Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove, is considering making the woodpigeon a quarry species, with open and close seasons, according to an article in the Daily Telegraph today (10 May 2019). This move will make the woodpigeon a huntable species during the open season, and then available to be controlled during the close season under the General Licence system for the purpose of the prevention of serious damage to crops and public health and safety issues.
Numbers of woodpigeon have been consistently increasing since the 1960s, with the population now reaching over 5 million breeding pairs in the UK. It is estimated that they can cause £5 million worth of crop damage to oil seed rape alone, each year. The lethal control of the woodpigeon is a necessary tool for farmers to reduce crop damage, which has recently been thrown into chaos by Natural England’s decision to revoke the General Licence.
Under the EU Birds Directive 1979 all bird species are protected, hence the UK’s current use of the General Licence for controlling the woodpigeon to prevent serious damage. In the Directive the woodpigeon is listed in Annex II, meaning that under Article 7 they can be legally shot in accordance with national legislation. As the woodpigeon is a species of least concern, and through implementing a close season during their peak breeding season, it is possible for the Secretary of State to change the species’ status in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “Making the woodpigeon a legitimate quarry species would allow pigeon shooting to happen without unnecessary restrictions outside the peak breeding season and would reassure the rural community that Defra has grasped the seriousness of this issue. However, it would still be absolutely necessary to have a workable General Licence to allow farmers to protect their crops for the rest of the year and Defra should not seek to hide the fundamental flaws in its newly published woodpigeon licence behind any change in its status. This would also not solve 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.
“It is an historic anomaly that the woodpigeon is not on the quarry list. It is a very successful species and it is perfectly possible for shooters to harvest large numbers of pigeons every year without any impact on the overall population. Pigeon is also a very tasty, lean meat which is popular with shooters and increasingly in demand in restaurants as well.”