In a surprise announcement today (23/4), Natural England have revoked general licences covering 16 species of birds, including Crows, Pigeons, Jays and Canada Geese.
This follows a legal challenge brought by the Wild Justice organisation set up by Chris Packham, Mark Avery and Ruth Tingay.
The news means that anybody wanting to kill these species will now have to apply for a licence through Natural England, whereas before the new rules they were allowed to kill an unspecified number of the birds under the general licence - without having to apply for permission.
The new law does not directly affect the species we are fighting for through our petition, although it is certainly good news for the 16 species which are now legally protected under licence.
Pressure from our petition
But, according to FieldSports News, a source from Natural England is quoted as saying that "the reason for the decision stems from recent media reports about licences issued to kill songbirds...." This certainly appears to suggest that our petition has at least partly fuelled this latest change in policy - which is great news!
There appears to be some confusion within the agency itself about today's announcement, the unnamed source also suggests that general licences will be reinstated soon, but it seems highly unlikely that they will revert to the previously unregulated versions.
Those affected by the new rules are livid of course.
Many hunters, pest controllers and others who shoot birds for a living (or pleasure) have taken to social media to vent their anger. No longer will they have carte blanche to kill these 16 species, now they will have to apply for a licence - as is already the case for most other birds - which means that potentially, and hopefully, millions of birds will be saved from the bullets of some over enthusiastic 'conservationists' .
Another positive outcome from all this is that it appears the horrific Larsen traps, employed to catch corvids and other species, will also be outlawed as a result of the action - though this and other matters are still subject to clarification.
NE Chair, Tony Juniper distances himself from decision
Bizarrely, on his first working day as the newly appointed chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper publicly distanced himself from his own agency's decision, claiming that this was 'not Natural England's initiative'.
Answering criticism from angry protesters on social media, he tweeted "We will try to find a solution, but this is not our initiative - certainly is not one of mine."
Amid the confusion and mixed messages we are getting over this development, it is clear that we must now continue to push for tighter regulation in granting licences for all birds, together with more effective monitoring of licences issued.
We have already seen a major move towards more transparency within the agency thanks directly to our petition - Natural England's Director of Operations, James Diamond, has personally assured me that full details of all licences will be published annually beginning this year. This will presumably now include details of individual licences issued for the additional 16 species, which will tell us for the first time just how many of these birds are being shot.
A statement from Natural England says that today's news "...is the first stage of a planned review of general and class licences, which will be completed this year."
So let's wait and see exactly what that means.
Please keep sharing the petition. With today's win for Wild Justice and the continued pressure from our petition, it seems that major changes are indeed afoot at Natural England....
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