Defra propose gamebird releasing licence around protected sites

Shooting organisations have responded with scepticism to Defra’s proposal to implement a licensing system for gamebird release in and around European protected sites, even after Wild Justice have indicated their intention to withdraw their judicial review.

With no prior consultation with BASC, Countryside Alliance, National Gamekeepers Organisation or the Game Farmers’ Association – who were all interested parties in the case – Defra has announced its intention to introduce an interim licensing system. The system will encompass the release of pheasant and red-legged partridge in and within 500 metres of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Wild Justice had originally demanded a 5 km buffer zone.

Defra has not yet provided details of their proposal although a consultation on the licensing conditions is expected imminently.

The four shooting organisations believe a licensing system is not justified by the scientific evidence, even on an interim basis, that it is a misuse of the precautionary principle and may be unlawful. They are also concerned that it is open to further attack from anti-shooting organisations. They have demanded the following:

  • The shooting organisations must be fully involved with the consultation.
  • Defra, rather than Natural England, should implement any new licence.
  • The legislation for any interim licensing system should have the termination date clearly specified.
  • The conditions on any licence should be the GWCT’s rules for releasing, which are already the basis of self-regulation in game shooting.
  • Any licensing system must be in place by 1 February 2021 to allow shoots to plan for the season. If this is not possible the system should be delayed until 2022.

A spokesperson for the four organisations said: “We are supportive and fully committed to self-regulation and the principles of gamebird management in the interest of sustainable shooting. Defra’s proposed red tape under the precautionary principle will do little but threaten rural jobs, conservation efforts and a host of social benefits that shooting provides.

“Natural England’s wildlife licensing system has been proven unsuccessful as a light touch regulatory power and we remain unconvinced that Defra’s proposal for European designated sites will be fit for purpose.

“The proposal is better than Wild Justice’s time wasting demands that all releasing should be made illegal within 5km of designated sites but it is not justified by the scientific evidence, which is that the negative effects of gamebird releasing are highly localised and need to be weighed against the strong evidence of landscape scale benefits from the woodland management associated with shooting. If Defra is to secure cooperation from the shooting community, it must do better. At the moment, there is a great deal of scepticism that a unknown licensing system run by an underfunded public body can fix something that is not known to be ecologically damaging.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Shooting and Conservation, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, has already held a meeting with the Secretary of State for Defra, George Eustice MP, where they expressed their concerns. In a follow up letter, the MPs called on Defra to work closely with the shooting organisations.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said: “Many parliamentarians are concerned to ensure that shooting is not damaged by whatever Defra does. We will be fighting for a sensible evidence-based and proportionate outcome.”


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Notes to Editors: Defra publication 30/10/2020: Review of gamebird releases on and around European protected sites.