Following the announcement that Defra has concluded its review into releasing game birds on and around protected sites BASC has issued the following FAQs.

What is Defra’s position?

Subject to a consultation Defra intends to introduce a new interim licensing regime for the 2021 releases of common pheasant and red-legged partridge within European protected sites and a 500m buffer zone around these sites.  This will enable them to rule out the possibility of any adverse effect on protected sites while gathering more information where evidence gaps exist.

Defra also intend to make improvements to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) poultry register and  have advised that they are going to review and improve the existing consenting regime and monitoring of these sites.

What protected sites are we talking about?

It’s not all protected sites, just those which are of European importance. They are called Special Protection Areas, which are for birds, and Special Areas for Conservation, which cover habitats and other animals. They cover around 5% of England.

Where can I find a map of them?

The governments interactive map service Magic Maps.

What does BASC think?

We do not think a licencing system is justified by the evidence and that is why our reaction on the weekend was sceptical. The licence details will be subject to open consultation. We 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.

What part has BASC played in Defra’s gamebird review and the Judicial Review brought by Wild Justice?

BASC has been heavily involved fighting for a sensible outcome for shooting and conservation. 

BASC is an interested party in the judicial review brought by Wild Justice. The Countryside Alliance, the National Gamekeepers Association and the Game Famers’ Association are also interested parties and we have worked together on this issue.  It was this judicial review that prompted Defra to conduct their review into releasing game birds on and around protected sites.

We have ensured shooting is represented in the legal proceedings by an expert QC and legal team and we have provided evidence and witness statements to support the QC in making the clear case why this action should be dismissed.  BASC has used money from its fighting fund to pay for this representation of members’ interests and shooting generally.

BASC also worked with Natural England to fund a review on the impacts of releasing gamebirds which was conducted by Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the University of Exeter. The review catalogued all the known evidence and supplied several recommendations for moving our knowledge base forward.  

This review, Ecological Consequences of Gamebird Releasing and Management on Lowland Shoots in England, is a key piece of evidence Defra used to underpin their position to rebut Wild Justice’s proposal for a 5km restriction on all game bird releasing from European Protected Sites to a 500m general licence enabling gamebird release whilst Defra and Natural England complete assessments.

Defra have chosen to put their statements into the public domain at

Is Defra’s proposal shoot licensing?

No, the proposal is currently to license the release of pheasants and red partridges on and within 500m of European protected sites.

Is game bird releasing going to be banned in the England?

No. Subject to a consultation process the Government intend to make it illegal to release pheasants and red legged partridges on and within 500m of European protected sites. but they then intend to issue a general licence to permit their release (provide the conditions on any licence are complied with) in this area. This may seem pointless, but it provides Defra and Natural England time to assess the impacts of release without stopping it taking place whilst they do this.  Outside of these sites and 500m from them there should be no change.

Is this going to disrupt the 2021 season?

In their statement Defra have said “We will continue to engage and consult with industry in order to minimise any disruption.”  BASC will ensure to keep them to their word to minimise any disruption.

Were BASC consulted on this decision considering their involvement with the evidence review and the judicial review?

No. Defra chose not to consult with either BASC, Countryside Alliance, National Gamekeepers Organisation or the Game Farmers’ Association before making their announcement for this general licence arrangement.

What is BASC’s view on gamebird releasing?

BASC is fully supportive of the GWCT rules of releasing gamebirds that underpin the Code of Good Shooting Practice and the British Game Alliance standards.

BASC believes all efforts should be afforded to mitigating against any potential negative impacts and boosting the positive impacts of gamebird release. Accomplishing these aims will maximise shootings’ net positive impact on the environment and add to its positive contributions to the rural economy and social and well-being importance for participants.  Following best practice is an action everyone can do.  Every BASC member is sent a copy of the Code of Good Shooting when their membership renews and this is the core text for shoots to understand and abide by.

How might the general licence system work?

If a general licence system is implemented, anyone releasing gamebirds within 500m of European sites will be able to continue to release gamebirds in line with the conditions set out in the licence. Like controlling some pest species on a general licence , there will not be a need to apply for the licence, but you are required to abide by the conditions within the licence. For anyone who wants to take action outside of the general licence, then they would have to apply for an individual licence.

Will those covered by this licensing system still have to register on the poultry register?

Yes, you must register on the Poultry Register if you keep 50 or more pheasant or partridge anywhere in the UK. There are concerns that not all shoots do this.  Make sure you and those you know with shoots register their game birds releases on the poultry register.

Why do Defra feel it is necessary to bring in licensing of gamebird release near to these sites?

Defra’s gamebird review has been ongoing for over a year now. It is Defra’s opinion that they cannot be certain as to the impacts of gamebird release on every European Protected Site at this moment but as a short term measure a licenced system will allow Natural England time to complete the required assessments.

Defra feel that the evidence from its review indicates that the negative impacts of gamebird release are likely to be minimal or none when 500m from the release pens. They are also of the view that compliance with the GWCT principals embedded in the code of good shooting practice (of a maximum of 1000 birds per hectare of pen in general woodland or 700 birds per hectare of pen in sensitive woodland) limits negative impacts on flora and nutrient enrichment to the pen itself and 15m from it.

Why is it temporary?

As soon as Natural England can quantify the impact of gamebird release on designated sites the general licence will be void as the consenting process will adequately cover the issue. 

When will it be the interim general licence begin?

Defra intend to initiate the interim general licensing process for the 2021 season. BASC are pressing them to have this in place by 1st February 2021 so that affected shoots can plan for their season without the uncertainty of awaiting the licence details.

What consultation will be undertaken on these proposals?

Defra intend to undertake a public consultation. With a short timeframe BASC has already begun lobbying that these interim measures are reasonable and workable.

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