate .

    September: The Pheasant-shooting season approaches with, in England, restrictions on numbers that can be released thanks to Wild Justice’s legal challenge on gamebird release numbers.

    October: Scotland-based Trees for Life win an important legal challenge over Beaver protection which Wild Justice supported financially. As the COP26 starts in Glasgow our e-action, for people, for the climate and for wildlife passes 37,000 emails sent to every elected politician in the four UK national legislative bodies.

    November: the Environment Act becomes law and includes a legally binding target on species abundance thanks to the WCL campaign in which Wild Justice played a very active role.

    December: DAERA, finally, concede the unlawfulness of their general licences, issue new improved interim general licences and commit to consulting on the way forward. Wild Justice highlights continuing high lead levels in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Harrods game meat.

    Wild Justice is entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  154. Glyphosate use by local authorities – updated

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    Since we asked you to contact your local authority about their use of glyphosate, Wild Justice supporters have contacted over 275 local authorities across the UK.

    This is the template letter that many of you have used – click here.

    And here is the list (recent additions in red):

    Aberdeen City Council; Aberdeenshire Council; Adur & Worthing Councils; Allerdale Borough Council; Amber Valley Borough Council; Angus Council; Antrim and Newtonabbey Borough Council; Ards and North Down Borough Council; Argyll and Bute Council; Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council; Arun District Council; Ashford Borough Council;

    Babergh District Council; Banes Council; Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council; Basildon Council; Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council; Bassetlaw District Council; Bath and North East Somerset; Bedford Borough Council; Bedfordshire Borough Council; Belfast City Council; Blaby District Council; Blackpool Council; Bolton Council; Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council; Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council; Bracknell Forest Council; Bradford Council; Braintree District Council; Breckland Council; Brentwood Council; Bristol City Council; Broadland District Council; Bromley Council; Buckinghamshire County Council; Burnley Borough Council; Bury Council;

    Caerphilly County Borough Council; Calderdale Council; Cambridgeshire County Council; Cannock Chase Council; Cardiff Council; Carlisle City Council; Carmarthenshire County Council; Central Bedfordshire Council; Ceredigion County Council; Charnwood Borough Council; Cheltenham Borough Council; Cherwell District Council; Cheshire East Council; Cheshire West and Chester Council; City of Edinburgh Council; City of York Council; Colchester Borough Council; Conwy County Council; Copeland Council in West Cumbria; Cornwall County Council; Cotswold District Council; Coventry City Council; Craven District Council; Crawley Borough Council; Crowborough Town Council; Croydon Council; Cumbria County Council;

    Dacorum Borough Council; Dartford Borough Council; Daventry Council; Derby City Council; Derbyshire County Council; Derbyshire Dales District Council; Derry City & Strabane District Council; Devizes Town Council; Devon County Council; Doncaster Council; Dorset Council; Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council; Dumfries and Galloway Council; Durham County Council;

    East Ayrshire Council; East Cambridgeshire District Council; East Devon District Council; East Dunbartonshire Council; East Hampshire District Council; East Hertfordshire Council; East Lindsey District Council; East Riding of Yorkshire; East Staffordshire Borough Council; East Sussex County Council; Eastleigh Borough Council; Elmbridge Borough Council; Erewash Borough Council; Essex County Council; Exeter City Council; Exmouth Town Council; Fareham Borough Council; Fenland District Council; Fermanagh & Omagh District Council; Fife Council; Filton Town Council;

    Flintshire County Council; Forest of Dean District Council;

    Gateshead Council; Glasgow City Council; Goudhurst Parish Council; Gravesham Borough Council; Great Yarmouth Borough Council; Gwent Council;

    Hackney Council; Hampshire County Council; Harborough District Council; Harrogate Borough Council; Harrow Council; Hart District Council; Hartlepool Borough Council; Havant Borough Council; Havering Borough Council; Herefordshire Council; High Peak Borough Council; Horsham District Council; Hull City Council; Hyndburn Borough Council;

    Ipswich Borough Council; Isle of Anglesey County Council; Isle of Wight Council;

    Kent County Council; Kings Llyn and West Norfolk Borough Council; Kirklees Council;

    Lambeth Council; Lancashire County Council; Lancaster City Council; Leeds City Council; Leicester City Council; Lincolnshire County Council; Liverpool City Council; London Borough of Barnet; London Borough of Bexley; London Borough of Camden; London Borough of Greenwich; London Borough of Hammersmith; London Borough of Haringey; London Borough of Hounslow; London Borough of Islington; London Borough of Merton Council; London Borough of Newham; London Borough of Redbridge; London Borough of Richmond upon Thames; London Borough of Sutton; London Borough of Tower Hamlets; Luton Council;

    Malvern Hills District Council; Manchester City Council; Medway Council; Mendip District Council; Mid Devon District Council; Mid Suffolk District Council; Milton Keynes Council; Mole Valley District Council; Monmouthshire County Council;

    New Forest District Council; Newark & Sherwood District Council; Newcastle – Under Lyme Borough Council; Newcastle City Council; Newcastle Under Lyme Borough Council; Newry, Mourne & Down District Council; North Ayrshire Council; North Devon County Council; North East Derbyshire District Council; North Hertfordshire District Council; North Lincolnshire Council; North Lincolnshire Council; North Norfolk District Council; North Northamptonshire Council; North Tyneside Local Council; North Yorkshire County Council; Northumberland Council; Northumberland County Council; Norwich City Council; Nottinghamshire County Council;

    Orkney Islands Council; Oxfordshire County Council;

    Pembrokeshire County Council; Pendle Borough Council; Perth and Kinross Council; Perthshire Council; Powys County Council;

    Reading Borough Council; Redbridge Council; Reigate & Banstead Borough Council; Rhondda-Cynon-Taf County Borough Council; Ribble Valley Borough Council; Richmond Council; Rochdale Borough Council; Rossendale Borough Council; Rother District Council; Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council; Royal Borough of Greenwich; Rushcliffe Borough Council; Rushmoor Borough Council, Rutland County Council;

    Sandwell Council; Scarborough Borough Council; Scottish Borders Council; Sedgemoor District Council; Selby District Council; Sevenoaks District Council; Sheffield City Council; Shepton Mallet Town Council; Sherwood District Council; Skipton Town Council; Somerset County Council; South Cambridgeshire District Council; South Derbyshire District Council; South Gloucestershire Council; South Hams District Council; South Kesteven District Council; South Lakeland District Council; South Lanarkshire Council; South Norfolk Council; South Oxfordshire District Council; South Ribble Borough Council; South Somerset District Council; South Staffordshire Council; Southampton City Council; St Albans District Council; Stafford Borough Council; Staffordshire County Council; Stockport Council; Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council; Stratford-upon-Avon District Council; Stroud District Council; Suffolk County Council; Sunderland City Council; Surrey County Council; Swale Borough Council; Swansea Council; Swindon Borough Council;

    Teignbridge District Council; Telford and Wrekin Council; Telford Town Council; Tendring District Council; Tewkesbury Borough Council; Thanet Council; Thurrock Council; Torbay Council; Trafford Council; Trending District Council; Tunbridge Wells Borough Council;

    Uttlesford District Council;

    Vale of Glamorgan; Vale of White Horse District Council;

    Wakefield City Council; Wakefield Metropolitan District Council; Waltham Forest; Warrington Borough Council; Warwick District Council; Waverley Borough Council; Wealden District Council; Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council; West Berkshire Council; West Devon Borough Council; West Lindsey District Council; West Lothian Council; West Norfolk; West Northamptonshire Council; West Oxfordshire District Council; West Sussex County Council; Westminster City Council; Whitehall Town Council; Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council; Wiltshire Council; Winchester City Council; Wirral Borough Council; Wokingham Borough Council; Wokingham Council; Wolverhampton City Council; Worcestershire County Council; Wyre Forest District Council;

  155. Chris Packham lauded in The Great Outdoors Magazine Reader Awards 2021

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    Huge congratulations to Wild Justice co-director Chris Packham who has been voted Outdoor Personality of the Year in The Great Outdoors Magazine Reader Awards 2021!

    Receiving a whopping 42.5 per cent of the public vote, conservationist Chris Packham was widely respected by TGO readers for his “passion” and “tireless championing of the environment”, even in the face of adversity. As one voter eloquently put it: “‘Dedication to the cause doesn’t go far enough for Chris Packham – he is relentless in his determination to protect and conserve our wildlife and habitats. Chris experiences personal attacks on his home and abuse through social media for standing up for his beliefs and still remains focused, determined and resolute. We must protect our planet. Who wouldn’t admire that?”

  156. Hampshire Police release CCTV image of man they’d like to question in relation to arson attack at Chris Packham’s home

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    Hampshire Constabulary have released a CCTV image of a man they believe may hold key information about an arson attack at Wild Justice co-director Chris Packham’s home in October.

    Just after midnight on Friday 8th October 2021, two masked men were caught on security cameras driving a Land Rover up to the gates of Chris’s house before setting it alight and then fleeing in a second vehicle.

    The Land Rover exploded and the fire spread to Chris’s gates and fence, causing significant damage.

    The attack was an escalation in a long-running hate campaign against Chris, believed to be linked to his campaign work against raptor persecution and fox-hunting.

    Police have been continuing to explore lines of enquiry to identify those responsible and now believe that the man pictured may hold key information to their investigation.

    Do you know who this man is?

    Any information, no matter how small or insignificant you feel it might be, could help aid the police investigation and identify those who are responsible for this crime.

    If anyone has any information in relation to this incident, please call 101 quoting incident reference 44210403698.

    Thank you

  157. The state of general licences across the UK nations

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    Wild Justice’s first legal challenge was of general licences in England. General licences are used by statutory agencies to authorise the killing of what might be called ‘pest’ species – although we object to that as a blanket term.

    All wild birds are protected by law but there are circumstances under which they can be killed – for example to protect human health, crops or endangered species. If you think that a particular Robin, to take a daft example, is a threat to nature conservation interests then you can apply for a specific licence to kill it. However, you will have to explain the problem that you claim is caused by this Robin and say why non-lethal means of solving the problem won’t work.

    The general licences streamline, or circumvent, that process for a small number of species which really can cause such problems, for which non-lethal solutions might not work and, let’s be honest, the licensing authorities don’t want to have to deal with lots of individual applications, they’d rather issue a general licence on their website. It is easy to see that a general licence published on a website may be less well scrutinised by its users than a piece of paper sent to them personally in the post.

    Wild Justice has described the general licensing system as being too often ‘the casual licensing of casual killing’ of birds. Our legal challenges, supported by you, have led to rapid reform of the general licences across the UK with Northern Ireland making the most recent changes in reaction to a Wild Justice legal challenge. Here are some headline changes to the licensing system since we started our challenges:

    • the species that can be killed have been reduced in number – for example all gull species are now removed from these licences
    • the species that can be killed for alleged conservation purposes have been greatly reduced
    • the species which are alleged to benefit from the use of the conservation licences have, in some areas, been better defined and listed for the first time – the lists are pretty bizarre but the task now is to make them better
    • in Wales, the circumstances under which the killing of some species to conserve certain other species can be lawful is only to protect eggs and chicks which theoretically limits the time of year duruing which the licence can be relied
    • the places the licences apply now exclude SSSIs etc where special permission is needed
    • the killing of species to protect gamebirds has been limited
    • the wording has improved (but not enough)

    Here are three tables which set out the current position for the three different categories of general licence in each of the four UK nations.

    Table 1 – human health and safety

    Species listed on general licences as potential threats to human health or safety

    Northern Ireland is clearly out of line with the other UK nations in listing so many native species. We think Scotland (NatureScot) and Wales (NRW) have probably got it about right.

    Table 2 – serious damage to crops/livestock

    Species listed on general licences as potentially causing serious damage to crops or livestock

    Northern Ireland is again out of line – we’d like to see House Sparrow and Starling removed from the Northern Ireland list as they have been from those of other UK nations. We’re pretty unconvinced of the necessity of having general licences which authorise the killing of Magpies or Jackdaws, in particular, to protect crops or livestock.

    Table 3 – nature conservation

    Species listed on general licences as potential threats to nature conservation

    We have concentrated our actions on the conservation lists so far. Once Jay, Jackdaw and Magpie are removed from these lists across the UK then we will take a breath and regard these lists as almost fit for purpose. We know of no conservation organisations which routinely kill these three species for conservation reasons, and the science does not support their inclusion in such lists. Remember, removing them from the general licences merely means that an individual must apply, with details, for a specific licence, which may be granted or refused after the application has been scrutinised, it isn’t an end to all lethal control.

    Why does Wild Justice care about the general licences?

    • we care about all wildlife and these are wildlife-killing licences
    • we believe that the licences have been largely the product of prejudice and not science
    • the conditions which restrict the use of these licences are often flouted
    • the licences are not enforced or monitored by the authorities
    • they aren’t even understood by those who think they are using them properly
    • the licences allow, in theory, unlimited killing of species which are natural parts of our countryside
    • sometimes the methods used to kill birds under these licences are not humane

    These general licences have been a neglected area of wildlife law and policy for too long – we’re proud of the fact that we have shone a bright light on them, and that greater scrutiny, backed by legal action, has resulted in rapid change and improvement. Though there’s still some way to go…

    Wild Justice is a not-for-profit organisation set up by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery. We are entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  158. High lead levels in Waitrose and Harrods game meat

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    Today’s Times carries an account of the results of Wild Justice’s tests of lead levels in supermarket game meat

    Last week, we told you about the high levels of lead in Sainsbury’s game meat, now we have the results of similar tests of game meat purchased from Waitrose and Harrods. Both stores are selling game meat with high lead levels too. 

    It is particularly disappointing that Waitrose’s game has high lead levels as they have promised to go lead-free – there is no indication from our results that they have made any progress with this at all. Waitrose Pheasant fillets bought in stores in Essex and London in late November, and tested for lead content at the University of the Highlands and Islands, had high lead levels – higher even than the results from the samples that we had analysed from last year’s shooting season. 

    Other meats, such as beef, chicken, pork, have Maximum Levels of lead set by regulations. The MLs for these meats are 0.1mg of lead per kg of wet weight of the meat. No such MLs are set for game meat despite there being high levels of lead in game meat which mostly derive from contamination by lead ammunition. 

    Our tests, from last shooting season and this season show that chicken and pork samples have low lead levels (as expected), but game meat samples from Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Harrods all have high levels of  lead. In all cases the samples of game meat had levels of lead that would be illegal if they were found in other meats. See table below.

    The median levels of lead are probably the fairest comparisons as they are not so influenced by the occasional very high sample; Waitrose’s Pheasant fillets from this year had the highest median lead levels of any of our samples from this or last shooting season. 

    Lead is a poison – that’s why it has been removed from paints, fishing weights, water pipes and petrol – but it is still shot into wild birds such as Pheasants whose meat then goes into the human food chain. As lead shotgun pellets pass through the flesh of a bird or mammal tiny fragments fly off the pellet and are distributed through the animal. These are too small to see or remove and they give the game meat high lead levels. 

    The Food Standards Agency and NHS England warn against eating game shot with lead, especially by pregnant women, women trying to become pregnant and young children. 

    Waitrose told The Times that they believe that these results were caused by environmental residues and not by lead shot. Wild Justice believes that this is overwhelmingly unlikely. Dr Mark Taggart, whose laboratory analysed our game meat samples, told The Times that it was unlikely that the very high lead levels were caused by birds consuming lead in the countryside. 

    Wild Justice said: Two years ago Waitrose promised that their game meat would be lead-free by now – it isn’t. Their game meat has high levels of lead in it. Lead is a poison. These lead levels would be illegal in other meats. The most overwhelmingly likely explanation for such very high lead levels is contamination by fragments of lead shot. There is no Lead Fairy sprinkling lead into Waitrose game meat.

    Waitrose have not apologised for, or explained, their failure.  Why is a small organisation like Wild Justice having to test the levels of poison in meat sold by a major retailer? These tests cost a few hundred quid – why didn’t Waitrose test their own game meat? 

    Waitrose have agreed to meet Wild Justice for a chat about lead in game meat.

    DEFRA received an expert report in 2015 that recommended the phasing out of lead ammunition for environmental and food safety reasons. DEFRA is still thinking about banning the use of lead ammunition some time in the future. It is long past the time when government, retailers and the shooting industry should have got rid of lead from game meat in the human food chain and from contaminating the environment through the use of lead shot.

    Wild Justice is a not-for-profit organisation set up by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery. We are entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  159. Wild Justice Raptor Forensics Fund helps secure gamekeeper conviction

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    We’re delighted to learn that our Raptor Forensics Fund, established last year to help support police investigations into alleged raptor persecution crime, has played a part in the conviction of a criminal gamekeeper in Cheshire.

    Our fund was utilised by Cheshire Police this year to undertake a post mortem of a sparrowhawk that had been found dead inside an illegally-operated trap in February 2021. A veterinary pathologist confirmed the sparrowhawk had died of starvation and would have experienced considerable unnecessary suffering inside the trap.

    At Manchester Magistrates’ court today (16 December 2021), gamekeeper Hilton Prest pleaded guilty to unlawfully using a trap on or before 10/2/21 contrary to Sec 5(1)(b) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. He was fined £800 (plus £85 costs and £80 victim surcharge).

    For more details of this case please see here.

    Thank you to all those who contributed to our Raptor Forensics Fund and thanks also to the PAW Forensic Working Group (a sub-group of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime) who administer our fund and ensure that police officers can access it without delay to help progress their investigations into raptor persecution crimes.

  160. Our Northern Ireland victory – some more thoughts

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    The news that Wild Justice has toppled three Northern Ireland general licences is good for wildlife, good for those who respect the rule of law and bad news for the Northern Ireland administration. It is also a case study in the failure of UK authorities to do their jobs properly even when it comes to sticking to the law.

    • Wild Justice has been in regular contact with DAERA pointing out the unlawfulness, and biological error, of their general licences. Our first contact with them was in Spring 2019 but from March 2021 we pointed out the legal flaws in the licences which would expire in September 2021 and made very clear the certainty of a legal challenge if they persisted with them. But they did. So we took a legal challenge which DAERA largely brushed aside with evasion until the very last minute thus costing the taxpayer money and probably causing general licence users unnecessary confusion. DAERA have acted in an unprofessional way, in our opinion.
    • This is the latest reform of general licences that Wild Justice has achieved in the UK. Since our first and successful legal challenge of the Natural England general licences which applied in England in 2019, and a further challenge to the Welsh general licences, we have seen considerable reform of these long-standing licences which allow unlimited widespread killing of a small number of species that would otherwise be fully protected by law. We note that general licences in England and Scotland will be published in the New Year – we’ll be taking a close look at them.
    • The changes that have come about since our first legal challenge are important. The necessity to comply with the circumstances in which the licences are valid, and the necessity for non-lethal methods to be the first approach have been accompanied by stricter measures being introduced for wildlife sites and a big reduction in the list of species for which the general licences can be relied on as cover for lethal control. Our campaigns and legal challenges haven’t changed the laws – they are forcing statutory agancies to implement existing laws properly. There is more progress to be made on this issue.
    • It comes to something when statutory agencies who have the responsibility for implementing the law of the land in their policies are found to be acting unlawfully.
    • And it comes to something when protracted and expensive legal challenges are needed to force public bodies to act lawfully and sensibly. But Wild Justice is happy to take on that task given the high level of public support that we are receiving and the fact that this area has been neglected by other wildlife organsisations.
    • There is an argument that the whole process of using general licences to authorise killing of wild birds, which can only be legal under quite specific conditions and circumstances, is a hopeless way of allowing properly authorised and lawful limited control of some species. Unless statutory agencies can show that the effect of their general licences is to limit lethal killing of so-called pests only to what is necessary and legal then the whole system of general licences should be replaced by users having to apply for specific licences as is the case with all other wild bird species.

    We look forward to a speedy revocation of these licences, the publication of lawful interim licences which are fit for purpose and news of a renewed consultation on this matter.

  161. DAERA concedes unlawfulness of Northern Ireland general licences – another Wild Justice win.

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    Wild Justice, represented by Leigh Day acting through their agent Phoenix Law, has secured a landmark victory in a legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s general licences for the killing of wild birds.

    The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) yesterday conceded Wild Justice’s claim that the decision to issue three general licences on 10 September 2021 that permit the killing of birds in the province is unlawful.

    DAERA has now provided written assurance that its flawed general licences will be replaced by interim licences and that a full consultation will be launched in due course.

    In our pre-action letter, Wild Justice set out that the 2021 General Licences were unlawful and breached the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 for these reasons:

    • DAERA had not satisfied itself that there was no other satisfactory solution in relation to the killing being authorised for the respective purposes for which the 2021 General licences were issued.
    • DAERA did not comply with Section 18(6) of the 1985 Order in that it failed to specify the circumstances and conditions subject to which birds may be killed or the “Area of Use” for the 2021 General Licences.
    • There was no evidence to justify the inclusion of certain species in the 2021 General Licences.
    • DAERA failed to seek out the relevant information required to make a decision to grant the 2021 General Licences at all.
    • DAERA failed to complete any consultation prior to issuing the 2021 General Licences.

    In response to this further Wild Justice legal victory, which reforms general licences and reduces the scale of casual licensing of casual killing of wild birds:

    Wild Justice said:

    “The DAERA General Licences we challenged were not fit for purpose and were unlawful to boot. DAERA seemed to think that Woodpigeons and Feral Pigeons threatened conservation interests in Northern Ireland – a totally bizarre idea. And yet it took a tiny organisation, supported by thousands of people, to raise the money and to hire brilliant lawyers to bring these flawed licences down. We look forward to seeing lawful replacement licences in the very near future. DAERA must do better and Wild Justice remains ready, willing and able to take further legal challenges on behalf of wildlife in the UK.”

    Leigh Day Associate Tom Short said:

    Our client welcomes DAERA’s belated concession that its 2021 general licences are not fit for purpose. DAERA had blatantly, as in previous years, failed to follow the process it is required to, and had issued the licences absent any evidence to support them. That is not how a licensing system permitting the killing of otherwise protected wild birds should operate, and it is astonishing that DAERA has failed to engage with the problem since it was first raised by Wild Justice in May 2019. Our client welcomes DAERA’s commitment to now reform its licensing and move to full consultation on the issue.”

    Wild Justice is a not-for-profit organisation set up by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery. We are entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  162. Lead-contaminated game meat found for sale on Sainsbury’s shelves

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    British supermarket shelves are still stocked with potentially toxic game meat in the run up to Christmas, recent research by Wild Justice has found.

    · Tests on packets of pheasant breast and mixed game meat from Sainsbury’s found lead levels at up to 76 times higher than the legal limit set for beef, pork, chicken etc.

    · 100% of samples of mixed game meat tested positive for potentially dangerous amounts of lead.

    · Findings indicate the voluntary phasing out of lead shot by the shooting industry hasn’t prevented lead contamination of meat nearly two years after its announcement.

    Wild Justice, a not-for-profit organisation campaigning on British wildlife issues, bought 32 samples of pheasant breast and mixed game meat from Sainsbury’s stores (supplied by game dealer Holme Farmed Venison in Yorkshire) and had them tested for lead levels in November 2021. Ten samples of chicken meat were purchased and tested as controls.

    Out of 16 samples of pheasant breast, 11 contained lead levels over the legal limit set for livestock meat. All 16 portions of the ‘Diced Game Casserole Mix’, containing venison, pheasant and partridge, exceeded the same level.

    Currently (and inexplicably) there is no legal limit for lead levels in wild game meat such as pheasant, partridges, grouse and venison. The Maximum Level (ML) of lead for most types of farmed meat, such as chicken and beef, is set at 0.1 milligram per kilogram of wet weight of meat. The portions of mixed game meat sold by Sainsbury’s exceeded these by an average of 17 times, with some samples testing as high as 4.7mg/kg. Of the 11 pheasant breast samples that exceeded the threshold for other meats, the average was 32.5 times higher at 3.25mg/kg WW. The samples of chicken had uniformly low levels of lead, as expected, which were all well below the ML set for such meat.

    Consumption of lead is detrimental to human health, being especially harmful to developing brains and the nervous system. Children, pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant are advised by the Food Standards Agency and NHS England against eating game shot with lead.

    Although warnings about lead shot have been added to some of the packaging at Sainsbury’s this year, it was often not displayed clearly. Statements to the opposite effect, such as ‘Ideal for a healthy casserole or game pie’, are placed prominently on the products’ front. Wild Justice says this raises the question of how informed consumers of these products are about the risks of lead contamination. Both products were ‘kite-marked’ by the British Game Alliance which claims to be the ‘official marketing board for the UK game industry’ offering ‘traceability and credibility’, although this has been questioned repeatedly.

    Lead shot is a type of ammunition normally used for shooting pheasants, partridges and grouse. The small lead pellets are malleable and when shot into an animal they fragment, dispersing tiny pieces of lead through the animal’s flesh. It’s impossible to remove all of these tiny fragments, leading to lead contamination of the meat. Lead bullets used for shooting deer cause similar problems, with fragmentation of the bullet distributing small pieces of lead in the venison meat. Non-toxic ammunition such as steel is widely available at comparable prices to lead ammunition.

    Wild Justice said:The presence of lead-contaminated meat on supermarket shelves is disgraceful. It’s a clear failure of the regulatory system that government allows the sale of lead-contaminated meat, without prominent health warnings, when the FSA and NHS England warn of the dangers of eating such food. Sainsbury’s know their game meat has high lead levels but appear to be putting profit ahead of safety because of a regulatory loophole.

    In the run up to Christmas, when people are thinking about festive dishes for the family table, it’s outrageous that products like this can be sold under the guise of being healthy due to failures of government and retailers to act in the public interest.”

    In 2020 a voluntary five-year phase out of lead shot was announced by prominent organisations within the shooting industry. Wild Justice says this move is ineffective and calls for an outright ban on use of lead shot. “There’s no point leaving this matter to the shooting industry – they have failed to act for years“, said Wild Justice.

    Wild Justice analysed similar samples of game meat from Sainsbury’s stores shot in the 2020/21 shooting season and found high levels of lead in them; Sainsbury’s appears to have done nothing to reduce the levels of lead in game meat sold in its stores in the interim.

    Waitrose is the leading supermarket which has recognised the need for change, and introduced labelling of game meat, warning of lead levels, in 2019/20 and is aiming to source lead-free game meat as soon as possible. Wild Justice has collected samples from Waitrose stores this year (and a number of other shops) and these are currently undergoing analysis.

    Wild Justice is a not-for-profit organisation set up by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery. We are entirely dependent on donations. To support our work – click here. To hear more about our campaigns and legal cases subscribe to our free newsletter – click here.

  163. We lost our renewal application

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    Photo: Sarah Hanson

    Today Wild Justice lawyers were arguing for a renewal of our claim for judicial review of DEFRA’s feeble burning regulations.

    Unfortunately we did not persuade the judge.

    We are considering an appeal.

    We’d like to thank our legal team who have worked very hard on this case. We’d also like to thank our supporters whose generosity made it possible for us to take the case this far without a specific fundraising appeal.

    We will go away and consider options – for one thing, there are other possible legal challenges in the pipeline.

  164. Rising reports of wildlife crimes during the pandemic

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    Wild Justice is a member of Wildlife & Countryside LINK and today the consortium has published its latest annual report on wildlife crime (covering 2020).

    Here is the press release:

    Rising reports of wildlife crimes during the pandemic spark fresh fears for beloved species

    new report published today (25 Nov) by nature experts has revealed a worrying increase in reporting of wildlife crimes against badgers, fish, birds of prey, and marine mammals during the pandemic. While a sharp decline in convictions for wildlife crimes including hunting, illegal wildlife trade, and fishing crime was also seen in 2020.

    Reports of likely crimes against badgers rose by 36% in 2020, compared to 2019, with reports of potential fishing crimes up by more than a third (35%) and marine mammal incident reports (in Cornwall alone) rising 90%, according to data gathered by the NGOs. The number of confirmed raptor crimes in England & Wales in 2020 was almost double that in 2019, rising from 54 to 104 (the worst year for bird-crime ever as detailed by the RSPB in October).

    At the same time fishing crime convictions fell by almost two-thirds from 2037 in 2019 to 679 in 2020, and illegal wildlife trade convictions halved to just 4 convictions. Hunting prosecutions also more than halved, from 49 in 2019 to 22 in 2020, with only 8 convictions. Hunting conviction rates have in fact steadily decreased for the last five years, falling from 54% of prosecutions being successful in 2016 to less than a third (32%) of prosecutions achieving conviction in 2020.

    Martin Sims, Director of Investigations at the League Against Cruel Sports and Chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Wildlife Crime group, said: ‘‘Wildlife crime is something that should concern everyone – it inflicts pain, harm and loss for much-loved wildlife and fuels wider criminality against people and property. Despite this the police still don’t gather centralised data on these serious crimes, leaving an incomplete picture from charities, which could be just a drop in the ocean of wildlife crimes. It is high time the Government steps in to treat wildlife crime with the seriousness it deserves. Making key crimes notifiable would enable police forces to better target resources, and track repeat offenders. While better police and prosecutor training and resources would help raise the pitiful 32% conviction rate for hunting prosecutions alone. The system must change to crack down on offences against nature once and for all.”

    Dawn Varley, Acting CEO of the Badger Trust, said: “Badger crime has been a UK Wildlife Crime Priority for more than a decade, due to the scale of persecution – but sadly this persecution shows no sign of letting up. 2020 saw reports of badger crime rise, driven in large part by a shocking 220% increase in reports of developers interfering with badger setts. A small minority seem to see badger habitat protections as an inconvenience to be quietly bulldozed over, rather than a legal requirement to conserve an iconic British mammal. 2022 must see renewed work by police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring offenders to justice. This must be supported by better monitoring, new training to enable officers and prosecutors to demonstrate criminal intent, and consistently tougher sentencing to deter these crimes.”

    Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said: “In the wake of an emergency climate conference and with all life on earth facing an uncertain future, there has never been a more important time for urgent action to end the illegal killing of wildlife. Wildlife declines are already being felt, and species can ill afford to face the additional pressure of being brutally shot, trapped or poisoned; nor should the public have to put up with these crimes taking place in the wild places they go to for refuge.

    “Bird of prey persecution reached unprecedented heights in 2020, particularly where land was managed for gamebird shooting. And it is certain that more crimes will have been committed and simply gone undetected and unreported. We urge the public to report dead or injured birds of prey in suspicious circumstances to the police and the RSPB, or pass on any information which may help lead to a conviction.”

    One of two illegally poisoned peregrines found near Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, in 2020. Photo by RSPB:

    The lockdowns and restrictions of 2020 appear to have contributed to rises in reporting of wildlife crimes and falls in convictions in several ways. Opportunistic offenders may have felt that with the police busy enforcing social restrictions that wildlife could be harmed with relative impunity. With increased use of the countryside in the pandemic more members of the public were also present to witness and report incidents of concern. COVID-19 pressures around social restrictions and staff absences appear also to have unfortunately reduced the capacity of police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service, and their ability to both bring hunting and fishing cases to trial and achieve convictions.

    While today’s report reveals worrying figures, with impacts for treasured species like badgers, buzzards, kestrels, seals, dolphins and bluebells, it gives an incomplete picture. These organisations all collect data in different ways, with many only holding figures on reporting and convictions for incidents where members of the public have directly contacted them. There is a huge lack of information on wildlife crimes due to police not being required to officially record wildlife offences. Most wildlife crimes are recorded as ‘miscellaneous’ offences and are therefore invisible in police records, with no duty to be reported upon. The scale of wildlife crime is therefore likely to be far greater than the data collected by NGOs suggests.

    • The 16 wildlife organisations behind today’s report are warning that the way wildlife crimes are handled by both the police and Crown Prosecution Service must be reviewed and improved, if offences against treasured British wildlife are to be tackled. In particular, the new report highlights that the continued absence of dedicated recording for wildlife crimes means that resources cannot be effectively assessed and targeted. A lack of expertise and resource for police and prosecutors, and deficiency of sentencing guidelines, is also leading to failures in convicting criminals and inadequate penalties for crimes.

      Nature experts and conservationists are calling for several key actions to better tackle wildlife crimes:
    • Make wildlife crimes recordable – A shortlist of wildlife offences (compiled by the National Wildlife Crime Unit) is being considered by the Home Office for notifiable status. This must be approved in 2022 to bridge the crippling wildlife crime data gap and help target resources effectively.
    • Ensure effective police & prosecutor action – Staff with expert training on wildlife crimes are critical to effectively building and prosecuting a case against these criminals. Also key is early coordination between the CPS and police on cases, and ensuring prosecutors have adequate preparation time for cases. Ensuring police and CPS training and process reflects this is vital.
    • Produce sentencing guidelines – Unlike most other crimes, the Sentencing Council provides no sentencing guidelines for wildlife crimes. This must be rectified to ensure sentencing consistently reflects the seriousness of these crimes and acts as a deterrent to criminal activity.

      ENDS
  165. DEFRA under increasing pressure to stop burning on peatlands

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    Photo: Sarah Hanson

    Remember COP26 – it was only 10 days ago. Nations were castigated for not doing enough to combat climate change.

    We have a classic example of government being weak in the face of intransigence from vested interests in England. Whereas some nations can argue that they have to cause pollution for the benefit of their population, it seems that DEFRA is allowing damaging burning on peatland soils simply for the recreation of shooting Red Grouse. DEFRA is allowing burning of vegetation on peatland soils, despite saying themselves that ‘There is a consensus that burning of vegetation on blanket bog is damaging to peatland formation and habitat condition. It makes it more difficult or impossible to restore these habitats to their natural state and to restore their hydrology‘. And yet the measures DEFRA introduced in the end protect less than half of the peatlands from such damage.

    Local councils in the uplands are calling on DEFRA to clamp down on the damaging practice of moorland burning. Wild Moors say that 13 councils including Calderdale, Sheffield, Redcar and Cleveland and High Peak have called for greater restrictions on burning of moorlands.

    Wild Justice challenged the lawfulness of the DEFRA regulations on burning and we were refused permission for judicial review – but our renewal hearing will take place on 1 December and we hope that we will then be able to go to judicial review.

    To donate to Wild Justice’s work by bank transfer, PayPal or a cheque in the post – click here

  166. Waitrose – are you having problems sourcing lead-free game meat?

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    Wild Justice has been scouring the game meat shelves of supermarkets for shot birds to get analysed for lead content.

    Last spring, we published analyses of game meat collected from Sainsbury‘s and Waitrose and showed that both stores were selling game meat with high lead levels – the lead comes from fragments of lead shot with which the birds were killed and which spread through the carcasse of the bird.

    Rightly, Wild Justice supporters were shocked that supermarkets were selling meat with high levels of a poison in them – and levels of lead are high enough for the Food Standards Agency to recommend that young children, pregnant women and women trying to get pregnant should avoid eating lead shot game meat.

    We said that we’d be testing meat samples again this winter. We already have Sainsbury’s game meat collected and being analysed for their lead levels – watch this space for the results in the next few weeks. We are also collecting samples from other high profile vendors.

    Waitrose is the only supermarket, in our view, to have taken a more responsible approach. Waitrose have said that they are phasing out all game meat shot with lead and will only sell game meat shot with non-toxic ammunition. We will monitor their progress with this promise – and we wish them well.

    However, we wonder whether Waitrose is finding it tough to live up to its promise. Many Waitrose stores have little game meat in them. We have visited over a dozen supermarkets where the stores have no whole Pheasants for sale. Online, Waitrose claim to be selling Pheasants but we know of several customers who have ordered Pheasants from Waitrose, been told that they would be ready for collection from stores and then, at the last moment, have been told that they are unavailable. This is a phenomenon which has occurred in several parts of the UK and seems the norm.

    Go into a store, like the one pictured above, and many of the game meat options are ‘temporarily unavailable’ – even though the labels claiming this don’t look very temporary. In chats with Waitrose staff in stores, Wild Justice supporters have been told that there are big problems in supply this year.

    We will be asking Waitrose what their problems are and when they think that they will be able to supply lead-free game meat as promised. You could ask your local supermarket what is their policy on selling game meat shot with lead ammunition – we’d like to know what a range of supermarkets are saying. And remember, we are collecting more samples for analysis from several supermarkets.

    We wish Waitrose well with their responsible move to lead-free game meat, and look forward to being able to report that their gamemeat is low-lead or, hopefully, lead-free in due course. We wonder whether they are being let down by the shooting industry? At the moment it seems that Waitrose is struggling to fill its shelves with gamemeat – that’s one way to seel less lead to the public.

  167. Ecological illiteracy from BASC

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    An article in this week’s The ENDS Report highlights the ecological illiteracy of the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC).

    The ENDS Report article is based around the contents of a BASC blog attributed to BASC’s new Head of Environmental Research, Dr Marnie Lovejoy. It’s apparent from the blog that BASC is pushing for a review of the Habitats Regulations to allow more shooting on protected sites.

    The ENDS Report highlights a section of the BASC blog as follows, and then goes on to include Wild Justice’s response to it:

    Lovejoy gives the example of curlews being in decline in large part because of increased pressures from generalist predators, such as corvids, writing that “the regulator prefers that precious curlew eggs are being devoured by a rook [rather] than allowing landowners the legal ability to prevent attacks before they happen or to act immediately to shoot or trap rooks as problems arise”.

    However, BASC’s position has been slammed by Wild Justice, a campaign group founded by TV presenter Chris Packham, and environmentalists Mark Avery and Ruth Tingay. A spokesperson for the group told ENDS that BASC was “confusing rooks with carrion crows”, adding that “with gross errors like this, BASC show themselves to be ecologically illiterate”.

    Continuing, the spokesperson said: “Brexit was the preferred option for many who wanted environmental protection to be weakened. Single issue pressure groups like BASC want conservation to be shot to pieces. You won’t find a real nature conservation organisation in the UK who wants the protection of the Birds and Habitats directives to be dismantled in the way that shooters, grouse moor owners, and some farmers do.”

    While rooks do predate curlew eggs in small numbers, they are considered by regulatory bodies and conservation groups to be a significantly smaller threat than carrion crows. 

    To read the full article in the ENDS Report click here (but beware, it sits behind a paywall so you’ll need to subscribe to read it).

    Here are more comments we made that didn’t make it into the published ENDS Report article. The journalist asked us:

    In what exact sense are they confusing rooks and carrion crows – do rooks not eat curlew eggs/predate curlews at all, or just not to the same extent as crows?‘ 

    Our response:

    ‘Hardly at all. The RSPB kills zero Rooks a year to protect waders, they kill scores of Carrion Crows. The Wildlife Trusts kill zero Rooks a year to protect wildlife, they kill some Carrion Crows.

    DEFRA does not list Rook on its conservation licence (species that can be killed for conservation purposes)  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wild-birds-licence-to-kill-or-take-for-conservation-purposes-gl40/gl40-general-licence-to-kill-or-take-certain-species-of-wild-birds-to-conserve-endangered-wild-birds-or-flora-and-fauna

    Natural Resources Wales does not list the Rook on its general conservation licence https://cdn.cyfoethnaturiol.cymru/media/693912/general-licence-004-english-2021.pdf

    NatureScot took Rook off its general licence in 2020 https://www.nature.scot/renewed-general-licence-increases-protection-scotlands-wild-birds

    Is it likely that real conservation organisations and the statutory nature conservation agencies for England, Wales and Scotland are wrong whilst BASC is right? With gross errors like this, BASC show themselves to be ecologically illiterate’.

  168. Have Pheasant releases decreased in England?

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    Seven week old pheasant poults, after just being released into a gamekeepers release pen on an English shooting estate

    Last autumn, just over a year ago, Wild Justice won a very significant victory by challenging the lawfulness of the massive scale of releases of non-native Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges for the purpose of recreational shooting. Our challenge caused DEFRA to list the two species on Schedule 9 of the WildlIfe and Countryside Act which makes it an offence to release these birds into the wild in England without a licence, but at the same time they issued a general licence that exempted all areas away from designated wildlife sites from these restrictions. We criticised the new regulations as being too weak, although they are a start. The regulations currently apply to England but not to Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland.

    How have the new regulations affected the number of non-native gamebirds released into the countryside? It’s very difficult to tell. We know that Natural England has refused permission to release gamebirds on many SSSIs and we hear from some people (but not from all) that gamebird numbers were noticeably lower in the fields and running about on the roads in the run-up to the opening of the Pheasant-shooting season just over a month ago. But it’s very hard to tell.

    So we decided to do a simple piece of analysis using birdwatchers’ data submitted to a scheme called BirdTrack .

    We examined the reporting rates of Pheasants (the proportion of full lists of birds seen by birdwatchers which include Pheasants) in England, Scotland and Wales, derived as weekly measures of overall national reporting rate from the BirdTrack scheme. Data from Northern Ireland were obtained but samples sizes were too small to be included. We didn’t include Red-legged Partridges in this analysis.

    Analysis focussed on the period between the first week of June (week 23) and the third week of October (week 42), since the regulations came into force in week 23 of 2021 and the data ran to week 42 in 2021. This encompasses the main period of gamebirds releases.

    Because mean weekly reporting rates differed systematically between the three countries, the percentage difference in weekly reporting rates between years was assessed, comparing the mean values for weeks 23 to 42 for 2015 to 2020 inclusive (pre-regulation) with the equivalent values for the same weeks in 2021 (post-regulation).

    Reporting rates in England were generally lower post-regulation than the average over the years 2015-20 pre-regulation, whereas in Scotland and Wales they were generally higher (Fig. 1). In England, most weekly reporting rates post-regulation fell between the pre-regulation average (a value of zero in Fig. 1) and 20% below it. In Scotland and Wales, weekly reporting rates were generally, but not quite always, higher in 2021 than the 2015-2020 average

    Figure 1. Percentage differences between weekly reporting rates in June – October (weeks 23 to 42) in 2021 and the average for the same weeks in 2015-2020.

    The same pattern was apparent when post-regulation reporting rates were compared with pre-regulation reporting rates using ranks (to account for the fact the pre-regulation average might have been unduly influenced by extreme values). Fig. 2 shows that for England, weekly reporting rates post-regulation were generally among the lowest recorded in the period 2015-2021 (mean rank = 2.0), whereas in Scotland and Wales they tended to be above the median rank (mean ranks of 4.4 and 4.9 respectively). 

    Figure 2. 2021 weekly reporting rates as rank of reporting rates in 2015-2021. A value of 1 indicates that the 2021 reporting rate was the lowest reporting rate for that week across the six years, a value of 6 indicates that it was the highest.

    Formal statistical tests of differences are problematic due to the non-independence of reporting rates across consecutive weeks (serial autocorrelation – a low reporting rate in one week is likely to be followed by a low reporting rate the following week). This means that the effective sample size is likely to be closer to 18 (6 years * 3 countries), than to 360 (6 years * 3 countries * 20 weeks).

    Conclusions

    There was a strong indication from the data that in the 20 weeks following the introduction of the new regulations in England, reporting rates of Pheasants in England were lower than the recent average, whereas in Scotland and Wales they were higher. This is consistent with, but not conclusive evidence for, an impact of the new regulations in reducing Pheasant releases in England. The higher than average reporting rates in Scotland and Wales in autumn 2021 suggest that the lower rates in England are unlikely to be explained by a systematic effect that applies across the whole of the UK (e.g. related to weather, Brexit, Covid etc). However, whether the lower reporting rates in England can be explained by a new regulation that applies to only a small part of the country is questionable.

    This analysis is a bit more than a quick-and-dirty analysis but it’s not ideal. There are more complicated and expensive analyses that could be carried out and we’ll keep them in mind for the future. We plan to repeat this analysis next year to see whether the indications for the first year of regulation are replicated in a second year.

    What do you, Natural England and DEFRA think has happened?

    We’d be interested to hear of your observations of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges and whether you think their numbers are higher or lower than in previous years. Our email address is at the foot of this page.

    We’ll make this simple analysis available to Natural England and ask them what they think lie behind the apparent findings.

    We’ll make these results available to DEFRA and ask them what impacts they think their new regulatory regime may have had.

    Acknowledgements

    We thank the BTO for providing the data for this analysis.

  169. Glyphosate use by local authorities

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    Since we asked you to contact your local authority about their use of glyphosate, Wild Justice supporters have contacted over 200 local authorities across the UK.

    This is the template letter that many of you have used – click here.

    And here is the list of the first 200.

    Aberdeen City Council  

    Aberdeenshire Council  

    Allerdale Borough Council  

    Angus Council  

    Argyll and Bute Council  

    Arun District Council  

    Babergh District Council  
    Mid Suffolk District Council  

    Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council  

    Basildon Council  

    Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council  

    Bassetlaw District Council  

    Bedford Borough Council  

    Bedfordshire Borough Council  

    Blaby District Council  

    Blackpool Council  

    Bolton Council  

    Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council  

    Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council  

    Bracknell Forest Council  

    Bradford Council  

    Breckland Council  

    Bristol City Council  

    Broadland District Council  

    Bromley Council  

    Buckinghamshire County Council  

    Bury Council  

    Caerphilly County Borough Council

    Calderdale Council  

    Cardiff Council  

    Carlisle City Council  

    Carmarthenshire County Council  

    Charnwood Borough Council  

    Cheshire East Council  

    Cheshire West and Chester Council  

    City of Edinburgh Council  

    Colchester Council  

    Conwy County Council  

    Cornwall Council  

    Cotswold District Council  

    Craven District Council  

    Crowborough Town Council  

    Croydon Council  

    Cumbria County Council  

    Dacorum Borough Council  

    Dartford Borough Council  

    Derby City Council  

    Derbyshire County Council  

    Derbyshire Dales District Council  

    Devizes Town Council  

    Devon County Council  

    Doncaster Council  

    Dorset Council  

    Dumfries and Galloway Council  

    Durham County Council  

    East Cambridgeshire District Council

    East Devon District Council  

    East Dunbartonshire Council  

    East Hampshire District Council  

    East Hertfordshire Council  

    East Riding of Yorkshire  

    East Staffordshire Borough Council  

    East Sussex County Council  

    Elmbridge Borough Council  

    Essex County Council  

    Exeter City Council  

    Exmouth Town Council  

    Fareham Borough Council  

    Fife Council  

    Filton Town Council  

    Gateshead Council  

    Glasgow City Council  

    Goudhurst Parish Council  

    Great Yarmouth Borough Council  

    Hackney Council  

    Harborough District Council

    Harrogate Borough Council

    Havant Borough Council  

    Herefordshire Council  

    High Peak Borough Council  

    Isle of Anglesey County Council

    Isle of Wight Council

    Kings Llyn and West Norfolk Borough Council  

    Lambeth Council  

    Lancashire County Council  

    Lancaster City Council  

    Leeds City Council  

    Leicester City Council  

    Lincolnshire County Council  

    Liverpool City Council  

    London Borough of Barnet  

    London Borough of Bexley  

    London Borough of Camden  

    London Borough of Greenwich  

    London Borough of Hammersmith  

    London Borough of Islington  

    London Borough of Redbridge

    London Borough of Richmond upon Thames  

    London Borough of Tower Hamlets  

    Malvern Hills District Council  

    Medway Council  

    Mendip District Council

    Mid Devon District Council  

    Milton Keynes Council  

    Mole Valley District Council  

    Monmouthshire County Council  

    New Forest District Council  

    Newark & Sherwood District Council  

    Newcastle – Under Lyme Borough Council

    Newcastle City Council  

    Newry, Mourne & Down District Council  

    North Ayrshire Council  

    North Devon County Council  

    North East Derbyshire District Council  

    North Hertfordshire District Council  

    North Lincolnshire Council  

    North Tyneside Local Council  

    North Yorkshire County Council  

    Northumberland Council  

    Norwich City Council  

    Nottinghamshire County Council  

    Orkney Islands Council

    Oxfordshire County Council  

    Pembrokeshire County Council  

    Pendle Borough Council  

    Perth and Kinross Council  

    Powys County Council  

    Reading Borough Council  

    Redbridge Council  

    Rhondda-Cynon-Taf County Borough Council  

    Ribble Valley Borough Council  

    Richmond Council  

    Rochdale Borough Council  

    Rossendale Borough Council  

    Rother District Council  

    Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council  

    Royal Borough of Greenwich  

    Rushcliffe Borough Council  

    Rushmoor Borough Council,

    Rutland County Council  

    Scarborough Borough Council  

    Scottish Borders Council  

    Selby District Council  

    Sevenoaks District Council  

    Sheffield City Council  

    Shepton Mallet Town Council  

    Skipton Town Council

    South Cambridgeshire District Council  

    South Derbyshire District Council  

    South Gloucestershire Council  

    South Hams District Council  

    South Kesteven District Council  

    South Lakeland District Council  

    South Norfolk Council  

    South Ribble Borough Council  

    South Somerset District Council  

    South Staffordshire Council

    Southampton City Council  

    St Albans District Council  

    Staffordshire County Council  

    Stockport Council  

    Stratford-upon-Avon District Council  

    Stroud District Council

    Suffolk County Council  

    Sunderland City Council  

    Surrey County Council  

    Swale Borough Council  

    Teignbridge District Council  

    Telford and Wrekin Council  

    Telford Town Council  

    Tendring District Council  

    Tewkesbury Borough Council  

    Thurrock Council  

    Torbay Council  

    Trafford Council  

    Trending District Council  

    Uttlesford District Council  

    Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District Council  

    Wakefield City Council  

    Wakefield Metropolitan District Council  

    Waltham Forest  

    Warwick District Council  

    Waverley Borough Council  

    Wealden District Council  

    Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council  

    West Berkshire Council

    West Devon Borough Council  

    West Lindsey District Council  

    West Lothian Council  

    West Norfolk  

    West Oxfordshire District Council  

    West Sussex County Council  

    Westminster City Council  

    Whitehall Town Council  

    Wiltshire Council  

    Wirral Council  

    Wokingham Borough Council  

    Wolverhampton City Council  

    Worcestershire County Council  

    Wyre Forest District Council  

    That’s an amazing response from Wild Justice supporters – thank you! We are working our way through these replies, and more are coming in all the time, so it may take quite a while before we can classify authorities as being good, bad or ugly…

  170. Please respond to the NRW consultation on general licences

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    Our guidance on responding to the NRW consultation on general licences.  

    We welcome the NRW consultation on general licences.

    Wild Justice’s legal challenge to the previous Welsh general licences was clearly a major factor in shaping the proposals that are now on offer in this consultation. But the places where we have moved NRW are not yet secure – that’s where you can help. We need hundreds of responses to the consultation to flood in to NRW. You should make whatever points you wish to, but here we give you suggestions. The consultation closes this coming Thursday – 11 November. 

    Here are our thoughts which cover most, but not all, of the consultation questions;  

    Questions 1-6 – only you can fill these in, they are about you.

    7. Do you agree with the principles we are proposing to apply for deciding whether to grant a general licence?

    YES

    Yes and No. You have set out 7 principles – how likely is it that anyone will agree 100% with all of them?

    Principle 1: There is an apparent and genuine need to allow the killing or taking of the species of wild bird in question, or to take or destroy their eggs or nests, in order to further one or more of the purposes outlined in section 16 of the Act.

    ‘Apparent and genuine’ should be ‘genuine and scientifically proven’. It is clear from the current NRW general licences that this is not always true and therefore that NRW is licensing unlimited, unnecessary and unlawful killing.

    Principle 2: Allowing the lethal control of birds of the species concerned under general licence can reasonably be expected to contribute to resolving the problem or meeting the need.

    Insert ‘on the basis of the science’ between ‘be expected’ and ‘to contribute’.

    Principle 3: There are no satisfactory solutions that would resolve that problem or address the need in question, other than to grant a general licence allowing the killing or taking of the wild bird species concerned.

    There is always the option of issuing specific licences rather than general licences.

    Principle 4: Allowing lethal control of the species in question under general licence, rather than only under specific licences subject to individual applications, is a proportionate response, given the frequency, scale and severity of the problem or need.

    This is not so much a principle as a craven lack of principle. NRW is not fulfilling its duties as a regulator by allowing such casual killing of birds in Wales. There are many things that lots of people want to do, not all of them should be allowed. NRW has allowed rural myths to be the basis for general licences and it’s time to change.

    Principle 5: Allowing lethal control of a ‘target’ species under a general licence will not risk putting it into an unfavourable conservation status.

    Unlimited general licences will always risk putting species into unfavourable conservation status because NRW hasn’t a clue how the licences are used, geographically, temporally or on what scale.

    Principle 6: No action authorised by a general licence will adversely affect the conservation status of any species other than the target species.

    That seems good to me.

    Principle 7: The general licence can be framed in terms which are clear to all users, compliant with all relevant legal requirements, and enforceable.

    Seems sensible, but the consequence is that there should be separate general licences for each target species – the general licence for the Jay (which I don’t think should be on a general licence anyway) cannot have the same details as that for a Carrion Crow.

    8.  Skip this question

    9. Do you think that magpie is suitable for inclusion on general licences in Wales in light of evidence of decline in their population in Wales?

    NO

    I don’t think that the Magpie is suitable for inclusion on the conservation general licence because the science does not back up the case for such a wide-ranging reduction in species protection.

    SELECT option ‘Not include magpie…’

    Because this is what NRW should have been doing for years. You can still consider specific licences.

    10. Do you think there are other species which may be suitable for inclusion on a general licence?

    NO

    11. Do you agree that general licences should be subject to regular review?

    YES

    Because they apparently authorise (unlawfully, I reckon) the large-scale and widespread killing of birds across Wales. Of course they should be regularly reviewed and should have to justify their details every year.

    12. Do you agree with the way in which we propose to carry out a regular review of general licences?

    NO

    Reviews should be annual, unless you implement all my suggestions, in which case every few years would be OK.

    13. Do you agree that general licences should continue to be issued for one year, and run from January to December?

    YES

    Yes for one year; No to January-December.  The licences should be valid only at the time of need. For conservation purposes (there are few examples) this should be in the spring/summer when species are nesting.

    14. Skip this question

    15. Do you have any comments on the format of general licences or any suggestions on how we could improve them in terms of presentation?

    YES

    If you persist with general licences then they ought to be very lengthy in order properly to specify the circumstances and conditions of lawful use.

    16. Do you agree that a person authorised by a land owner or occupier to carry out actions under a general licence, should be authorised in writing by the land owner or occupier?

    YES

    17. Do you agree that general licences should include a condition requiring users to first try to address the problem using alternative non-lethal methods, and to continue to make reasonable efforts to do so?

    YES

    I believe this is a legal requirement.

    18. Do you agree that general licence users should be advised to keep records of the actions they have taken under the licences?

    NO

    No, they should be required to keep records.  NRW hasn’t a clue how many birds are killed in Wales under these licences and has no way of finding out.

    19. Do you agree with our proposed approach to addressing protected site requirements when granting general licences?

    YES

    NRW is just catching up with DEFRA/NE here.

    20. Do you agree with the list of sites and buffer zones where we are proposing that general licences should not apply?

    Skip this question unless you have specific knowledge of the sites.

    Questions 21-27 – skip all of these.

    28. Do you agree that NRW general and specific licences should specify the types of cage trap that may be used?

    YES

    This will restrict the use of traps that may otherwise be unsuitable for the welfare of any trapped birds.

    29. Do you agree with the types and specifications of cage trap which we propose to authorise for use under any general licences we grant?

    YES

    It is particularly important to include a requirement that Larsen Mate & Larsen Pod traps are secured to mitigate the risk of them being dragged away and also that the closing edges are sufficiently rounded so as not to trap/damage the raised wings of a non-target raptor.

    30. Do you agree with the proposal not to allow the use of meat-based baits under any general licences granted by NRW?

    YES

    Research in Scotland, commissioned by SNH, has demonstrated that the use of meat baits encourages birds of prey (non-target species) to enter traps.

    31. Do you agree that continuing to allow the use of diced meat as feed for decoy birds achieves the right balance between mitigating the risk of catching non-target species and the welfare of decoy birds?

    YES

    Although would like to see evidence-based research on the use of diced meat for decoy birds. If it is shown that this still encourages raptors to enter the trap then the use of diced meat should not be permitted.

    32. Do you agree that licences should include a condition requiring captured birds of the target species to be killed out of sight of other captured birds and decoys, except in relation to multi-catch traps?

    YES

    Although this provision needs to be considered alongside consultation question #34 (should trap users be required to kill trapped birds (of the target species) as soon as reasonably practicable after discovery?). For example, it would not be acceptable for a trap user to take trapped birds to a distant location (far from the original trap) and hold them for several hours before killing them.

    33. Do you agree with the proposal to allow users of multi-catch traps discretion to kill trapped birds within sight of other birds where they consider that the additional delay and handling caused by moving out of sight to kill each bird would cause more distress?

    NEITHER YES OR NO

    There needs to be much more thought about the method of killing multiple birds from one trap. For example, covert footage in Scotland has shown a trap operator swinging wildly with a baseball bat inside a cage trap full of crows, wounding some and then battering them to death in a corner, causing considerable distress to the other birds in the cage.

    34. Do you agree that trap users should be required to kill trapped birds (of the target species) as soon as reasonably practicable after discovery?

    YES

    35. Do you agree that NRW licences should specify, as a licence condition, the matters that must be addressed at each cage trap inspection?

    YES

    There is evidence that some trap operators ‘check’ their cage traps from a distance (e.g. with binoculars from a vehicle) rather than physically attending the trap. There is also at least one company promoting the use of a ‘remote’ trap checking system, whereby a camera installed at the trap sends pictures to a mobile phone in lieu of the trap operator physically visiting the trap. Neither of these systems is satisfactory, especially when the trap operator needs to assess the welfare of the decoy and any trapped birds, e.g. any evidence, physical or behavioural, of injury and/or distress.

    36. Do you agree with our proposal to specify a maximum interval between inspections of 25 hours?

    YES and NO

    The proposal to specify a maximum interval between inspections is essential but the justification for choosing this interval to be 25 hours is unacceptable. It has not been selected with the decoy/trapped birds’ welfare to the fore; rather it has been chosen to streamline various licence conditions. NRW should undertake some research on the welfare impacts of checking live traps at 6, 12, 18 and 24 hour intervals so that the timing of trap checks can be based on evidence of welfare impacts. Large multi-catch traps may be suitable to hold a bird for up to 25 hours (if there is adequate and suitable food, water, perches and shelter) but the same cannot be said for most clam traps, which are considerably smaller.

    37. Do you agree with our proposal to include a condition prohibiting the use of wing-clipped birds as cage trap decoys?

    YES

    The condition should go further and specify that decoy birds may not be wing-clipped, blinded, tethered or maimed in any way.

    38. Do you agree that we should introduce a dedicated general licence containing standard terms and conditions for the use of cage traps?

    YES

    39. Do you have any views on whether a mandatory scheme of trap registration and tagging in Wales would be beneficial?

    YES

    NRW says that previously there has been ‘very little demand’ for trap registration by trap users – of course there hasn’t! Trap operators are not going to request more regulatory hoops to jump through, are they?! It is a massive missed opportunity for NRW not to impose a mandatory trap registration scheme. Without trap registration, which identifies the actual trap operator, enforcement of the trap regulations becomes virtually impossible on land where more than one potential trap operator is employed. For example, if a cage trap offence has been discovered (e.g. a trapped raptor that has not been released within 24hrs and has died of its injuries), any attending police officer will be met with ‘no comment’ answers from the potential trap operators and therefore the police officer will be unable to identify the actual trap operator, and thus charges cannot be laid. This has happened time and time again on large shooting estates in Scotland, where multiple gamekeepers are employed, which is why SNH (now NatureScot) introduced the trap registration scheme, to enable the enforcement authorities to identify the individual trap operator. And it must be registered to the individual operator, not to an estate for example, for exactly the same reasons as above.

    40. Do you have any additional views on the approach that NRW should take towards regulating the use of cage traps for lethal control of wild birds?

    YES

    Although the proposed licences permit actions that are sometimes justified and necessary, NRW needs to introduce far more accountability into the use of cage traps to kill birds. The new proposals still do not include any requirement for licence returns, e.g. how many birds are killed or what species they are. NRW is effectively still licensing the ‘casual killing’ of potentially millions of birds with absolutely no idea of the numbers involved or the impact on local populations. NRW also needs to consider the seasonal use of cage traps. For example, at present they are operational year-round, but what justification is there for running a multi-capture trap during the summer, autumn and winter? NRW also needs to consider the type of habitat in which cage traps are set. For example, at present they can be deployed in every habitat, but what justification is there for setting a multi-catch trap in woodland or on open moorland, where the risk of trapping birds of prey is highest? NRW should also be considering restrictions to the entrance sizes on funnel and ladder traps. Some of these entrances are disproportionately large, some might argue deliberately so to allow large raptors to enter the traps. NRW should also introduce a competency test for trap operators. Given the rigorous and robust licensing requirements for those who handle birds for scientific monitoring (e.g. ringing), it is inexplicable that those handling birds with a responsibility for the humane destruction of a sentient animal are not individually qualified and repeatedly-re-tested and licensed.

    47. Do you agree with our proposed principles for licensing the lethal control of wild birds for conservation purposes?

    NO

    You’ve done it again – listed 5 complicated principles and asked for a yes or no answer &#