Defra ready to fight Wild Justice in the courts

A magpie

Updated 23/03/22

In correspondence with shooting organisations, Defra has reiterated its strong defence of general licences against Wild Justice’s latest legal challenge, a move fully supported by BASC.

In a letter to BASC, Countryside Alliance and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (all of whom will register as interested parties for a legal challenge, should it happen), Defra states the GL42 footnote “does not – and never did – extend or change the statutory definition of livestock”. 

Defra goes on to say that the only reason that it has changed the footnote is “so that there could be no misunderstanding” by Wild Justice or anyone else “to what was always intended”.

Due to Defra’s recognition of the shooting organisations’ interested parties’ status, we were copied into its response to Wild Justice on the matter. It remains our objective to see Wild Justice publish in full their response from Defra.

Defra’s points 

The letter received from Defra to the shooting organisations included the following points of clarification: 
  • Section 27(1)(c) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (“the Act”) defines “livestock” as including any animal which is “kept – […] (c) for the provision or improvement of shooting or fishing”. Consequently, the definition of “livestock” includes gamebirds kept for that purpose.
  • For avoidance of any doubt, the explanatory note at footnote 7 of GL42 does not – and never did – extend or change the statutory definition of “livestock” in section 27(1)(c) of the Act.
  • The purpose of footnote 7 was and is to clarify that gamebirds are not considered to be “livestock” within the meaning of the Act once they cease to be “kept”. Therefore, users cannot protect gamebirds by taking action authorised under GL42 once those birds have ceased to be “kept”.
  • We amended the wording of footnote 7 on 3 March 2022 so that there could be no misunderstanding as to what was always intended, namely to clarify that: (a) GL42 applies the definition of “livestock” in section 27(1) of the Act, which does not include gamebirds that have transitioned to wild birds; (b) a gamebird that receives only supplementary feeding is not to be treated as being “kept”; and (c) the provision of shelter away from the release pen does not mean that a gamebird is “kept”.

What has Defra said up until this point?

In a comment provided to the Guardian on 11 March, Defra said:

“We confirmed to Wild Justice that we would contest their proposed claim in full. There has been absolutely no change in our position on gamebirds in relation to GL42. To imply otherwise, or that we conceded that the statutory definition was extended, is incorrect. We did not extend, nor have we changed, the definition.”

To avoid any further misunderstanding by Wild Justice, the licence that allows users to control certain species of wild birds to prevent serious damage has been updated around when gamebirds are defined as livestock for the purpose of using this licence.

Previously, the footnote stated:
‘Livestock’ is as defined in section 27(1) of the 1981 Act. For the purpose of this licence, this expression also includes gamebirds kept in an enclosure or which are free roaming but remain significantly dependent on the provision of food, water or shelter by a keeper for their survival. This does not include supplementary feeding.

The new version states:
‘Livestock’ is as defined in section 27(1) of the 1981 Act. This expression includes gamebirds kept in an enclosure or which are free roaming but remain significantly dependent on the provision of food, water, or shelter (by and within the release pen) by a keeper for their survival. The placement of supplementary food out into the environment for wild gamebirds does not mean those wild gamebirds are ‘kept’ and it does not therefore make them ‘livestock’.

In response to the change Glynn Evans, BASC head of game and gundogs, said: “GL42 is an essential management tool for farmers, gamekeepers and many others in preventing serious damage. For those who rely on the use of GL42, this update changes nothing. The law relating to the issuing of general licences is clear and has not changed. We will support Defra in their defence against Wild Justice.”