The gamebird “interim licensing system” consultation & how to respond

The deadline to respond to the consultation is March 15th
Credit: Lakeview_Images/Getty

The deadline to respond to the consultation is March 15th Credit: Lakeview_Images/Getty - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

What is DEFRA’s gamebird release consultation about & how can I respond to it? Find everything you need to know here!

The NGO has submitted its response to Defra’s consultation on the ‘interim licensing scheme’. This proposes the release of gamebirds will be banned on certain sites unless it is carried out under the terms of a new licence. Members are encouraged to submit their response by the deadline of 15 March 2021. You can view the NGO’s response to the consultation here.

What is the gamebird release consultation about?

Defra’s three-week consultation, launched on 23 February 2021, proposes restrictions on the release of pheasants and red-legged partridges in England’s Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).

Defra’s proposal is that releasing pheasants and red-legged partridges in the protected sites and within a 500m buffer around them will be banned via a change to the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which will last for the next three years. During that time, release in these areas will only be possible under licence, and conditions will apply to limit release densities below the threshold at which there is any possible risk of damage.

The Government says the scheme is necessary because Natural England (NE) cannot currently give assurance that gamebird releasing does not harm the protected sites. This is because NE is way behind with its work. In effect, the proposed new bureaucracy means the shooting community paying the price – at least for a time – for NE’s failures. A court challenge mounted by Wild Justice last year drew the matter to Defra’s attention.

What can you do?

The NGO is urging all gamekeepers and others involved with shoots that might be affected to read the consultation and respond via the questionnaire it contains. Section C is particularly important as that enables individual shoots to outline the potential economic impact of the proposals. You have until the 15 March to submit your response.

To submit your response to the consultation, click here.

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Commentary from our rural organisations

Dr Roger Draycott, Director of GWCT Advisory, commented: “The GWCT will be carefully reading and responding to the consultation. We have previously questioned the scientific rationale and need for a buffer extending to 500m, but we are pleased to see that the key conditions relating to pheasant-releasing densities are based on the GWCT’s science-based sustainable gamebird releasing guidelines.

“We urge all shoots, whether in protected sites or not, to follow these guidelines which, alongside the GWCT’s Principles of Sustainable Gamebird Management, helps ensure they deliver a net biodiversity gain.”

Liam Bell, the NGO Chairman, said: “We do not accept that this proposed scheme is necessary, nor do we like it, but it is essential that affected shoots now have their say.

“The NGO has been lobbying Defra hard for many weeks on this. Together with other shooting and land management organisations, we have fought to limit the problems that the scheme could cause our members. We managed to get all estuarine SPAs and SACs excluded and also to ensure that General Licensing by Defra is the main vehicle proposed, rather than Individual Licensing by NE.

“We will be making further comments on the scheme. In particular, we think three years is more time than NE should be allowed to do a job that it should have finished long ago. It is also grossly unfair that the scheme is planned to come into effect within months, giving gamekeepers yet more headaches on top of all they have had to cope with during the Covid pandemic.”

Glynn Evans, BASC’s head of game and gundogs, said: “The focus on shooting on European Protected Sites is over precautionary, unnecessary and will potentially set a precedent for other activities undertaken on designated sites.

“BASC is currently reviewing the consultation in order to produce a fully comprehensive response and take a decision on the appropriate action to ensure shooting activities on European Protected Sites are not left disadvantaged.

“The consultation is already behind schedule, as the period for gamebird release in 2021 is fast approaching. BASC has already made representation with Defra to withdraw the process until next year.”