Defra urged to 'take back control' of wildlife licencing

Rural campaigners are urging Defra to preside over wildlife licencing
Rural campaigners are urging Defra to preside over wildlife licencing

Thousands of people have signed a campaign petition calling for Defra to 'take back control' of wildlife licencing from Natural England.

The campaign, by the Countryside Alliance, urges Defra Secretary George Eustice to address the 'current fiasco' as 'a matter of priority'.

It follows Natural England’s (NE) controversial withdrawal of several key General Licences in April 2019.

The Countryside Alliance's lobbying email states: "Natural England have since continued to preside over a chaotic system.

"One example is the handling of Individual Licences which are required for lethal control of pest bird species on any European Protected Site.

"These cover our most important areas for wildlife and biodiversity, and also for species that are not listed on the General Licence, anywhere in the country.”

It comes as the Countryside Alliance, National Gamekeepers’ Association and the Moorland Association released a recent joint paper ‘Wildlife Licensing in England: Chaos, Crises and Cure’.

The report highlighted the rural groups' criticism surrounding wildlife licensing, and the need for Defra to 'take back control' from Natural England.

It concluded that the current situation was 'untenable' as it was having 'catastrophic consequences' for wildlife and livestock.

A recent parliamentary question revealed that NE has received around 160 applications to control corvid species on, or close to, European protected sites since January.

To date, 26 of these applications have been granted, 8 rejected, with 126 still to be determined or which have been withdrawn.

The Countryside Alliance said this was an 'unacceptable response rate', as corvids were 'exceptionally damaging to rare species' as they 'raid nests and kill chicks'.

The campaign email goes on to say: “When land managers are unable to protect curlew for example, the species of highest conservation concern in the UK, because NE will not issue Individual Licences to control predatory corvids on protected sites, something has gone very wrong.

"The combined population of predatory corvids, including jackdaw, jay and rook, was 4.63 million breeding pairs/territories in 2016, with the population of jackdaw alone being 1.55 million, a trebling over the previous 16 years.

"None of the 26 licences issued by Natural England allowed for control of jackdaws or rooks, and only one for jay.”