Our Northern Ireland victory – some more thoughts

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.