Wild Justice’s 2023

Here’s a very quick run through some highlights of 2023. It’s been a good year for our legal challenges.

The changes to the Northern Ireland general licences occurred in January but we started considering and working on our legal challenge from early January 2021. You could actually say that we started working on this from our very first day in the public eye when we challenged the lawfulness of Natural England’s general licences. But the trigger was when one of us sent an email to our lawyers in Leigh Day saying ‘Do you do NI? This looks pretty ropy [with a link to the existing Northern Ireland general licences].’ and received the reply ‘It is definitely possible for us to help with a case in NI, and that licence looks like a real shocker!‘. The reply took 23 minutes to arrive – that’s how on-the-ball Leigh Day are and then things started to happen quickly at our end but slowly at every other stage during the legal process. It took two years to get the result that should have been offered by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland, right from the start. Their general licences were ‘real shockers’ in legal and biological terms. But we got there in the end.

We had another win in Northern Ireland, on Badger culling. This was a sweet success, with the Northern Ireland Badger Group (who were just brilliant) and we won a judicial review where the process followed by DAERA was judged to be unlawful and they will have to repeat a public consultation in a very different way if they even consider going ahead with a cull. We wonder whether they will as the science has changed in that time.

The NI Badger case started with an email from us to our lawyers early on a Monday morning and a response, within the hour, in September 2021 and led to our eventual victory in October 2023. These things take a while, and are taking far longer than they used to take, and longer than they should take.

We sometimes get a bit of moaning from public bodies about how much time, money and effort goes into fighting our cases. We have some but rather little sympathy for this view. They are a lot of work for us too – we’re volunteers! The solution to not spending time on defending legal challenges is not to make dodgy decisions which can be challenged as unlawful. But if you have taken some unlawful decisions then we suggest that giving in quickly is the right thing to do!

In Wales, the recent announcement (see our newsletter a few days ago) of changes, good changes, to the Welsh general licences shows that our successes there continue to accrue and the proposed changes to releases of gamebirds (disappointingly weak though they are – click here) follow directly from our success in England.

And the current legal challenge occupying our time is on the licensing of gamebird releases in England this year. We can’t say too much about it other than these three blogs that were written some time back (click here, here and here).

We are hopeful that our petition on the Woodcock shooting season will bring about changes in shooting seasons for Woodcock and maybe a few other species too. This hasn’t been quick either. Hannah Bourne-Taylor’s Swift brick petition also passed 100,000 signatures and was debated and is languishing in the shallows of government dithering. These are simple government decisions which are easy to take but our current system of government makes few big decisions well and can’t even cope with the small easy decisions.

Hundreds (we know), but probably thousands (we think) of Wild Justice supporters responded to government consultations on gamebird releases in Wales, hedgerow regulations and lead ammunition control. Wales is moving ahead with restrictions on gamebird releases but we have yet to hear how Defra will move on hedgerows or lead ammunition. What we do know, is that Wild Justice supporters were effusive in their praise for our advice and suggestions on these responses. Consultations of this sort are rarely completely straight forward to complete and we are pleased that a bit of guidance from us has allowed many more members of the public to voice their views on issues that do concern them. We’ll do more of this in the future.

Wild Justice published our first three reports. A Site for Sore SSSIs analysed data from England and showed that Sites of Scientific Interest in England are in worse condition than the official figures show and the data are very out of date anyway (click here) – the protected area system is in a terrible state of disrepair. Meddling on the Moors looked at Hen Harriers in England and particularly took a critical look at the controversial brood-meddling scheme licensed by Natural England to suit grouse moor managers (click here) – we think it’s a rotten ‘trial’ where the evidence is clear that it has failed. Ban or License? presented the results of a poll of over 7000 respondents and showed that these respondents (who may not have been a representative sample but were a large sample) favoured banning of driven grouse shooting over licensing – click here. Strikingly, this was firmly true of RSPB members despite the RSPB’s corporate support for licensing.

We carried on our data collection on glyphosate levels in your urine and lead levels in game meat, our funding helped secure quicker results in forensic analysis of wildlife crimes, we had a couple of boat trips in Poole Harbour and we helped fund legal challenges on river pollution, tree protection, underwater developments in Northern Ireland and Open Seas‘s successful legal challenge of the Scottish government’s licensing of scallop dredging – click here.


That’s a quick summary of 2023 – bring on 2024, we say!



All of these things, and many more, have been reported in our newsletters through the year. Our newsletter is our favoured means of keeping you in touch with our thoughts and work. It’s free – subscribe here.

And all this work is funded by donations from the public – if you feel you can support our future work then you can donate via PayPal, cheques or by bank transfer – click here for details.