* Update expected soon on Cormorant licence reform plan
* New head of licensing at Natural England ready to engage with our campaign
Hope you have all enjoyed a good summer!
As I write, the swallows are gathering ahead of their epic journey to Africa. migratory geese are arriving from distant lands, there's a chill in the air and we find ourselves suddenly in Autumn...
"Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love—that makes life and nature harmonize." George Eliot
I know I've been silent for a little while but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy!
From trying to stop councils and landowners decimating hedgerows, to calling for nature education to be at the core of primary school teaching, I've been pushing for increased awareness of our environment on various fronts.
But, as many of you will know from your own experience, it often seems like a hopeless task - the vast majority of those who might have influence simply do not understand the importance of nature, or perhaps they do not want to understand because they are too heavily invested (often literally) in destroying it.
Anyway, on to birds and licensing.
And it's looking good.
New faces at Natural England
My helpful contact at Natural England (the then Head of Wildlife Licensing) left the post at the end of July and two people were subsequently appointed in his place.
I've made contact with these two people who are now responsible for wildlife licensing across England - and so far so good.
I've been told to expect an update on the plan I put forward to stop the reckless Cormorant culls, potentially saving thousands of these majestic birds from being shot.
As you may recall, Natural England told me in July that they were considering our suggestions to reform the Cormorant control licences and hinted that they might be introducing some of the ideas we discussed.
I'll bring you the latest on that as soon as I have it.
There may also be a meeting set up to explore reforms to the licensing system more generally.
Teaching nature as a core subject in schools
That's the extent of the update as far as licences go, but in other matters, I had some interesting correspondence with the member of the Welsh Senedd for North Wales, in which we discussed a range of matters relating to the state of the natural environment in the region. I shared with her my belief that education from an early age was key to a life-long appreciation of nature and probably the only long term hope we have to secure what precious little of the natural environment we have left.
She agreed and has vowed to press the Welsh government to introduce nature lessons as a core subject in primary schools across the country.
If this did happen it would be a huge step forward.
I believe it is essential to instill a love of nature in the next generation.
I remember being taught from a very early age, (as many of us were), to delight in the discovery of the natural world. It's still a constant and wonder-filled journey for me even fifty years on! And that's why I see it as vitally important to educate our young people as they are the ones who will ultimately be responsible for preserving the remnant of the natural world that survives.
This step would be for Wales only, but of course it would be of huge benefit if England, Scotland and Northern Ireland were to consider a similar scheme of putting nature at the core of children's education, and when I get time I will contact the relevant authorities in each region with the same proposal.
In the meantime, to sum up, there are hopeful signs of further co-operation with Natural England and their continuing engagement with our campaign.
We've made huge progress that has already saved the lives of countless wild birds, and there's lots to build on.
Let's keep going strong. For the birds.
Plan to end uncontrollable Cormorant culls "has our attention", promises Natural England
This week I had an email from Natural England's Head of Wildlife Licensing - with some really promising news.
You'll recall that last month I pooled all of our ideas aimed at ending the uncontrolled Cormorant culls, and I put forward a 5 point plan to Natural England suggesting reforms to the current broken system.
I'll quote from the message.
Just a quick update for you.
We’ve started some internal discussion on this and we are considering how we might evaluate changes to cormorant licensing. I’ve had some early views which we will try and develop. Reform/change might take some time to do alongside our other licensing priorities....
But I want to reassure you this has our attention."
Now, I know we all want change to happen quickly, I'm a 'get it done now' kind of chap, and it's frustrating to hear the words 'this might take some time', but nevertheless I am encouraged that Natural England is now actively seeking to change the current system. Believe me, it's real progress.
Significant change doesn't happen overnight, not in today's world of politics combined with environmental detachment.
Governments - and much of the public - have lost a vital connection to the natural world.
Often it seems morality and ethics are perceived as inconvenient.
And so, because of this, it's difficult to quickly alter perceptions and attitudes that don't have respect for nature at their core.
The bigger picture
Growing up, I was instilled with a love for the natural world, and nature was everywhere, from a biodiverse countryside to suburban gardens full of life.
I know that those of a certain vintage like myself will remember those days.
I was privileged to have a wonderful primary school teacher, Mrs Slater, who taught me very early on in my life to discover magic in nature and to find an infinitely bigger view of the world around me. It's been the most valuable and wonderful advice.
Now I'm in my 50's, and I see our countryside ravaged by industrial farming and clumsy development, and suburbia turned into a plastic nightmare.
But rather than giving up any last shred of hope (which would be so very easy to do), I try to see the bigger picture.
Although it is desperately frustrating, indeed heartbreaking, to see ongoing destruction of nature, including birds being lethally controlled as in the case of Cormorants, I cling on to the hope that our efforts today will secure the survival of wildlife in the years ahead.
It's that thing about 'people who plant trees under whose shade they will never sit'.
It's still the right thing to do, and the policy changes we are influencing now will benefit birds and other wildlife for future generations.
Empathy with nature
Empathy is what is required, and especially an empathy with nature.
I think that's where we come in.
You and I instinctively know that killing cormorants to protect fisheries is wrong.
That shooting gulls because they 'steal chips' is wrong.
That culling badgers is wrong.
You and I know that chopping down trees to build roads is wrong.
And that replacing grass with plastic is wrong (and absurd).
It's so obvious to us, but not, it seems, to the majority.
There's no cure for the selfish behaviour which is at the core of much environmental destruction, but respect for nature can be taught - as it was when I was growing up.
Education is key, and the best educators have empathy and understanding.
It's an uphill struggle trying to defend and protect the wildlife and environment that I knew in my youth; it is, to quote the playwright Tony Kushner, "a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we've left behind, and dreaming ahead".
But do let's dream ahead. Today's hope will make tomorrow a better day.
And we are making progress.
Yesterday's email from Natural England is good.
In fact it's really good.
It's a bit of light.
And it's so far removed from the long silences and dismissive responses I used to get from them when I started the campaign.
Please be assured that our campaign is working.
Together we have stopped local Starling culls, we have largely ended the supply of Black-headed Gull eggs to restaurants (at least for this year), and we have saved many urban gulls from being lethally 'controlled'.
Now I am hopeful we will see an end to Cormorant culling too.
But that's just the start, because I believe that we have also fundamentally changed the way Natural England approaches each and every licence application. This means that our wild birds are safer now than they were before.
We have gained the respect of Natural England, who now listen to our suggestions and actively engage with us.
Perhaps most of all, we have increased public awareness of the plight of our wild birds.
Because ultimately the future of our natural environment will depend not on governments but on wider public perception and enlightenment.
Education and empathy.
All of that is why our campaign continues.
On behalf of the birds, thank you.
* Radical overhaul of Cormorant cull licences is being considered by Natural England
* Proposals to scale back culling will be discussed
* Ongoing licensing reforms could be good news for the iconic species
A radical plan to save Cormorants from controversial mass culling is being considered by Natural England.
I put forward the plan following a request from Natural England in which they asked me, and readers of my blog, for suggestions on how to reform the lethal control licences.
The government agency has approved the annual culling of thousands of the iconic birds for many years, on behalf of inland fisheries and angling clubs, who complain about the birds eating fish.
I initially raised concerns with Natural England after I was contacted by a number of people who had been deeply shocked by the sheer number of Cormorants being killed each year.
(The statistics are now published annually in full, for public scrutiny, a direct result of pressure from our campaign).
In response Natural England told me they would be interested to hear both my suggestions, and those of my readers, about ways to improve the current system.
So, after great feedback from followers and supporters of my blog and campaign, I have put together a plan to overhaul the Cormorant licences.
I'll come to the details in a moment.
Anglers against "disgusting practice" of culling
Interestingly, I was also contacted by keen anglers who are strongly opposed to the culling of Cormorants in the name of their hobby.
One told me "I have been a keen angler since the 1950s and have never met anyone who would support the slaughter of any seabirds. This disgusting practice must be stopped, not licensed."
So if it's not the anglers themselves backing the Cormorant culls then who is it?
Presumably the owners of the fisheries who invest heavily in (over?)stocking their reservoirs, thus attracting Cormorants which, naturally enough, consume some fish - though only around 500g each per day.
For the owners of these fisheries, of course, maximising profits is everything - but the government too rakes in huge income from fishing licences....
Over 1 million (1,090,068) fishing licences were sold to anglers between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021, generating £24,583,342 in income.
Lots of vested interests then in keeping profits up and fisheries happy.
But is it at the expense of wild birds....?
Cormorants in noticeable decline?
There are lots of reasons why I'm worried about the majestic Cormorant.
Although not officially of conservation concern, it is my belief that the species' population in the UK is approaching a critical point. Many people have told me they hardly see any of the birds now, compared to just a few years ago when they were a much more common sight.
There appears to be a very noticeable decline.
Indeed, it's a trend that may be reflected across much of Europe too. According to the European Commission in 2020, "In the last years there have been signs that numbers are in decline in several of the core breeding areas."
The population stats are complicated by the fact that there are two different sub species of Cormorant living in Europe and the UK; we really need to be mindful of this, because it would seem the population status of each can differ dramatically and might perhaps lead to a misinterpretation and inaccurate overestimates of the actual population status.
With Natural England clearly willing to listen to our concerns, I have put forward a plan to save Cormorants from the culls.
'5 Point' Plan
Point one: is that ideally we want to see a complete end to mass culling of Cormorants.
It's that simple.
Killing a species because it impacts on a hobby or an industry's profits is not reasonable and cannot be justified on those grounds alone.
So point one, overriding all the other points, would be to stop issuing licences that enable the culling to continue.
That said, we live in the real world.... I might be an idealist at heart but when it comes to dealing with government, I know that idealism doesn't cut it.
So, with that in mind, I would begin with a major overhaul of the current approach to licensing. This would include tightening up eligibility requirements for applicants, making it more difficult to obtain a licence, and especially ensuring better monitoring of both the actions carried out and of the persons permitted to shoot the birds.
Which brings us to...
Point 2: Independent volunteer monitors should be present at each cull (if Natural England can't effectively monitor the licences then perhaps the public can...)
Point 3: Any individual who obtains a licence is required to post a notice in a public place stating their intention to shoot Cormorants on a given date, ahead of the day of culling.
(Note: I have already suggested to Natural England that there should be public notices on display ahead of any proposed bird culls, especially in public places such as parks, when in the name of 'public health and safety'.
There was much general support for this idea when I proposed it in response to the destruction of Mallard, Coot and Moorhen eggs, a couple of years ago.
People do want to be made aware of these activities, and have a voice in local decision making).
Point 4: Licence holders should upload date stamped photographic evidence of birds killed, within 24 hours of the action being taken.
This may not 'prove' the extent of the action taken but is another requirement that would encourage discipline.
Point 5: Currently, it seems that a minority of those shooting Cormorants may be lacking integrity and might even be acting illegally.
In the light of alleged incidences of inexperienced and/or irresponsible persons being employed to shoot the birds, Natural England should have a verified list of persons in different parts of the country whom they could task, where deemed necessary, to carry out any shooting permitted under the licences.
If a licence holder were to employ an individual directly, then Natural England should (of course) confirm that the stated individual has a valid gun licence - in this case all lethal control licences should be passed to the relevant authority, perhaps the police, for verification.
Once approved, no other persons can be subsequently added to the licence.
Any amendments would void the licence and prevent renewals.
(I would suggest too that fines should be imposed for proven misuse of the licence).
Proposals will be discussed and considered
Natural England have already responded positively to our initial proposals and have told me that the suggestions will be discussed.
"We’ve got a comprehensive programme of licensing reform ongoing at the moment so we could programme some changes in." they told me, adding that "given some of the changes proposed, we may need to consult and/or seek the views of stakeholders too (e.g. Angling Trust) so we might not be able to make these immediately which I am sure you will understand."
They told me that "the suggestions will be considered and we will update in due course."
Those are very promising words from Natural England.
Knowing that we have already influenced policy on similar licensing matters (the majority withdrawal of licences to collect gull eggs for human consumption, for example), I feel confident that we will see the implementation of new licensing regulations benefitting Cormorants too.
We must save these beautiful birds from a steep and potentially irreversible decline.
I would like to see the end of Cormorant culls and increased protection for this iconic species.
I think we might achieve it.
Special thanks to all those who contributed ideas, too many of you to mention by name - but each and every one very much appreciated.
In particular I would like to thank the many people who wrote constructive comments on my blog (HERE), on Change.org (HERE) and the good people who sent me direct messages too.
It's heartening to know that compassion and kindness are alive and well out there, along with a generous amount of common sense.
You will see that several of your comments and suggestions form part of the proposals I've put forward to Natural England, and everyone can be justifiably proud of a real team effort that will (hopefully) bring more protection for our wild birds.
Thank you for your support.
I'll be back in touch when I have heard again from Natural England.
* Licences issued to cull more than 11,000 Cormorants in past 5 years
* Suggestions that illegal culling may be taking place
* Many more birds may have been shot than licences allow
* Natural England: "we are reliant on honest declarations"
"None of the people I have ever encountered who had licences to shoot Cormorants could count..." (quote from online 'country sports' forum)
Natural England has admitted that their Cormorant culling licences rely on the honesty and integrity of applicants - but there are suggestions that some of those employed to shoot the birds might be killing many more than their legal limit.
A number of readers have asked me to look at the licences that Natural England approves annually, enabling the culling of Cormorants, so I did some research and discussed the matter with Natural England's head of wildlife licensing.
It's a worrying situation and I believe there are signs that the licences may have been misused.
I've discovered that some of the people entrusted with shooting Cormorants may be doing so unlawfully, outside of the strict stipulations of Natural England's licences, including an example of a licence holder who was officially permitted to kill 5 Cormorants but allegedly ended up culling 100 birds before they 'sank out of sight'.
Generally these licences are issued to angling clubs and inland fisheries who say that Cormorants pose a serious threat to their fish stocks.
At least 11,000 Cormorants were licensed to be culled during the past five years, in England alone.
I believe that this level of killing could adversely affect the sustainability of the Cormorant population (a mere 9,000 breeding pairs in the whole of the UK, swelled by around 40,000 winter migrants).
It's a thorny issue for the government though, as anglers provide a lucrative income stream for Defra, who sell fishing licences at up to £82 each. With an estimated 95,000 anglers in England alone, this amounts to significant revenue.
Most anglers are no doubt responsible hobbyists, many might even love Cormorants as much as the rest of us, but there remains an element for whom the birds are considered a 'pest'.
Lack of monitoring - and Natural England seem concerned....
But - it is the lack of monitoring around the licences that worries me most.
And, having discussed the matter with Natural England, I'm sensing that they might have their own concerns over the Cormorant culls.
Indications of licence abuse
On a public forum of one of the major 'country sports' websites with 48,000 users, there are open discussions about killing more than the maximum quota of Cormorants permitted under the licences.
There is no attempt to hide the fact that some members of the angling and/or shooting community hold these magnificent birds in contempt and would happily despatch as many as they could, given the chance.
Indeed there are reasons to believe that many more of the birds are indeed shot each year than the legally permitted number, potentially leaving the Cormorants vulnerable to unregulated hunting.
One contributor to the forum said, "None of the people I have ever encountered who had licences to shoot Cormorants could count..."
Another wrote glibly "I don't know any anglers who would give you grief for shooting a few extra 'black death'..."
And another, "if I were asked to carry out such work,I would go really early and shoot as many as I could..."
Worryingly, a novice Cormorant killer wrote and asked for advice on how best to shoot the birds. He or she had been added to a licence issued by Natural England, had no experience at all, yet was entrusted with killing these magnificent birds.
There's something very wrong here.
Cormorant culling cannot be adequately monitored.
And if we cannot trust those with licences to act responsibly then who knows how many birds are actually being shot?
The situation is alarming and needs urgent attention.
The questions I put to Natural England
So I asked Natural England to shed some light on what processes they have in place to monitor the system.
Though they are very willing to discuss the matter with me, I found their response somewhat unsettling, as they are clearly unable to monitor the large number of licences that they issue.
Indeed they have asked me and my readers for suggestions as to how they can improve the system for issuing and monitoring Cormorant cull licences.
Which I think illustrates that they themselves don't know how to adequately control it.
Natural England 'reliant on honest declarations'
Describing the application process, Natural England told me that they require applicants to declare any convictions for wildlife crimes by ticking a box and providing details, but they freely admit that they are "reliant on the honest declarations from licence applicants." They told me that they would be keen to hear from me, or my readers, if there is any different information we think they should capture as part of the application or renewal process and added "We could consider this as part of our reform/improvement work."
Natural England offer to discuss proposals
While I strongly emphasise that I remain entirely against any culling of Cormorants, I doubt that Natural England are anywhere near that point, and so I have suggested to them that the numbers of cormorants culled at least needs to be reduced significantly, as a matter of urgency.
With that in mind, I also indicated that Natural England needs to have a verified list of persons in different parts of the country who they could employ, where they deemed necessary, to carry out any shooting permitted by the licences, rather than allow the licence holders themselves the freedom to add people to the licence (perhaps enabling those with limited or no qualifications to carry out the culling).
I'm pleased to report that Natural England have told me that both of these points will be discussed with their improvements team.
I hope the changes will be implemented going forward.
Collaboration with Angling Trust
Natural England's Head of Wildlife Licensing Service told me "I concede NE [Natural England] is exposed to the honesty and integrity of applicants for the cormorant licence....we also collaborate with the Angling Trust to ensure that their members are aware of their duties and, in particular, non-lethal measures are used fully (even if they have a licence to shoot)."
He added "It is not possible for NE to be everywhere at every moment on every licence. That’s true of all our licensing work. Therefore, I would be very keen to hear your views on how NE might access data intelligence to monitor cormorant licensing better. Intelligence and information from members of the public etc is critical in helping NE with its compliance/enforcement activity."
Natural England reiterated that they would be happy to hear our recommendations for improvements to the system. If implemented, they said "we could do this in collaboration with the Angling Trust to aid their smooth introduction."
It's a generous offer from Natural England, although one that doesn't instill confidence in the current process as it stands.
In addition to the points I've put forward already, please let me have any ideas you have too and I will pass the information on for consideration.
As you know, our campaign has already been able to influence decision making at the highest level and will continue to do so.
It's disheartening to realise time and again that human mentality has not changed much since the days of killing Dodos, Great Auks and Passenger Pigeons. People may protest that 'it's not the same thing' - but it is, it really is.
So many animals gone forever.
Callous killing to satisfy the whims of humankind must be stopped, or we will surely lose more and more species.
And that is not okay.
Thanks, as always for your support and encouragement.
* Shocking 99% decline in Lesser Black-backed gulls at Suffolk coastal site
* The amber-listed gull is especially vulnerable to collision with offshore wind turbines
* Plans to further expand industrial wind projects in the area could prove disastrous for birds
A shocking 99% decline in the population of Lesser Black-backed gulls raises serious questions over the impact of industrial wind farm development in the North Sea.
Huge wind farms nearby....
The alarming reduction in the numbers of breeding birds at Suffolk's Orford Ness coastal reserve has been noticed over several years, and so is probably the result of many contributing factors - but we cannot ignore the fact that two vast areas of wind turbines lie just off the coast.
Massive industrial wind turbines have been operating in the vicinity since the Greater Gabbard wind farm was completed back in 2012, joined by the Galloper wind farm's array of 56 huge turbines in 2018.
With plans announced for even more industrial wind development in the area, the seas off the Suffolk coast could soon prove to be deadly for many species.
"Not clear" why numbers dropped so dramatically
The National Trust which manages the Orford Ness reserve told the East Anglian Daily Times that "In recent years we’ve seen [LBB Gull] numbers dwindle even further, which means we need to do more to protect them.”
They said that "it's not clear why numbers dropped so dramatically", pointing out that disturbance from visitors to the site is 'almost certainly' one cause.
Species especially vulnerable to turbine collisions
It has been well established that Lesser Black-backed gulls are especially vulnerable to collision with wind turbines. A 2019 study by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) used GPS tracking to show that the species is particularly at risk from turbine blades during migration and in winter months.
Key data 'ignored' in some planning assessments
A recent study by the Zoological Society of London, focusing on wind farm development off the Welsh coast, pointed out the UK has some of the best seabird monitoring anywhere in the world, but lamented that "key data is being ignored during offshore windfarm planning assessments."
Project to protect remaining birds........ funded by wind farm
Now, as the local Orford Ness LBB gull population has dwindled to just 210 breeding pairs, a project has finally been initiated, aimed at protecting the remaining birds.
Two 'gull officers' have been appointed to monitor the site and 'raise awareness' among the local community in an attempt to limit human encroachment on the gulls' territory.
The cynical among us might feel uncomfortable that these 'gull officer' positions have been funded by.... the Galloper Offshore Wind Farm.
It seems a little ironic that the wind industry is financing the project, rather than the National Trust which manages the site.
Catastrophic threat to sea birds
Raising awareness of the gulls' decline is welcome, but I fear that the project is a drop in the ocean and will do little to protect the gulls from the obvious and potentially catastrophic threat lurking offshore.
With the frenzied expansion of the wind industry in Britain's seas, we must acknowledge that the tragic decline in seabirds might not be caused solely by local environmental effects - but also by direct impact, quite literally, from the huge wind turbines that continue to proliferate around our coasts.
A two year bird survey programme, carried out as part of Galloper Wind Farm's marine licence obligations, will conclude in June 2022 and report to the Government's Marine Management Organisation.
I don't know if the results of these surveys will be made public, but if so then it will be interesting to see how the wind farm has affected bird populations since its operations began.
Meanwhile we can only hope that the Orford Ness gull project will not only raise local awareness, but also highlight the real plight of birds being decimated at sea by the expanding presence of the offshore wind industry.
Following my update last week about the Black-headed gull eggs, this is just a quick post to let you know that Natural England's wildlife licensing data has now been published on the gov.uk website HERE
The bird control data file itself is directly downloadable by clicking HERE
Unfortunately it is a fairly daunting document as it includes all data since 2014; I am told by Natural England that this is so that we can compare 2021 data with previous years - but you may have to have some knowledge of spreadsheets to properly analyse the figures.
Nevertheless it's there, and available for public scrutiny, which is what we want.
So very well done everyone! People power works.
We now have access to several years of complete licensing data, and all thanks to our campaign.
We really are making a difference. And it really is saving our wild birds.
Our voices are being heard and I know Natural England is listening.
There is much work still to do - and of course our campaign continues!
I'll be continuing to examine the figures, so please let me know if you see areas of concern and I will ask Natural England for clarification.
Thanks again, very sincerely, for your support.
* Natural England halts licensing for Black-headed gull eggs over sustainability concerns.
* Thousands of eggs had been traditionally sold each spring through 'fine dining' establishments.
* Decision to halt 'abhorrent' trade in Hampshire will secure the survival of thousands of amber-listed gulls.
Natural England has confirmed to me today that they will not be issuing any licences for the collection of Black-headed gull eggs this year in Hampshire, the primary area that has traditionally been at the centre of the controversial activity.
Each Spring, the eggs of this amber listed species are collected in their thousands to supply the fine dining trade, under licences issued by Natural England.
But following an evidence review last year, together with pressure from our campaign, it has been decided that the activity was 'no longer sustainable' in the county and that damage to protected areas could not be ruled out, should it continue.
Off The Menu
Hampshire has long been the focus of the abhorrent trade in amber-listed gull eggs, with the county supplying the bulk of eggs to high end restaurants and gourmet grocery stores across the UK.
This latest development means that they should be off most menus, for the time being at least.
Previous licence holders will retain their right to apply for the licences in future but Natural England told me that applications will be assessed annually to reflect the latest evidence.
Yorkshire Licences Remain In Place, For Now
Licences for the taking of gull eggs are still currently issued, in very limited numbers, to individuals in North Yorkshire - the only other area where the practice has traditionally taken place - but the decision to stop all egg collecting in Hampshire will secure the survival of thousands of gulls.
Appalling Trade Coming To An End?
It finally looks like the appalling trade in gull eggs for human consumption might be coming to an end but we must keep up the pressure and keep a close watch on the Yorkshire licences that still remain in place for now....
I hope that this anachronistic practice will soon be a thing of the past.
A huge success for our campaign, and for common sense.
Thank you everyone.
p.s. I've been told that the full licensing data will now be published on the gov.uk website on 30th March, a little later than expected.
- amber + red listed species still being lethally controlled
- 1000's gull eggs sold for 'gourmet' food trade
- licences to destroy 1000's wild bird's nests + eggs
Natural England have sent me the detailed stats for the bird control licences they issued last year (there will be a delay before they publish the figures on the government website, I'm told this is pencilled in for the 21st of this month).
The data is depressing, there are hundreds of licences enabling the lethal control of large numbers of birds - including some red listed species.
Depending on one's point of view, some of the data might be subjective, but personally I would like to see a very significant reduction in the number of licences that are still issued each year and a complete halt to the lethal control of any red listed species.
Anyway, I've had a first look through the data for 2021 so this update is just to let you know my initial thoughts.
Waterfowl Egg Destruction
Licences were approved for the destruction of thousands of eggs of species such as Moorhen, Coot and Mallard, for reasons including 'preventing the spread of disease', with a staggering 1,100 eggs on just one licence alone, issued to an applicant in Gloucestershire.
As in previous years, amber-listed Greylag Geese seem to be a particular casualty of the licensing system again during 2021, with hundreds of the birds on the kill list and hundreds more of their eggs licenced for destruction, reasons ranging from 'preserving public health and safety' to 'preventing serious damage to crops'. The unfortunate Greylag is also a 'quarry species' and so a target for hunters who are permitted to shoot the birds during the open season. This shows the strange anomaly that can exist in the world of (so-called) conservation, where a species of concern can still be a target for both government sanctioned culls and recreational killing.
Killing Endangered Species for Air Safety
Air safety remains another controversial reason for the lethal control of our wild birds. Natural England still issues licences to shoot several endangered species, including Curlew, in order to preserve air safety, this in spite of their much publicised, somewhat self-congratulatory, pilot scheme through which they removed a few Curlew eggs from an airfield to hatch and rear elsewhere.
Many other species are affected by these licences too. Kestrel, Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Buzzard, Red Kite, Starling, Herring Gull, and more, all appear in the latest data.
Clearly there's a specific conflict here between human activity and nature but it brings into sharp focus the ecological disaster we face if we don't find better ways to co-exist with the natural world - and fast.
Grotesque 'Gourmet' Trade in Gull Eggs
One of my main concerns remains the grotesque trade in Black-headed gull eggs.
The Black-headed gull is another amber-listed species, its numbers are declining.
Yet several thousand eggs of Black-headed gulls are collected each year to supply the gourmet dining trade, under licences granted by Natural England.
This anachronistic and abhorrent practice has no place in the 21st century.
These egg collecting licences are based on "bequeathed rights" and appear to be issued as a matter of course each year, something I have been challenging as part of the campaign.
I have raised the matter with Natural England on a number of occasions and was told at the end of 2021 that, following a meeting with stakeholders, 'something public' would be announced regarding these particularly controversial licences in the new year.
However I have since been informed that such an announcement is now unlikely to happen.
My hunch is that nothing much has changed, otherwise you'd imagine they'd be keen to share an update.
That said, in the absence of an official public announcement, Natural England told me they will be happy to share something with me personally on this matter in due course, so I'll let you know...
Incidentally, the RSPB have raised concerns about this dubious trade in gull eggs; but in 2020 they told the Telegraph "we don’t know how many eggs each licence allows, so we don’t know the scale of the problem."
This statement was really quite ignorant because, thanks to our campaign, the data has been published since 2019 and clearly details the numbers in black and white.
It seems the RSPB don't follow our campaign and are therefore missing important information that might just help them with their work....
Meanwhile the trade appears to be continuing unchallenged, enabled and facilitated by the licences.
Some Better News
A glimmer of hope is that Natural England has scaled back the number of Herring gulls covered by their licences. This, I believe, is due to pressure from our campaign.
But I continue to maintain that no licences at all should be issued for red listed species.
Well, I've only taken a fairly quick look through the data at this stage. I'll carry on trawling through it.
Hopefully when the data is published on the government website you will all take a look too and highlight any particular areas of concern.
Meanwhile, thanks everyone for your continued support.
Spring is in the air and the birds are still singing.... so enjoy the lengthening days and I'll be in touch soon.
And please keep sharing the petition: HERE
If you like what I write about, please consider showing your support by buying me a virtual coffee!
Click the button below! Thanks :)