by Countryside Alliance

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Shooting and countryside organisations have united to demand the utter chaos caused by Natural England’s decision to change General Licences, to allow control of certain species of birds, is minimised and resolved as quickly as possible.

Natural England is planning to temporarily withdraw current General Licences from midnight tonight and countryside organisations have urged the Government and Natural England to delay the changes until the breeding season is over.

If the Government and Natural England refuse to rethink their position then they must implement new licensing arrangements immediately so people can undertake legal pest control effectively.

After the unexpected announcement from Natural England that they were temporarily withdrawing three General Licences, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Countryside Alliance (CA), Country Land and Business Association (CLA), National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO), Moorland Association (MA) and Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) have come together to demand the next set of licences are implemented quickly, and are simple to understand and use.

The General Licence has been an effective management tool for farmers, pest controllers and conservationists for decades. For Natural England to give just 36 hours’ notice that the licences were to be withdrawn, especially at such a vital time of the year for wildlife management, is unacceptable. Natural England knew of their plans in February but did not inform any one publicly until April 23. As a group we have made clear our extreme disappointment at Natural England’s decision, and the manner in which this issue has been handled by them has been roundly criticised, even by those who were seeking to change the way in which general licences are issued.

However, we understand the need to work with the statutory body in order to deliver an effective and legal set of new licences that are fit for purpose as quickly as possible.

Tim Bonner, Chief Executive Countryside Alliance, said: “We have united as a group of organisations to ensure Natural England’s next decision is in the interest of the thousands of farmers, pest controllers and conservationists that use the General Licence for the benefit of our countryside. Natural England should stick to their principles instead of bowing down to animal rights pressure groups”.

BASC Chief Executive Ian Bell said: “BASC has been fighting around the clock to ensure that the work can continue to protect young lambs, red-listed birds and valuable crops. I have demanded meetings with Natural England at which I have made plain the outrage in the countryside at the manner at which this has been handled. We have briefed MPs and ensured that Government Ministers are left in no doubt of the damage this will do to the countryside and Natural England’s reputation. We have briefed our members and will ensure that they are the first to know when sensible and practical alternatives to the general licence are put in place. This is a matter of urgency for the health and welfare of the countryside.”

Tim Breitmeyer, CLA President said: “The abrupt halt to the licensing system leaves our members in complete limbo, unsure of what they can do to protect their crops, young livestock or farmland birds. A burdensome administrative process will only exacerbate the unintended consequences of an ill thought-through decision. This time Natural England has to get it right and ensure that the likely flood of new applications are dealt with speedily and efficiently.”

NGO Chairman, Liam Bell, said: "Natural England has made an absolute shamble of this and has put gamekeepers and others to huge inconvenience and concern, to say nothing of imperilling vulnerable nesting gamebirds and wildlife. We are united with other like-minded organisations in demanding a return to workable General Licensing within the shortest possible time. Once that has been secured, there must surely be consequences for those at NE who have made serious mistakes and miscalculations."

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, said: “The managed grouse moors of upland England are alive with the next generation of vulnerable ground nesting birds. The survival of their chicks in the next few weeks is paramount to threatened populations of curlew, lapwing, golden plover and black grouse. Natural England had since February to prepare a smooth transition from old to new licences yet prefer to let the very birds they are supposed to protect, perish whilst landowner and gamekeepers look on in dismay and disbelief. We need answers and fast to avert further mayhem.”

Andrew Gilruth, GWCT Director of Communications, said: “Suspending pest control licences, before replacements are in place, is a hammer blow for wildlife. One large scale European review found that 70% of curlew nests were not able to hatch a single chick due to predation. It’s bizarre Natural England appear unaware that modern conservationists trap and remove crows to protect the chicks of our most threatened species. As a result, all such traps are being removed across England at the very moment species such as curlew, meadow pipit and golden plover need our protection the most – when they are nesting.”

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