Gamebird releasing consultation

Defra consultation on a 2021 gamebird releasing general licence for European protected sites

Defra is consulting on a proposed interim 2021 general licence for the release of common pheasants and red-legged partridges on Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and within a 500m buffer zone around them in England.

You can find out if the proposals affect your shoot by visiting BASC’s Green Shoots mapping website where you can view the boundaries of SACs and SPAs and a 500m buffer zone around these sites.

The consultation ends on 15 March, so if you work, shoot or are involved with shoots on designated sites please note the short consultation period and respond immediately. It is essential the shooting community’s views are heard loud and clear, we cannot stand by and allow shooting to be unfairly disadvantaged.

At the bottom of this webpage you will find BASC guidance on responding to the consultation.

Background Information

The consultation follows a Defra-led review into gamebird release, part of this review included an independent report which was jointly commissioned by BASC and Natural England.

As the review was underway, Wild Justice claimed the Government was in breach of the law by allowing the release of gamebirds on European Protected Sites (SACs and SPAs) if they had not conducted assessments to show that there would be no risk of damage to protected sites.

Wild Justice unsuccessfully asked the Environment Secretary to halt the release of pheasants and red-leg partridges on these sites and surrounding land within 5km. They issued a legal challenge which was halted following the Environment Secretary’s proposal to introduce an interim licensing regime whilst additional information is gathered, and assessments made.

BASC has called the interim licensing proposal ‘unnecessary’ and ‘over precautionary’ for those who shoot in or within 500m of the protected sites listed.

The Consultation

Subject to the consultation process Defra intend to amend the law for a fixed term of three years. This will mean during this period a licence to release of pheasants and red legged partridges on and within 500m of a number European protected sites would be required.

They intend the process to be a general licence, such as is used to control certain bird species. This means the user will not need to apply for a licence but will have to abide by the conditions within the licence.

It is proposed that the general licence would include conditions relating to stocking density within release pens.

In addition, the proposal stipulates a level of recording will be required for those using the general licence. For anyone who wants to ‘act’ outside of the general licence on these sites there will be provision to apply for an individual licence. Release outside of these areas will remain unaffected by this proposal.

Defra intend to introduce the interim general licensing process for the 2021 season. The consultation is already behind schedule, as the period for gamebird release in 2021 is fast approaching. BASC has already made representation with Defra to withdraw the process until next year.

BASC guidance on responding to the consultation

BASC is urging members to complete the Defra Interim Gamebird Release Licence in England consultation prior to its closing on 15 March.

The consultation seeks views on; Defra’s proposed interim licensing regime (Section A); the likely impacts of the proposal (Section B); alternative proposals (Section C); and feedback on the process (Section D).

To aid members BASC has produced a short, detailed guide that provides further information on the licensing proposals and advice for members wanting to respond below.

If you work, shoot or are involved with shoots on designated sites please note the short consultation period and respond immediately.

Members can contact their regional officers for further details.

This consultation seeks your views on the proposed interim licensing regime for the release of common pheasants and red-legged partridges on Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and within a 500 metre buffer zone around them in England. All of these SACs and SPAs are also Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

You can find out if the proposals affect your shoot by visiting BASC’s Green Shoots mapping website where you can view the boundaries of SACs and SPAs and a 500m buffer zone around these sites.

It is proposed that there will be an interim licensing regime which will be delivered by a general licence approach. This means it doesn’t need to be applied for, but the conditions must be complied with. For those who want to take actions outside of the general licence regime there will be an opportunity to apply for an individual licence.

For more information on the consultation and to start your response visit Defra’s website here:

https://consult.defra.gov.uk/gamebird-review/interim-2021-england-gamebird-release-licence/

The preferred method of response is via an online survey link on Defra’s website and we would suggest referring to the other relevant documents on Defra’s website before doing so.

Questions 1-3 are about personal details.

We would suggest that you complete the relevant personal details as appropriate, noting the sections on confidentiality, as they might apply.

Part A – Proposed Interim Licensing Regime

Scope of General Licence – Sites that are out of scope for the proposed General Licence.

This section suggests that the general licence regime will not apply to all SAC and SPAs and that two named sites will be excluded because they are already subject to enforcement action by Natural England and, as such, any release relating to them would require an individual licence.

There is also a list of sites which will be excluded from the licensing regime. The list is made up of marine sites, estuarine sites below the mean high-water mark and terrestrial sites where the designated features are considered not to be sensitive to non-native gamebird releases.

There are also details of the proposals for the general licence requirement to apply within the 500m buffer zone around all SACs and SPAs except those sites which are proposed to be excluded from the licensing regime.

A1. Do you agree that requiring an individual licence for the sites in Group 1 and excluding the sites from the list in Group 2 from the scope of the general licence will help minimise negative impacts on the relevant protected sites in an effective and proportionate manner?

A.1. We suggest that you respond ‘no’ and highlight the fact that you do not agree to Group 1 SSSIs being excluded. This is because all SACs and SPAs in practice are also Sites of Specifical Scientific Interest (SSSI), as such there already exists a robust mechanism for ensuring the integrity of these sites.

However, we would also suggest that you point out that if a general licence regime is adopted it should apply only to SACs and SPAs that are at potential risk of damage and that you support the screening out of areas where the designated features are considered not to be sensitive to gamebird release e.g. estuaries.

A2. Do you agree that a 500m buffer zone around SACs and SPAs will ensure that releases do not cause deterioration or significant disturbance of protected features of the sites?

A.2 We would suggest that you respond ‘no’, as the proposed 500m zone is excessive and not needed based on the evidence included in the government’s own witness statement, which members can find on the consultation home page.

A3. Do you agree that introducing a 500m buffer zone around SACs and SPAs is feasible?

A.3. We would suggest answering ‘no’ and then comment that while it might be feasible it is not required based upon the evidence in the government’s own witness statement.

General Licence Conditions

Bird stocking density

This section contains proposed stocking density within release pens. The proposed general licence will outline the maximum density of releases for pheasants and red-legged partridges.

A4. Do you agree with the density limits chosen in order to minimise negative impacts of gamebird release on SACs and SPAs?

We would suggest you answer ‘yes’. These densities should be supported as they are in line with those recommended by the GWCT and are based on accepted best practice. Further information can be found here https://www.gwct.org.uk/advisory/guides/sustainable-gamebird-releasing/ and these are also included in the Code of Good Shooting Practice.

Data Collection

It proposed that there will be a condition relating to collecting data on the numbers (overall number) and densities (birds/ha) of pheasant and red-legged partridge releases and locations of release pens (grid reference) within SACs and SPAs and the 500m buffer zones, in addition to details of the SSSI consent under which the release activity is operating.

A5. Do you agree that users of the general licence should be required to supply information on the location and number of birds being released under it, along with information on their SSSI consent for releases on SACs and SPAs?

We suggest your response should be ‘no’ and that you highlight there is already an existing requirement to have consent under a relevant SSSI regime. Therefore, Natural England should already have these details and this additional requirement should not be needed.

Additionally, we would suggest that you should ask for reassurance around how any such information gathered will be stored and used.

Additional Conditions

There are no additional conditions for release on SACs and SPAs proposed because these are already subject to a consenting regime which means approval by Natural England is needed to put in pens etc. In relation to the buffer zone, there is a proposal to not encourage released birds towards, or over, the boundary of the adjacent Special Area of Conservation or Special Protection Area from the buffer zone.

A6. Are there any other conditions that you would like to see in the General Licence for releases on SACs or SPAs?

A.6. We suggest you answer ‘no’ because the issue of ‘activity’ on these protected sites is already covered by existing legal requirements for SSSI consents to be in place, as such there are no additional conditions required.

A7. Please highlight any views you may have on the condition above, or additional suggestions for conditions.

A.7. In relation to the proposed conditions on the buffer zone, we would suggest you highlight this is not needed because encouragement onto the actual site needs ‘infrastructure’ on the site, which would already be covered by the need for consents to be in place.

General Licence Recommendations

There is a proposal to include a recommendation in the general licence for the buffer zone:

‘That any pens and feeding stations located within the buffer zone must be placed on level ground and should not be placed within 50m of a watercourse flowing towards an SAC or SPA designated for its river or wetland habitat’.

A8. Please highlight any views you may have on the recommendation above, or additional suggestions for recommendations. (Please limit your response to 250 words).

We suggest that you highlight that the general licence is proposed as an interim measure and should be concise without any unnecessary conditions. The suggested recommendation is not needed but, if it is to be included, then its status as being ‘advisory’ must be clear.

Part 1 Schedule 9 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

It is proposed to use a statutory instrument to amend Part 1 of Schedule 9 of the WCA 1981 and add pheasants and red-legged partridges to a list of species which cannot be released without a licence. This change would state this restriction is only in relation to the relevant SPA and SAC sites in England and a 500m zone around them.

It is also advised to reinforce the interim nature of the proposed licensing regime by including a sunset clause in the statutory instrument to repeal it after three years with a review after two years of the need for these statutory restrictions on gamebird releases on SACs and SPAs and in a 500m buffer zone around those sites.

A9. Do you have any objections and representations with respect to the addition of the red-legged partridge and common pheasant to Part 1, Schedule 9 of the WCA 1981?

A.9. We would suggest that this is answered ‘yes’ and you then highlight that this interim regime is only proposed because of the need for NE to gather further evidence and not because of any identified issues. Where it is suggested that issues exist, these can be addressed by the existing SSSI regime. It would be useful if you have operated on these sites to include any relevant information you may have in relation to dealing with the consenting process and NE.

A10. Do you agree with the proposed inclusion in the statutory instrument of the sunset clause and a requirement on the Secretary of State to carry out a review after two years of the need for these statutory restrictions on gamebird releases on SACs and SPAs and in a 500m buffer zone around them?

A.10 We would suggest you answer ‘yes’, but additionally explain that while you support a sunset clause to galvanise efforts and complete the relevant assessments in good time, there should be a two-year interim general licence period as opposed to a review after two years.

Part B – Economic Impacts

This section is required to help Defra understand the likely impacts of the proposed interim licensing regime on users and wider interested parties.

B1-B6 asks a number of specific questions relevant only to those respondents who will be affected and need to use a licence. You can find out details of the relevant sites here but BASC would strongly urge members who are affected to fill this section in to help Defra gather correct evidence of the impact.

Part C – Alternatives to Proposed Licensing Regime

This section seeks views on alternatives to the proposal.

C1. Do you wish to set out any alternatives to the proposed licensing regime that can be implemented within the same timescales and can provide the equivalent level of protection for SACs or SPAs?

C.1. We would suggest you answer ‘yes’ and then highlight that this interim measure is not needed to provide a level of protection for these sites as they are already subject to a robust SSSI consenting regime. Additionally you might wish to highlight that this interim measure has been proposed as a result of a legal challenge which would likely not have succeeded had it been heard: https://basc.org.uk/wild-justice-would-not-have-been-successful-judge-says/

Part D – Consultee Feedback on the Online Survey

This section is to share any views on the survey itself and format used.