Northern Ireland General Licences expire today

The three Northern Ireland general licences, TPG1, TPG2 and TPG3 which purport to authorise the killing of specific listed bird species to protect human health, to prevent serious damage to crops and for alleged conservation purposes expire today. The Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) seems to have no plan to reissue them any time soon and has got itself into a mess.

The wording of the three ‘current’ licences is explicit:

As things stand, as from darkness tonight it will be illegal to kill Magpies, House Sparrows, Woodpigeons and a range of other species in Northern Ireland because these licences will have expired.

What are General Licences? All wild birds are protected by law – that is the very sensible starting point for wild bird protection. There are two relatively small classes of bird for which there are legally defined exceptions to that rule. One exception relates to gamebirds (yes, an ugly term) meaning those species that society has deemed suitable for killing for recreational purposes, and sometimes for consumption as food, such as Pheasants, many ducks, and some waders such as Snipe. the other exception is a range of species that cause us, people, problems and which can be killed under specific circumstances and conditions. Those are the species covered by these three licences until darkness today.

Wild Justice and General Licences. Wild Justice has, since our launch in February 2019, challenged the rationality and legality of the general licences which exist in their slightly different forms in all four UK nations. We have been successful in reducing the species covered and tightening up the conditions of their use. These licences exist on government websites – you don’t have to apply for them and you aren’t sent a bit of paper that shows you can use them – they are generally available to all and sundry, but they do have conditions of use which are widely ignored or simply aren’t understood well enough by people with guns in the countryside.

Wild Justice and the Northern Ireland General Licences. Wild Justice first wrote to DAERA in May 2019 pointing out our success in getting the general licences in England temporarily revoked. This year we have been in regular correspondence with DAERA pointing out that their General Licences TPG1, TPG2 and TPG3, which expire today, are not fit for purpose. We have told DAERA that their general licences are the worst of those in place in the four UK nations and that they would face a legal challenge from us if they persisted with issuing seriously flawed general licences. Earlier this year DAERA issued a consultation on their general licences, which they then withdrew. We welcomed the consultation and would have supported many of the measures it contained. But now we have reached the point when the current licences expire.

What happens next? The three general licences expire today. Tomorrow, our understanding is that there is no legal cover for anyone killing the species listed on those expired licences in Northern Ireland. Saturday 11 September will mark the beginning of a period of unprecedented protection for the species listed on the general licences. The roof will not fall in on rural life in Northern Ireland.

It is possible that DAERA may seek to extend their general licences but if so they have not told Wild Justice that is the case. And if they do, and if the licences are as error-strewn and have the same legal flaws as the expiring licences Wild Justice will mount a legal challenge to them – of that DAERA can be in no doubt given our correspondence with them over the recent months.

Wild Justice calls on DAERA to announce that the species covered by their general licences are now protected, like almost all other wild birds, and that killing them will be unlawful until new general licences are issued. DAERA should make clear, immediately, how they intend to proceed. Wild Justice would welcome a public consultation on the terms and details of new general licences for Northern Ireland.

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