Gamebird releases in Norfolk and Suffolk – can you help?

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

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.