The strange case of NRW and the missing eggs

This post is about our legal challenge of the general licences issued by the public body, Natural Resources Wales, on 1 January 2020. To take a legal challenge against the decision of a government body requires a good knowledge of the law, and none of the three Wild Justice co-founders, Mark Avery, Chris Packham and Ruth Tingay, would claim to know much about the law, but we do know a bit about nature conservation (and luckily we have a great legal team).

The Welsh General Licence GL004 purports to be a licence for the purpose of conserving birds by taking lethal control measures against four corvid species (birds of the crow family, Corvidae). The four corvids are Jackdaw, Jay, Magpie and Carrion Crow, and we’ll come back to them in later blogs, but let’s for a moment consider the purported beneficiaries of this licence – a list of 143 bird species listed at Annex 1 of GL004.

Having a list of species such as that long list of species at Annex 1 of GL004 is a good thing – it’s actually attempting to be more specific about what the conservation purposes of the licence are – not to conserve every bird species in Wales but to conserve these particular species. That’s a small step forward compared with the general licences in Scotland or England.

The NRW licence goes one small step further in stating very clearly that it is only to protect the eggs and chicks of the 143 species, not the adult birds. That seems quite sensible too.

But, of course, for the licence to have any scientific credibility the list of 143 species has to be a sensible list. Now, we could, and probably will in later posts, get into whether species A of the four corvids (eg Jay) has a population level impact on Species B from the Annex 1 list (eg Gannet). What do you think? Are Jays an important predator of Gannet eggs? Nah, nor do we! But for now we don’t have to get into even that very easy discussion.

Do you recognise the egg at the top of this post? You might guess it’s a duck egg but we’d guess that few would have identified it as a Velvet Scoter egg. Hats off to you if you did, though.

Here is an adult male Velvet Scoter;

Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca

…and a female;

Velvet scoter, Melanitta fusca, single bird swimming on water, winter, Lancashire, UK

…they’re quite cute ducks aren’t they? They are normally seen in Wales offshore, bobbing up and down in the waves in the winter months. Have you guessed where we are going with this?

Velvet Scoter is one of the 143 species whose eggs and/or chicks you can protect, thanks to NRW’s General Licence GL004, through killing Jackdaws, Jays, Magpies or Carrion Crows. The only trouble is that Velvet Scoters do not nest in Wales, come to that they do not nest in the UK – probably never have, probably never will.

NRW might just as well have added Emperor Penguin to Annex 1 for all the sense it would make.

And yes, we are taking the mickey out of NRW staff and their illustrious and knowledgable Board, because by our reckoning there are loads of species in Annex 1 which don’t, never have or hardly ever do nest in Wales. So who is taking the mickey really? Annex 1 is listed alphabetically and in the As and Bs we find: Arctic Skua, Balaeric Shearwater, Bar-tailed Godwit, Bewick’s Swan and Brambling – if they all nest in Wales in 2020 it will be quite a year!

By our reckoning there are c30 of the 143 species on Annex 1 which are not Welsh breeding species and yet you are authorised to kill an unlimited number of Jackdaws anywhere in Wales to protect the eggs and chicks of these non-breeding species.

This is not by any means the only thing bizarre, unscientific and wrong about these general licences. But it’s a pretty big fail at a pretty fundamental level.

Please help us to take our legal challenge against NRW General Licence GL004 through donating to Wild Justice’s crowdfunder – click here – or through donating directly to Wild Justice – click here.

Thank you to all our supporters so far – we are a third of the way to our target after just three full days.