What can you shoot?

Blame the Conservatives.

Blame the Conservatives. “Oh don’t worry,” they said back in 1991. “It’s just a fudge to get us out of a problem.” That’s the trouble with letting governments pass silly laws. The 1991 Birds Directive from the EU forced the UK to ban pigeon shooting. Of course, the UK didn’t. The Tory government of the day came up with the “general licences”. Basically the UK government bans pigeon shooting but then issues a licence to allow it – a licence that applies to anyone in the UK.

Unfortunately, that licence gets reviewed from time to time. The first time the government reviewed it – in March 2005 – it told us we had to try to scare the pigeons before we shoot them. That rule lasted a week before someone with some sense in Defra withdrew it. Now the review is annual. It expires each year on 31 December in England, Scotland and Wales. It would only take a government in a loony frame of mind to ban pigeon shooting.

With the law as it stands, pigeon shooting is not something you do for sport. It’s only legal if you are doing it for one of the officially approved reasons on the general licence. These are:

preventing the spread of diseasepreventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters.

If you can’t prove you are doing any of those, and some bolshy RSPCA officer comes knocking, you could be in trouble.

The herring gull is on the same licence. In May last year, a Devon man was found guilty of killing a herring gull, fined �400 and given a one year’s conditional discharge after the case was brought against him by the RSPCA. The man shot the gull with an air-rifle after it defecated in his wife’s salad. The RSPCA argued in court that he had not dispatched the herring gull within the terms of the licence but had shot it out of sheer annoyance.

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It’s vital that you can tell the difference between woodpigeons and other doves and pigeons – some can legally be shot, some can’t. Collared doves can be shot (except in Northern Ireland). So can feral pigeons. But the identical rock dove can’t. Neither can stock doves. And beware the sparrow-hawk, which can look uncannily like a pigeon as it swoops past your hide!