Rural groups unite to resolve shock Natural England decision

Farmers and landowners have called on government to implement new licensing arrangements so they can undertake legal pest control effectively
Farmers and landowners have called on government to implement new licensing arrangements so they can undertake legal pest control effectively

Farmers and the wider rural sector have united to demand the 'chaos' caused by Natural England’s decision to change general licences, to allow control of certain species of birds, is resolved as quickly as possible.

Natural England has temporarily withdrawn current general licences from Thursday 25 April. It covers 16 species of birds including several members of the crow family, Canada goose, some gulls and pigeons.

The statutory agency is due to start issuing new licences from 29 April 2019, but farmers fear there will be 'huge uncertainty' as this has yet to be consulted on.

Following the unexpected announcement, organisations such as the NFU, Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and the Countryside Alliance have come together to demand that the next set of licences are implemented quickly, and are simple to understand and use.

The general licence has been an effective management tool for farmers, pest controllers and conservationists for decades.

But numerous rural groups say that for Natural England to give only 36 hours’ notice that the licences were to be withdrawn, especially during a vital time of the year for wildlife management, is 'unacceptable'.

According to the Countryside Alliance, Natural England knew of their plans in February but did not inform any one publicly until April 23.

Tim Bonner, Chief Executive Countryside Alliance, said: “We have united as a group of organisations to ensure Natural England’s next decision is in the interest of the thousands of farmers, pest controllers and conservationists that use the General Licence for the benefit of our countryside.

“Natural England should stick to their principles instead of bowing down to animal rights pressure groups”.

Tim Breitmeyer, CLA President said the 'abrupt halt' has left farmers and landowners in 'complete limbo', unsure of what they can do to protect their crops, young livestock or farmland birds.

“A burdensome administrative process will only exacerbate the unintended consequences of an ill thought-through decision,” he said.

“This time Natural England has to get it right and ensure that the likely flood of new applications are dealt with speedily and efficiently.”

The National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) said the move by Natural England has been made a 'shambles', saying: “We are united with other like-minded organisations in demanding a return to workable General Licensing within the shortest possible time.

“Once that has been secured, there must surely be consequences for those at NE who have made serious mistakes and miscalculations.”

On social media, some farmers and landowners blamed conservationists and green groups for pulling Natural England's strings in making the decision.

Fred Love, who farms in Nottinghamshire, shared a viral video on Twitter showing a dead lamb which had apparently been killed by a crow.