Yesterday I met the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Theresa Villiers, to discuss a range of issues. The meeting was timely in that Defra also announced a review to gather evidence on the control of avian species like pigeons and corvids required under the General Licences.
I am sure that you will remember the chaos caused by Natural England’s decision to revoke the General Licences this spring in the face of a legal challenge. Working with colleagues from other rural organisations we reacted immediately and robustly to that decision. That led Defra to take control of the situation and reissue licences for control of most species in most situations, albeit after a frustrating and damaging gap. Those reissued licences were, however, only interim until new licences were issued as part of the normal annual cycle.
We have continued to work with other organisations to address our remaining concerns over the licences which include the fact that they do not apply to EU protected areas, and that they have become progressively more complex making their practical application more difficult.
The review Defra launched yesterday is a 12 week online public survey to gather evidence on the control required under general licence. The stated aim of the review, which is being led by Defra in close partnership with Natural England, is to deliver a robust system of licensing to manage the issues that arise between the protection of wild birds, and the legitimate activities people need to carry out for specific purposes such as protecting livestock or crops, and for conservation purposes.
It is very important that licence users, whether they are controlling pigeons to protect crops or crows to conserve ground nesting birds, respond to the consultation to ensure that there is ample evidence to support the inclusion of all necessary species for all necessary purposes in the General Licences.
All information submitted will be considered alongside the evidence that Defra received during its shorter call for evidence held in the Spring, which highlighted a number of areas where evidence is currently lacking. This survey builds on that call for evidence, asking for more specific information to feed into the development of a future licensing system. It is Defra’s responsibility to ensure that the new licences are not vulnerable to the malicious legal activism that caused so much damage to crops, livestock and threatened species earlier this year, but we must take responsibility for providing the necessary evidence which will allow it to do that. It is therefore incumbent on all users to complete the survey. Responses must be with Defra by 5th December.
I also had the opportunity to discuss a range of other issues with the Secretary of State from our submissions to the Treasury on the spending review including support for the Post Office network, delivering rural broadband and rate relief for rural businesses, through to our proposals for amendments to the law to help tackle hare poaching. We are obviously in a time of extraordinary political uncertainty, but I was heartened that for as long as this Government lasts there is an obvious willingness to work together for the benefit of the countryside.
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