Genuine progress has been made and three new general licences released by Defra today are fit for purpose in most circumstances. However significant work still remains regarding protected sites, the leading countryside organisations have said.
Representing a range of rural stakeholders, the chief executives of BASC and the Countryside Alliance met environment secretary Michael Gove MP this morning to discuss Defra’s new licences.
The new licences cover the majority of activity which is undertaken in the English countryside for pest control, crop protection and also satisfy the need to provide control to protect public health.
However, the organisations have told Defra they cannot agree the approach to “protected sites”, home to much of our most important wildlife, where there will be additional licence requirements. This will be captured by a further Defra consultation this summer.
BASC chief executive Ian Bell said: “The organisations have worked extensively in the background with Defra and we are content that the new, additional general licences issued today will be fit for purpose in many areas but significant concerns remain around protected sites.
“We appreciate that it’s not a perfect situation and there may still be some confusion; the organisations will continue to be on hand to steer our members through. The organisations have told Defra that we expect any gaps to picked up by the consultation in the summer.”
Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner said: “Whilst we remain very concerned about the initial decision by Natural England to revoke the general licences we are grateful for the Secretary of State’s intervention.
“Since Defra has taken back control of the licences we have seen significant progress and for most people managing most species the situation is now back as it was. The discussion does not, however, stop here and we will seek to resolve the outstanding issues as part of the planned consultation later this year.”
Liam Bell, NGO chairman, said: “Two cheers to Defra for sorting out most of the mess left after NE’s licence revocations in April. We reserve our third cheer until they have also addressed the remaining issues in protected sites. The team-working between the shooting organisations has been great on this and a big reason for the turnarounds gained so far. We look forward to playing our part in finishing the job.”
Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said: “European designated sites will not be covered by these new general licences. If owners or occupiers have not yet applied for an individual licence to carry out vital work to protect chicks, they should.
“We have made the point forcefully to Defra that it is almost beyond belief that precious areas that support incredible bird life are being left out, areas that have been designated for their important birds and habitats. Pest bird control, certainly in the uplands, has been a contributing factor to their success.
“Making conservation in these areas harder to achieve is a disaster for our wildlife. Defra’s precautionary approach and EU rules could preside over the extinction of our best loved moorland birds like the curlew, lapwing, golden plover, if a way forward cannot be found.”
Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president, Tim Breitmeyer said: “We are pleased that progress has been made and that the concerns of rural groups have been taken on board. We will keep working collaboratively with Defra and others to help resolve any outstanding issues.
“This includes engaging with the future consultation this summer, ensuring the emergence of a robust and fit-for-purpose licensing system which protects the interests of farming and food production, as well as the conservation of wildlife.”
Game Farmers’ Association chairman Dominic Boulton said: “This is good news. Our members will now be able to get back to business and control problem birds as before. Livelihoods had been threatened by NE’s revocations but the situation is now much improved.”
Sir Jim Paice, GWCT chairman, said: “We must congratulate Defra for producing these new licences so quickly under difficult circumstances. They may not be perfect, but it is clear they carefully considered all 4,000 consultation responses which provided them with the information they needed to reach this stage. The GWCT will continue to work closely with Defra to share our science to ensure those that manage our countryside have the right tools to do the job.”