Some wild birds can now be killed in order to protect game birds raised for shooting in England, after the government updated guidelines on its general licenses.
General Shooting Licenses give broad authorizations to shoot certain species of wild birds in order to protect livestock, aid in conservation, and maintain public health and safety.
The new licenses were issued for two years instead of one, with government officials saying it was to bring “stability and certainty” to the shooters.
General licenses are permissive licenses, which means that users do not need to apply for them but must comply with their terms and conditions when undertaking controlled acts.
There has been some debate as to whether pheasants, partridges and grouse count as cattle, as they are wild birds, and therefore whether predators can be slaughtered in order to protect them.
The Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has published a new definition of “cattle” including these birds, to give explicit permission to shoot crows, jackdaws, magpies and crows. .
It reads: “” The breeding “is as defined in article 27 (1) of the 1981 [Wildlife and Countryside] Act. For the purposes of this license, this term also includes game birds kept in an enclosure or which roam freely but which remain considerably dependent on the provision of food, water or shelter by a keeper for their survival. It does not include complementary feeding.
A Defra spokesperson said the change was made after game wardens asked for more clarification on whether game birds were considered cattle.
The new wording makes it clear that wild predatory birds cannot be slaughtered under this license in order to protect wild game birds that do not depend on humans for food and shelter, but they can be slaughtered under of the license if they are.
The official added: âThe new general licenses have been updated to clarify when they apply and make it clear when game birds cease to be cattle and become wild birds. None of the changes affect the activities that license users are allowed to do.
âWe continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that our licensing process is robust for wildlife and achievable for users in the future. “
Conservation groups have raised concerns that the update could lead to an increase in the killing of wild birds.
RSPB Site Conservation Policy Officer Kate Jennings said: âWhile this update to the General Breeding License goes beyond a reclassification of terminology and implies that it will result in a increased killing of wild birds to protect game bird interests, so given the natural and climatic emergency we find ourselves in, that would be a huge setback for nature conservation in this country. “
The blanket licenses have been challenged by wildlife groups, including BBC presenter Chris Packham’s Wild Justice. His group challenged the legislation and in 2019 succeeded in having it suspended. Wild Justice has since been successful in securing changes, including the removal of all species of gulls, and the locations where they can be used no longer include Sites of Special Scientific Interest and other nature preserves.