Farming News - Natural England's decision to revoke three general licences infuriates farming industry

Natural England's decision to revoke three general licences infuriates farming industry

24 Apr 2019
Frontdesk / Arable / Livestock

Major changes to the General Licence announced by Natural England yesterday, at less than 36 hours’ notice will put thousands of people at risk of unknowingly breaking the law whilst controlling species such as pigeons and carrion crows from Thursday (25th April). The ability to control several species of wild birds through licensing to prevent serious damage or disease, to preserve public health or public safety, and to conserve flora and fauna under ‘open licences’ will all be revoked in an unprecedented move by the statutory agency.

While Natural England claim a new set of licences will be brought in from Monday (29th April) the revocation and confusion over the coming days and weeks will leave farmers, pest controllers and conservationists with significant problems. The new set of licences have not yet even been consulted on, leaving huge uncertainty about the ability to control wild birds going forward.

This comes at a particularly sensitive time when new-born lambs need protecting from crows, crops need protecting from pigeons, and dozens of red-listed species need protection from corvids. The decision also has a direct impact on pest controllers who use the General Licence to preserve public health and safety. Any delays to licences being granted because of this revocation could risk human health.

Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “Whatever Natural England’s legal advice, the withdrawal of Open General Licences at incredibly short notice is completely impractical and irresponsible, and will result in thousands of people unknowingly breaking the law. Pigeons, corvids and other species that damage crops, livestock and biodiversity have always been regularly and lawfully controlled without bureaucratic restrictions. To withdraw the historic ability to manage these species without individual licences at 36 hours’ notice is a recipe for disaster. Many of those involved in pest control will be unaware of the changes, and this decision will only serve to bring the law into disrepute.

“The decision to bring in a new set of licences without consulting stakeholders or the public is even more bizarre. We have already contacted Natural England for an urgent meeting and will be keeping our members in England up to date with this evolving issue.”

NFU Deputy President Guy Smith said: “The NFU has significant concerns about the abrupt withdrawal of these general licenses.

“They are absolutely necessary at this time of year when crops are particularly vulnerable to pests. For example, a flock of pigeons could decimate a farmer’s field of crops.

“We understand Natural England will be reissuing the licenses from 29 April and for the NFU it is a matter of priority that they do that. It is incredibly disappointing that farmers and growers find themselves in this position, particularly at this time of year.”

CLA President Tim Breitmeyer said:“These licenses have worked successfully for many years, enabling farms and rural businesses to produce a secure supply of food alongside protection for young livestock, farmland birds and other wildlife from a range of predatory wild birds. This decision means farmers and land managers are now plunged into uncertainty at a critical season for both wildlife and farming.