A hated scheme which stops farmers shooting pest birds was reversed last night.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he took the action ‘to minimise some of the negative impacts’ caused by the scrapping of the decades-old ‘general licence’.
There was outrage across the countryside in April when rules allowing the shooting of 16 bird species to protect crops and livestock were torn up with 36 hours’ notice by Natural England.
Yesterday the Tory leadership hopeful Michael Gove (above) largely reversed the changes, introducing three new general licences. The move was welcomed by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Countryside Alliance, who met with Mr Gove yesterday
The surprise move by the conservation quango to revoke general licences while having no proper alternative to take their place was branded ‘bird-brained’ by critics.
It came after a legal challenge from Wild Justice, a pressure group fronted by BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham.
Farmers said they could no longer cull crows attacking newborn lambs or stop pigeons stripping bare their crops without applying for individual licences, leaving them fearful of prosecution.
Amid mounting anger from rural groups, Mr Gove and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs took back control of the scheme from Natural England last month.
Farmers and gamekeepers will now be able to shoot wild pest birds in most situations without having to fill in any paperwork under the three new licences, which cover protecting crops and livestock, people, and conservation purposes [File photo]
Yesterday the Tory leadership hopeful largely reversed the changes, introducing three new general licences.
The move was welcomed by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Countryside Alliance, who met with Mr Gove yesterday.
Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner said: ‘While 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.’
British Association for Shooting and Conservation chief executive Ian Bell said some concerns remained as there were limitations on the licences relating to shooting near sites classified as protected under European law.
But he said: ‘We are content that the new, additional general licences issued today will be fit for purpose in many areas. 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.’
Farmers and gamekeepers will now be able to shoot wild pest birds in most situations without having to fill in any paperwork under the three new licences, which cover protecting crops and livestock, people, and conservation purposes.
Farmers said they could no longer cull crows attacking newborn lambs (above) or stop pigeons stripping bare their crops without applying for individual licences, leaving them fearful of prosecution
Species that can legally be shot include carrion crow, jackdaw, jay, magpie, rook, Canada geese and ring-necked parakeet.
Mr Gove said: ‘I recognise the scale of interest and concern that was generated by Natural England’s decision to revoke three general licences and I am grateful to those thousands of individuals and groups who shared their experiences in responding to the call for evidence.
‘The three new general licences seek to minimise some of the negative impacts that the withdrawal of the previous licences had.
But this is a temporary way forward and does not cover European protected sites, where the law is more complicated and we continue to engage with stakeholders.
‘We will shortly set out details of a wider review of general licences, to provide a long-term licensing solution which balances the needs of users and wildlife.’
The original changes provoked strong feelings, with Mr Packham targeted with death threats and finding two dead crows strung up outside his home in Hampshire.
Liam Bell, National Gamekeepers Organisation chairman, said: ‘Two cheers to Defra for sorting out most of the mess left after Natural England’s licence revocations in April. We reserve our third cheer until they have also addressed the remaining issues in protected sites.’
Wild Justice was unavailable for comment yesterday.