2019 Wild Justice Newsletter 14

Wild Justice have put an email out this evening asking their subscribers to respond to DEFRA on the general licence consultation. Below is the email newsletter (I hope it is below as the first time I sent it it wasn’t..) 

Kind regards,

Jimmy Robinson 

Hi! The purpose of this newsletter is to brief you on how you could respond to the DEFRA consultation on general licences in England. The consultation was caused by the Wild Justice legal challenge of general licences back in the spring. The DEFRA consultation closes on Thursday this week, 5 December. Here is the link to the consultation. If you do respond to the consultation, then you can write whatever you like as an individual. However, the consultation is closely structured and it is clear that DEFRA is looking for views, and the evidence behind those views, in a structured manner.  Wild Justice will be responding as an organisation and we have met with DEFRA officials and legal advisors to explain our position on the science and legal matters underlying this consultation already.  If you wish to respond to the consultation then you should allow at least half an hour to work your way through it. The consultation document is long and somewhat complex.  It is made up of the following sections: Start – personal detailsA – general licences for the purposes of protecting flora and faunaB – general licences for the purposes of protecting public health/safetyC – general licences for the purposes of protecting livestock/crops from serious damageD – alternatives to lethal controlE – record keepingF – anything else you’d like to say Here are paragraphs that you might find helpful to use or modify as you work through the consultation document, section by section. A1 (Carrion Crow)Conserving plants  – I know of no conservation organisation which supports Carrion Crow control for the purpose of conserving plants. If there is any such case it must be rare and should be dealt with by application for a specific licence for a specific place and issue providing evidence of impact and non-lethal measures taken already. Conserving wild fauna other than birds  – I know of no conservation organisation which supports Carrion Crow control for the purpose of conserving other animals. If there is any such case it must be rare and should be dealt with by application for a specific licence for a specific place and issue providing evidence of impact and non-lethal measures taken already. Conserving wild birds – the impacts of Carrion Crows on species of conservation concern are exaggerated by the game-shooting industry. In their response to the initial consultation, the GWCT conflated evidence for ‘predation effects’ with evidence for ‘predation impacts by species listed on the general licences’ – most of the impacts they discussed were mammalian impacts especially foxes and are therefore irrelevant to this consultation.  Many other suggested impacts of ‘corvids’ were almost certainly impacts of Carrion Crows (and not of Magpies, Jackdaws, Rooks or Jays) which is why, on balance, Carrion Crow might be a species which could remain on a general licence. See GWCT response here https://www.gwct.org.uk/media/996902/Defra-consultation-into-General-Licences-May-2019.pdf and Wild Justice scientific critique of it here https://wildjustice.org.uk/general/thank-you-gwct/ However, the bird species of conservation concern which are affected at a population level by Carrion Crows are few and geographically restricted. Curlew is possibly one such species affected although the impacts of land use and of predation by foxes are far, far higher than Carrion Crow predation.  A general licence allowing lethal control of Carrion Crows at any time of year (rather than in and just before the breeding season, for example February-June) and in any location (eg in counties where Curlew do not nest or in sites miles from the nearest nesting Curlew) is not warranted. If Curlew is the clearest species of conservation concern that might benefit from lethal Carrion Crow control the it also exemplifies the legal, scientific and practical difficulties in framing such a general licence just for Curlew. This approach would be a very long way from the current system and DEFRA might feel that requiring applicants to seek specific licences for such control would be more appropriate. That, as I understand it, would not cause conservation organisations who currently moderately use the general licences any trouble at all and it would cut down the indiscriminate killing of birds for no clear of justified purpose.  There are a few other species (perhaps Lapwing, perhaps Grey Partridge, perhaps locally a few others) where lethal control of Carrion Crows is of conservation benefit. Any new general licence issued for the purposes of conserving wild birds must take these limited species and their limited distribution into full account – that will be a considerable challenge.  A3 (Jay)I know of no studies demonstrating that Jays cause nature conservation problems. I know of no land owning nature conservation organisation that kills Jays for conservation (or any other) purposes. If there are any rare instances where Jays cause problems for nature conservation interests then application in writing for specific licences to deal with specific issues would be a perfectly adequate remedy. Charging for making a licence application would be a perfectly reasonable response to land managers who wish to be licensed to carry out an otherwise unlawful action. In their response to the initial consultation the GWCT conflated evidence for ‘predation effects’ with evidence for ‘predation impacts by species listed on the general licences’ – most of the impacts they discussed were mammalian impacts especially foxes and are therefore irrelevant to this consultation.  Many other suggested impacts of ‘corvids’ were almost certainly impacts of Carrion Crows (and not of Magpies, Jackdaws, Rooks or Jays) and GWCT advanced no strong evidence for the need for Jays to be listed on a general licence.  See GWCT response here https://www.gwct.org.uk/media/996902/Defra-consultation-into-General-Licences-May-2019.pdf and Wild Justice scientific critique of it here https://wildjustice.org.uk/general/thank-you-gwct/ Jays should not be listed on a general licence for the purpose of nature conservation as the science does not remotely support such a listing. (Similar wording could also then be used in Section A3 for Magpie, Jackdaw and Rook.) B3 (Jay)Neither DEFRA nor I know how many Jays have been killed, allegedly for this purpose.  My guess is very few and the onus is on DEFRA to provide the evidence for widespread, regular and common need not me to provide evidence from a current licensing system that collects no data.  Any cases should be dealt with by application for specific licences to deal with specific issues at a specific site after non-lethal methods have been tested. Charging for making a licence application would be a perfectly reasonable response to land managers who wish to be licensed to carry out an otherwise unlawful action. (Similar wording could then be used in Section B3 for Carrion Crow, Magpie, Jackdaw and Rook too.). C1 (Carrion Crow)I recognise that Carrion Crows do occasionally attack livestock, particularly newly born lambs (and as I understand it pigs and some poultry (maybe)). The evidence quoted by Natural England in their licence determination document for GL26 relies largely on Houston 1977 for impact even though this was a study carried out in Scotland (not England) which mainly looked at Hooded Crow (not Carrion Crow) and is over four decades old https://wildjustice.org.uk/general/evidence-base-for-gl26-is-threadbare/ Houston showed that most cases of Carrion Crows attacking lambs (and this is dealing with an upland situation not lowland farms) were after the lamb had died, or of lambs that were dying and where the crow attack would have caused distress and pain but was not the cause of death.  These are essentially issues of sheep husbandry not wildlife damage.However, I accept that a general licence might be justified for these cases but this should be strictly prescribed to prevent misuse. For example the general licence for killing Carrion Crows to protect sheep should specify clearly the non-lethal methods that must be employed and frequent visiting of livestock should be a large part of this.  Any licence should only be valid during the months of February-April inclusive- the main outdoor lambing season.No general licence should be issued to authorise lethal control of Carrion Crows to protect Pheasants in captivity or release pens. At the time of being reared in captivity then Pheasants should be as safe as other domestic poultry – any exceptions should be dealt with by application for a specific licence. Once in unroofed release pens then Pheasants should take their chances with native predators – my understanding is that well-grown healthy Pheasants (or partridge) poults suffer little if any predation from any corvid species.  Any serious cases should be dealt with through a specific licence application in writing with full justification of need. Killing Carrion Crows to protect Pheasants  should not be the subject of any general licence.  C3 (Carrion Crow):I have accepted the need for appropriate but more constrained and targeted general licences to control attacks by Carrion Crows on livestock (above).  These should not, as general licences, be available to protect non-native gamebirds in proper indoor rearing pens (specific licences could be applied for) and not at all to protect birds in release pens without roofs. All birds are protected by law. DEFRA’s job is to limit killing of all birds to those circumstances where there is serious damage to crops , livestock etc. and where non-lethal methods have been tried and failed.  The starting point has to be that specific licences are an adequate way to deal with specific serious issues at specific sites.  The next stage up would be highly prescribed general licences, specific for particular problems, which indicate non-lethal measures needed and then limit the application of the general licence temporally and spatially.  I understand that this is challenging but then, so it should be to limit casual killing of protected wildlife.  Many of the categories in this list are laughably inappropriate (eg in this case livestock, fisheries and inland waters).  DEFRA needs to look carefully at the evidence brought forward for any need for a general licence that cannot be met by application of specific licences. C3 For other species eg Magpie, Jackdaw and Jay:All birds are protected by law. DEFRA’s job is to limit killing of all birds to those circumstances where there is serious damage to crops , livestock etc. and where non-lethal methods have been tried and failed.  The starting point has to be that specific licences are an adequate way to deal with specific serious issues at specific sites.  The next stage up would be highly prescribed general licences, specific for particular problems, which indicate non-lethal measures needed and then limit the application of the general licence temporally and spatially.  I understand that this is challenging but then, so it should be to limit casual killing of protected wildlife.  Many of the categories in this list are laughably inappropriate (eg in this case livestock, fisheries and fruit).  DEFRA needs to look carefully at the evidence brought forward for any need for a general licence that cannot be met by application of specific licences. F1Communications – the existing and previous general licences were not well understood by users.  What steps will DEFRA take to publicise the legal requirements of new licences? Enforcement – what steps does DEFRA intend to take to enforce the application of any general licences? Moving much of the authorisation of lethal killing to a specific licensing system by postal application would reduce the need for this. Monitoring – DEFRA hasn’t got the faintest idea how many birds are killed, for what purposes, under the past and existing general licences, nor by what classes and professions of people. What steps will DEFRA take to rectify this? And what plans to publicise the results? F2Users of general licences do not have to demonstrate any bird identification skills whatsoever. Many cannot tell a Rook from  Carrion Crow, or even from a Jackdaw.  The issuing of general licences under these circumstances is highly questionable.  Well, there you go!  That shows the line that Wild Justice takes.  We have not commented on all species (not, for example, on Wood Pigeon) and have restricted our comments to corvid species, especially with respect to protection of flora and fauna.  We want to see considerable tightening of the applicability of general licences and a move towards requiring those who wish to use lethal control to have to seek individual specific licences and provide the evidence to justify their application. We do not believe that this will inconvenience many people and certainly not farmers. Remember, your response can say whatever you like but the closing date for completed responses is Thursday this week – 5 December.  That’s it for now. Thank you for your support. Wild Justice (Directors: Mark Avery, Chris Packham and Ruth Tingay).

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