The Daily Telegraph reported this morning that Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove, is considering adding wood pigeons to the quarry list. This would make pigeons a ‘huntable species’ during the open season, and allow them to continue to be controlled during the close season through the General Licence system to prevent serious damage to crops and for other purposes.
The pigeon population has been increasing since the 1960s, with numbers now reaching over 5 million breeding pairs in the UK alone and it is something of a historic anomaly that the wood pigeon is not on the quarry list. In the UK the Canada goose already has both a hunting season and a general licence to allow its control at other times of the year. In many European countries the wood pigeon is similarly treated both as a quarry species and an agricultural pest to be managed.
If Defra does push ahead with this proposal it must be realistic about the open season. Part of the pigeon’s success is that it breeds almost all year round so it would be almost impossible to set a season when at least some pigeons were not breeding. As Defra notes in its new General Licence, however, the peak breeding season is from May to September and any season should be aimed at giving the pigeon some additional protection during that period.
The fact that Defra is considering this move, and that it took back control of the licensing process from Natural England last weekend, shows at least that Ministers have understood the full seriousness of the current situation. Whilst putting the wood pigeon on the General Licence would be a welcome move it will not, however, mend the fundamental flaws in the newly published wood pigeon General Licence that farmers will still need to rely on for much of the year. Nor would it address the real problems that landowners and conservationists are currently facing managing other species like crows and magpies thanks to Natural England’s chaotic handling of the licence issue.
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