Farmers' views needed on impact of General Licence revocation

Michael Gove said he recognises the 'scale of interest and concern' created by Natural England's decision
Michael Gove said he recognises the 'scale of interest and concern' created by Natural England's decision

Defra has launched a call for evidence on the impact of Natural England’s decision to revoke general licences for the management of certain wild birds.

The chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, and Defra Secretary Michael Gove exchanged letters on Saturday 4 May on General Licencing decision making powers.

In the letter, Gove signalled it to be appropriate to take over ultimate decision making powers for general licences.

He recognised the 'scale of interest and concern' that has been generated by Natural England's decision to revoke.

It follows widespread anger over the handling of the issue and the effect the move has had on farmers' livelihoods.

New licences released since have been labelled 'wholly impractical' and 'hurried'

Defra has now initiated a formal evidence gathering exercise in order to capture information from individuals such as farmers, gamekeepers and landowners.

It wants to hear about the impact that the recent withdrawal of the three general licences (GL04, GL05 & GL06) on 25 April has had on the ground.

In particular, the department wants to gain an understanding of the implications for the protection of wild birds, and the impacts on crops, livestock, wildlife, disease, human health and safety and wider nature conservation efforts.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), one group strongly opposed to Natural England's move, said the decision by Defra doesn't come as a surprise.

“Coming at a critical time of the year for farmers, this mess has not just meant more paperwork but has led to ongoing uncertainty around crop and livestock protection,” President Tim Breitmeyer said.

“While many in the countryside will no doubt be pleased to finally see decisive action, we hope that Defra, given their current focus on Brexit planning, have the resources to properly administer the licensing system and ensure that previous mistakes are not repeated.”

The evidence gathered from that exercise, alongside the information that Defra and Natural England have already received since 25 April, will inform decisions on how to get back to a satisfactory situation.

The closing date for providing views and evidence is Monday 13 May. Defra will then take a further week to consider the evidence gathered and make a decision.

A separate review of general licences will take place later in the year and there will be a further opportunity to submit evidence and views at that point.