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.
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