A new General Licence for controlling woodpigeons to prevent serious damage to crops has been condemned by farmers as 'appalling'.
The new licence (numbered GL31) can only be used by people growing crops or by those acting on their behalf.
It requires farmers, landowners and gamekeepers to be able to show the police or Natural England if asked what type of crop they are protecting, what alternative non-lethal methods of preventing pigeon damage have been used and continue to be used (or why they have not been used).
The licence also demands what measures have been and are being taken to minimise losses due to other species and causes.
Issued by Natural England at 8pm on Friday 3 May, the licence has been criticised for being 'vastly more restrictive' than the old General Licence (GL04) which it replaces, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) says.
Chairman Liam Bell said: “NE made a pig’s ear of licensing and changes were certainly needed. We must hope that Defra can do better and we will offer them every assistance in sorting out this mess.
“The priority is to get workable licences back up as soon as possible, especially at this critical time for both livestock and wildlife.”
The licence user must also be able to show why the threat of damage is sufficiently serious to merit action, saying “relevant evidence will include examples of actual losses during the present year or in recent years.”
Licence users are asked, in an ‘advice’ section, to exercise restraint in severe weather and the licence ends with a threat that if it is misused for recreational or commercial purposes, Natural England may review it.
Mr Bell added: “This new licence is appalling. In terms of restrictions and conditions it goes way beyond anything seen before. It will make pigeon control as we know it wholly impractical.
“Farmers and those who help them to control pests will be in uproar. The NGO will do everything it can to get this hopeless licence withdrawn and replaced.”
The new licence released on Friday follows Natural England's General Licence for controlling crows in England, released on 26 April. The rural sector criticised it as “hurried, botched and completely unfit for purpose.”
In a separate development, it has emerged that the Defra Secretary Michael Gove, will be taking back control of bird licensing from Natural England, at least for a time, starting on Saturday 4 May.
The statutory agency revoked three General Licences on April 24 amid pressure from environmental and animal rights groups.