Thank you BASC

Collared Dove – a serious threat to fisheries? Photo: Tim Melling

We are grateful to BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation) for providing a very helpful visual aid to guide the progress of a review of the future of the general licences.  It is their Table 4 reproduced here – don’t bother with the details at the moment but just look at how Red the Table is.

Table 4 from BASC submission to consultation on general licences.

The table shows the magnitude of change that Wild Justice’s legal challenge has already had on licensed bird killing.  Ignore the details for a moment and just look at the colours.  The White areas were never covered by the revoked General Licences GL04, GL05 and GL06 and NE’s (Natural England’s) plan is that they wouldn’t be covered by the new ones either so we can regard them as ‘No Change’. There’s a lot of Red in the Table – these are areas where NE, after 10 weeks of consideration from receipt of our legal challenge could not come up with any argument for new licences.  BASC and GWCT (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust) want all of the areas marked Red to be coloured Green – well it ain’t going to happen because there is no legal or scientific justification for that.  Both GWCT and BASC largely ignore the fact that NE has conceded that the previous licences were unlawful and ask for them to be reinstated.

Let us consider what that would mean; BASC and GWCT apparently want a general licence which authorises unlimited and unsupervised killing of Collared Doves to prevent serious damage to fisheries! Under the wholly unlikely exceptional circumstances that Collared Doves ever do cause serious damage to fisheries then individuals could always apply for a specific licence to carry out lethal control of those Collared Doves just as they can at the moment under the equally unlikely circumstances that Willow Warblers are causing serious damage to fisheries!

What Mr Gove needs to do is to look at every single Red box in the BASC table and ask his civil servants if there is any strong reason to change it from Red to Green – for most of those boxes he will find no justification whatsoever.

Presumably NE have already done the equivalent of looking at this table and examining each cell dispassionately and rationally, that’s why this table has an awful lot of Red on it.  The cat is out of the bag – much of the rationale behind the revoked General Licences GL04, GL05 and GL06 was scientifically and legally flawed and it is right that it should change.

Let us look at the three right hand columns which cover the ‘conservation’ justifications for general licensing of lethal control under the previous GL06. Let us take the middle of those three columns which relates to conserving wild flora.  We have checked with other wildlife conservation organisations and they have not submitted an angry and strident call for the Jay to be returned to a general licence to protect flora. Nor has anyone else in the real conservation community.  No, it is only BASC and GWCT who think that the conservation of flora requires an immediate return to the licensing regime of three weeks ago – and they are utterly wrong.

Mr Gove will not need much Green ink when he comes to colour in his blank chart and decide on a future licensing scheme – he can leave most of the Red in place.

Wild Justice’s own submission on the general licences dealt with the left hand of the three columns which related to the former GL06. This column is one of the most varied in colour with White, Red, Brown, Yellow and Green cells. Our submission dealt with whether it is appropriate to issue new general licences which authorise the lethal killing of Jays, Jackdaws, Rooks, Magpies and Carrion Crows for the purposes of conserving wild birds. Jays, Jackdaws and Rooks were clearly not regarded by NE as a serious threat to wild birds as they categorised them as Priority 3, coloured Brown in the Table, which indicated to us that NE themselves weren’t at all keen on issuing a new general licence for their widespread and unregulated killing. And that’s because there is no scientific justification for their widespread and unregulated killing in order to protect wild birds.

If Mr Gove and his officials read through the submission from GWCT and BASC they will find no justification for colouring those cells for Jackdaw, Rook, or Jay in any colour than Red. NE were presumably too scared by the rural shooting lobby actually to colour those cells Red but they did the next best thing if you are a civil servant which is to colour them Brown, park them, and hope no-one notices.  Well, we have noticed! We haven’t yet seen any submissions from the BTO and the RSPB but we would be amazed, and quite frankly shocked, if they were asking for Jackdaw, Rook and Jay to be coloured in anything other than Red by Mr Gove.

We believe that the scientific argument for not reinstating general licences for Jay, Jackdaw and Rook is unassailable and Mr Gove will find nothing in the BASC and GWCT submissions that would support such a move. And yet that is what BASC and GWCT demand alongside the reinstatement of landowners’ right to cull Collared Doves because of their serious impacts on fisheries!  These submissions are not conservation submissions, nor are they scientific submissions, they are submissions aiming to take licensed killing of corvids back into the nineteenth century where much of it resided until 23 April 2019.

What about Magpie? Magpie is coloured Green in the table as NE had planned to issue a general licence for their lethal control.  The Wild Justice submission argued that there is no strong evidence for such a general licence and we stand by that. However, there is some evidence and most of it is laid out in the GWCT submission. We don’t believe that the science stacks up though to a case for a general licence for Magpie control. If we have time, and we may not as Mr Gove, in his rushed consultation has not allowed proper time for these matters to be examined or the facts to be laid out before him, but if we have time, we will set out a more detailed case for removing the Magpie from any general licence to conserve wild birds. But in short much of the literature reviewed by GWCT relates to control of Foxes and Carrion Crows as well as Magpies and we know that Magpies are the species for which there is least evidence of any impact on wild bird populations. And the Loddington case study falls into the category mentioned in our consultation response where we stated ‘Nor can it be a ‘problem’ if Species A causes a local and/or temporary decline in numbers of Species B if those impacts are balanced out by other local or temporary recoveries in numbers elsewhere or at other times. Only if Species A is responsible for a sustained decline in Species B can this be regarded as a conservation problem‘.  We stated this with studies such as Loddington in mind. As an antidote to Loddington is the RSPB experience at Hope Farm where no predator control is carried out and songbird populations have increased thanks to simple and effective habitat improvement that still allow that farm to operate at crop yields comparable with the local average.  One of the differences between Loddington and Hope Farm is that Loddington’s predators and carrion eaters have the advantage of large numbers of released gamebirds to feed on as carrion through the winter which is presumably an important driver for their high densities. 

Whereas BASC and GWCT ask for the whole table to be coloured Green (so that the massive damage to fisheries caused by Collared Doves can be averted – yes, we are taking the mickey but only to illustrate the ridiculous nature of the demands from these two shooting organisations)  Wild Justice recognised that the Carrion Crow cell (in the column for conserving wild birds) should stay Green as there is some evidence for this species causing population level impacts on other species. That is where the science leads us. But Mr Gove should not just skip over this species without some thought. As our submission makes plain, the reasons that the UK has such high Carrion Crow densities is that activities in the countryside over which his department has control have caused that to happen. Changes to agriculture policy, absence of regulation of the number of non-native gamebird corpses available to carrion eaters, and the restitution of top predators to the countryside would all be measures that would reduce, perhaps completely eliminate, the everlasting need for lethal control of native wildlife.

So the task in front of Mr Gove this week is not to colour in the table Green but to examine every cell in that Table and decide what colour the law and the science allow and demand.  That is what a proper review would entail and this important subject demands nothing less.  Mr Gove should also remember that specific licences are available to deal with any unforeseen, occasional, unlikely, departures from the general situation (and so anyone can apply for a specific licence if they feel that they have a case to control Collared Doves because of their serious impact on fisheries).