April 23rd 2019 will go down in rural folklore not as just another St Georges Day. It will go down on record as the day that England – Natural England – capitulated to the writhing serpent that calls itself ‘Wild Justice’. The day when the venomous beast breathed a little fire and the designated protectorate of our wildlife just rolled over and died. The day when the birdsong died.
Yesterday, without any prior consultation with our shooting organisations, Natural England announced at around 3.30pm that within just 36 hours it was revoking three of their General Licenses. GL 04, 05 and 06. The legal mechanisms by which everyday rural folk (farmers and gamekeepers) and professional pest controllers are able to cull predatory pest species such as corvids (crows) and gulls. The same Licenses which allow thousands of shooters to assist with crop protection by culling woodpigeon flocks. The announcement warned that from Thursday 25thApril 2019, persons relying on these particular General Licenses to underwrite pest control could be breaking the law.
Just consider the timing! April. Nesting time. The season when multitudes of songbird and ground nesting species are breeding. The exact reason for which General License 06 was designed and employed. To protect eggs and fledglings from the relentless onslaught of corvid predation. It is also the time when spring crops are under assault from the woodpigeon. A bird with a UK population of around 10,000,000 now. Hence General License 04.
The reason given by Natural England for the instant revocation is the legal challenge to the authority of the General Licenses by a small group of animal rights zealots calling themselves ‘Wild Justice’. The reason for their challenge purports to be to stop the ‘casual’ killing of selective bird species by shooters. I can assure them that there is nothing ‘casual’ about my (or my peers) approach to corvid or pigeon control at this time of year. It is planned and meticulous, particularly with regard to nest protection.
Putting prejudice aside, I fail to see what this group think they have achieved in opening up hedgerow and field, for coming weeks at least, to open and unrestrained attack from magpies and crows. Despite calling themselves animal lovers, they have just condemned thousand upon thousand of small bird species to slaughter by beak and claw. They have just put several red-listed species under direct threat, including some of our rarest waders who suffer most from corvid predation. Species whose only real protection comes from the shooting community. Thus the behaviour of Wild Justice smacks as an outright attack on shooting, not an interest in conservation, and Natural England have just failed miserably to represent the interests of rural England. Interestingly, one of the first organisations that will suffer through this decision will be the RSPB, who themselves use the General Licenses to protect (or authorise protection of) vulnerable species on their own estate.
Oh … the irony! For two of the three main protagonists running Wild Justice are Dr Mark Avery, former Conservation Director of the RSPB and Chris Packham, a Vice President of the RSPB.
You couldn’t make it up could you? Let’s give Nature a voice. In fact, let’s hear it squeal in terror while it’s eaten alive.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler April 2019