Our latest legal challenge – general licences in Wales

Jackdaw. Photo: Tim Melling

Yesterday Wild Justice’s lawyers filed our application for a judicial review of Natural Resources Wales’s (NRW’s) issuing of general licences on 1 January 2020.  We’ve launched a crowdfunder and we’re seeking to raise £42,500 to pay the legal costs we have already incurred and to take this case through the courts. Please give generously to enable us to mount this challenge.

This is the latest in our challenges of the legality of the general licences which allow the casual killing of millions of birds across the UK. We have already seen some minor changes to the licences and the species listed in England, Scotland and Wales but there is much more to do. This challenge, of the Welsh licences, will have implications right across the UK. We need to see the licences tightened up considerably to comply with the law and to reflect the scientific evidence.

Our legal grounds of challenge

All wild birds are protected by law and the exceptions to this full legal protection are well-defined and quite specific. 

Although NRW identify the purposes of their general licences (eg nature conservation, protecting crops from serious damage, human health etc) they do not identify the circumstances under which there is no non-lethal alternative to using lethal control. This, we argue, is unlawful and amounts to allowing casual killing of otherwise protected birds.

Our three legal grounds are:

  • Unlawful failure to specify circumstances
  • Unlawful failure in relation to satisfactory alternatives
  • Unlawful approach to derogations

The science is lacking

Our main concern with NRW’s licences is with General Licence GL004 which purports to be a nature conservation licence.  Although licences GL001 and GL002 have the same legal flaws we might not have challenged them if they weren’t associated with the awful GL004.

GL004 allows the killing of Jackdaw, Jay, Magpie and Carrion Crow to protect the eggs and chicks of a list of 143 bird species in Wales. At first glance, it looks like a decent job has been done by NRW, but the more we looked the more we realised how poor a job they had done.

First, many of the 143 species listed have never, and will never, nest in Wales! Species like Sanderling and Velvet Scoter are winter visitors and corvid predation on their eggs in Wales is simply out of the question.  Yet NRW list them as species whose eggs and chicks can be protected by lethal killing of corvids!

Second, there is no strong evidence, and precious little weak evidence, that, for example Jackdaw has any impact on species of conservation concern in Wales (or anywhere else). In one of the most important studies looking for evidence of impacts of predation on prey species the authors didn’t even consider Jackdaw as worth examination because it simply isn’t a predator of nests and chicks. Also, the literature review on which NRW relies actually states that there is a ‘Low [level of] expert opinion and no anecdotal evidence to suggest Jackdaw will have an impact on wild bird populations’ and yet Jackdaw is on the list as a species that can be killed for nature conservation purposes.This is turning the precautionary principle on its head.

We believe that Jackdaw, Jay and Magpie must be removed from GL004 and that the licence would then only cover Carrion Crow, but that the circumstances where Carrion Crows can be killed for nature conservation purposes must be greatly limited.

The Wild Justice witness statement runs to about 25 pages so you can see that there is much more we could say but we seek to get these issues settled in court according to the law.

Our requested remedy

We are asking for permission for judicial review of the 2020 Welsh general licences where we will ask the court to declare the licences unlawful. This will give NRW the opportunity to carry out a proper review of these licences in time for lawful alternatives to be issued in 2021.

Please help us by contributing to our crowdfunder – click here. Thank you!