MPs to question Natural England over wild bird fiasco

MPs are to question Defra and Natural England on the wild bird control issue
MPs are to question Defra and Natural England on the wild bird control issue

MPs in a House of Commons committee are to question Natural England and Defra over their handling of the wild bird control fiasco.

The one-off evidence session to be conducted by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) is to look at the recent move to withdraw general licences for controlling wild birds.

The revocation came into force on Thursday 25 April and covered 16 species of birds including several members of the crow family, Canada goose, some gulls and pigeons.

Natural England was under pressure from environmental and wildlife groups, such as TV Presenter Chris Packham's Wild Justice, who successfully challenged the licensing system.

But its decision has resulted in a great deal of concern and commentary. The NFU called the move 'incredibly disappointing' and the Countryside Alliance said it was 'impractical and irresponsible'.

Last week, it was announced that the function of issuing general licences will henceforth be exercised solely by Defra Secretary Michael Gove.

'Deeply concerned by the move'

The committee has asked Defra Ministers and the interim chief executive of Natural England, Marian Spain to appear before MPs to give evidence.

EFRA has invited witnesses to appear on 21 May. Questions will focus on the series of events that led to this decision being taken, the handling of the media fallout, the issuing and effectiveness of new general licences and the subsequent action taken by Gove.

Neil Parish MP, the Chair of EFRA, said the decision and events that led up to the move are 'controversial'.

“It is clear from the subsequent backlash that many members of the farming community are deeply concerned by the move and worried about the impact it may have on their livelihoods.

“We feel it is our committee’s duty to question why such a step was taken and whether there are any alternative methods available.

Mr Parish added: “We invited ministers and Natural England to give us a much clearer picture of how they reached this decision and how they plan to move forward given the fallout that has followed their announcement.”

Meanwhile, rural groups have criticised new licences issued by Natural England since the revocation as 'hurried, botched and completely unfit for purpose.'