Regulating gamebird releases in Wales – an update

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)