General Licence consultation is not a sign of Scottish Natural Heritage buckling under pressure


“Here we go” I hear some of you say; Natural England has already buckled under pressure from Wild Justice and now we see Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) doing the same, after they received a letter from Chris Packham.

SNH has now stated they will be reviewing their own general licences and that there will be a 12-week consultation later this summer. So is this is SNH buckling under?  I don’t think so.

There are some very serious differences in the approaches of the nature conservation agencies north and south of the border, and this should be recognised and acknowledged.

The photograph on this blog was taken from my kitchen yesterday evening and it shows relative calm over Strathbraan in Highland Perthshire. We have a wide array of breeding waders – curlew, oystercatcher, snipe, lapwing and sandpipers, along the river – and we can continue to trap and shoot crows to prevent losses from predation. Farmers at the end of our late lambing can also continue to control crows. Gamekeepers can manage crows to protect both red and black grouse, of which there are just about as many of each in this area.

We are lucky in Scotland, and this is not going to change overnight. SNH has stated that their review and consultation will be focused on ensuring that general licences for 2020 will be fit for purpose. Our existing general licences will continue to run unaffected this year.

The last major consultation on general licences in Scotland was in 2016. Looking back at BASC Scotland’s response to that consultation, we recommended a number of things, including that the licences could be simplified, that awareness could be raised and that adaptive licensing solutions should be developed.

We supported a code of practice for trapping pest birds and the use of meat baits in Larsen mate/pod traps. Many recommendations were taken forward. We did not get all that we wanted but we did achieve simplification, the use of meat baits in certain traps and the inclusion of resident greylags on general licence 2 during July and August.

Looking forward rather than back, SNH is in a good position for this new review of general licences.

There has been recent and detailed research on the use of Larsen and other cage traps by Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA). A large number of BASC members in Scotland contributed to this research – gamekeepers in both the uplands and lowlands and enthusiastic conservationists in urban areas, working traps in their gardens to deal predominantly with magpies.

A few years ago, they probably thought that BASC was mad encouraging and coercing them to take part in this research (including attaching trail cameras to their traps). The results of this research are now crucial in supporting ongoing trapping. We all remain grateful for their help.

There is also good data from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) on the increasing population trends of most of the birds that we may regard as “pests” as well as the recent work of the Understanding Predation initiative. This clearly demonstrated that both academic research and on-the-ground knowledge points towards avian and other predation as a cause of the decline in ground-nesting birds. This is now being taken forward by the Working for Waders initiative.

So, yes, we have a review of general licences in Scotland and, yes, we have a public consultation. We can expect an avalanche of responses from the antis, as we have experienced on recent Scottish issues such as snaring and air gun licensing.

However, BASC will submit a robust, clear and evidence-based response on behalf of our members and others who rely on general licences for the management of pest birds.

We expect SNH to listen to our views and incorporate them into the general licences for 2020.