Woodpigeons may become huntable during the open season and then controlled during the close season under the General Licence system, new proposals show.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove may relax shooting legislation for the purpose of preventing serious damage to crops and public health and safety issues.
Numbers of woodpigeon have been consistently increasing since the 1960s, with the population now reaching over 5 million breeding pairs in the UK.
It is estimated that they can cause £5 million worth of crop damage to oilseed rape alone, each year.
The lethal control of the woodpigeon is a tool for farmers to reduce crop damage. However, this has recently been thrown into chaos by Natural England’s decision to revoke the General Licence.
Last week, it was announced that the function of issuing General Licences will be exercised solely by Gove following the uproar.
Defra has even launched a call for evidence on the impact of Natural England’s decision to revoke the General Licences.
Meanwhile, MPs in a House of Commons committee are to question the statutory agency over its handling of the issue.
'Reassure the rural community'
Under the EU Birds Directive 1979 all bird species are protected, hence the UK’s current use of the General Licence for controlling the woodpigeon to prevent serious damage.
In the directive the woodpigeon is listed in Annex II, meaning that under Article 7 they can be legally shot in accordance with national legislation.
As the woodpigeon is a species of least concern, and through implementing a close season during their peak breeding season, it is possible for the Secretary of State to change the species’ status in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The Countryside Alliance, a staunch opponent of Natural England's decision to revoke General Licences, said Gove's proposals would 'reassure' the rural community that Defra has 'grasped the seriousness of the issue'.
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the group, said: “Making the woodpigeon a legitimate quarry species would allow pigeon shooting to happen without unnecessary restrictions outside the peak breeding season.
“However, it would still be absolutely necessary to have a workable General Licence to allow farmers to protect their crops for the rest of the year and Defra should not seek to hide the fundamental flaws in its newly published woodpigeon licence behind any change in its status.”
He added: “This would also not solve the real problems that landowners and conservationists are currently facing managing other species like crows and magpies thanks to Natural England’s chaotic handling of the licence issue.”