As we approach winter and the close of this very strange year, I thought I'd just assess where we are up to, campaign-wise.
Since my last update there hasn't been much to report and we now await the publication of Natural England's licence data for 2020 which should be available in March 2021. That will prove whether Natural England have taken on board our suggestions and cut down on the number of licences they issued.
Signs are good....
The signs are good, though not yet validated.
In his recent blog post, David Slater, Natural England's Director for Wildlife Licensing & Enforcement Cases, points out that despite high demand for bird control licences, in some situations at least, fewer licences were actually granted.
For example, Natural England approved 'very few' individual conservation licence applications for rural herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls (note the reference to 'rural' gulls).
We will be able to see just how few 'very few' means when the data is published.
Meanwhile he says that "We are currently analysing the urban gull survey that took place this year to refine our gull licensing approach in the built environment".
Well, back in June I welcomed the news that Natural England was finally acknowledging a steep decline in gull populations, though I saw no sense in protecting only 'rural' gull populations while allowing the persecution of urban gulls. It seemed typical of the cockeyed 'logic' we had come to see from Natural England, who I suggested, had themselves been complicit in the sharp decline of some types of gull, to the extent that the Herring Gull for example was now on the red list of threatened species.
Perhaps this plan to 'refine the gull licensing approach' to include urban gulls shows that they listened. But why does it take this organisation so long to notice the patently obvious? It's very frustrating.
An official post from DEFRA on the government website says that individual licensing to control herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls "will require strong evidence of proportionality in order to ensure that there is no detrimental effect on overall populations".
As for other species, well it will be a matter of waiting to see the figures. I'm cautiously optimistic, and I have no doubt that any reduction in the numbers of licences that Natural England issued in 2020 would be largely as a result of our campaign.
But let's not pat ourselves on the back just yet.....
Populations of countryside birds have plummeted
Meanwhile a report from DEFRA, published this month suggests that populations of some birds, especially those referred to as 'farmland birds' and 'woodland birds' have plummeted in recent years. To most of us this is no surprise, with the removal of hedgerows and the industrialisation of our countryside. Nevertheless it makes for depressing reading.
So, if we find that Natural England is indeed listening to public concerns over its activities and issuing fewer licences then it is of course great news for the birds, and for our campaign.
DEFRA: facilitating the casual killing of wild birds?
But our attention must then turn to DEFRA themselves who dramatically took over the general licences last year (from Natural England) after a very public pantomime that highlighted the problems with both organisations.
We can take the Jay as an example of just how disorganised the whole sorry system of bird control licensing is in England.
As Dr Mark Avery recently reported on his blog, while Natural England remain responsible for the licensing of Jay control on SSSI sites (sites of special scientific interest), they claim to have issued very few licences to control this species. Which is great..... until we see that DEFRA have included the Jay in general licences from January 2021, meaning in essence that (outside of SSSI and a few other sites) any number can be killed - and without having to formally apply for a licence (general licences require no formal application - see here).
Dr Avery concludes therefore that "the DEFRA general licence ‘authorises’ unlimited, countrywide, Jay-killing..."
So, there is much to be sorted out and clarified. Perhaps the easiest solution would be to remove the task of wildlife licensing entirely from Natural England and DEFRA, both of which have failed to prove themselves capable of the job.
It seems progress is being made, albeit very slowly, at Natural England, but we have to maintain a careful watch over its activities - together with those of DEFRA, lest they morph into nothing more than facilitators enabling the mindless killing of our wild birds.
Please keep sharing our petition, click HERE
If you appreciate what I write about, please consider showing your support by buying me a virtual coffee!
Click the button below! Thanks :)