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General Licence 31 – Woodpigeons and serious damage to crops

This general licence was published yesterday evening by Natural England – the next ones look as though they will be published by Defra.

I’ve had a quick look at it.

Noticeable is this passage;

This appears to be a recognition of the point raised on this blog last week (and raised in the Wild Justice witness statement which was sent to Natural England on 21 March) which is that shooting Woodpigeons for sport, or even for the pot, is not something covered by the revoked General Licences nor by the wildlife laws the General Licences were supposed to be putting into effect. And to my knowledge, though I am not a lawyer, that type of shooting is not authorised by any other legislation. So, my guess is you can’t shoot Woodpigeons solely for sport or for the pot – and you never have been able to do that legally – unless also covered by the conditions relating to serious damage to crops.

Now, as raised on this blog, I think there would be an argument for legalising the shooting of Woodpigeons for food but that is my personal opinion and not that of Wild Justice and my personal opinion might change after the benefit of legal advice. But at the moment any supermarket or game dealer wanting to sell pigeon meat should surely be starting to think about how they can ensure that the pigeons whose meat they are selling have been killed lawfully under the terms of the General Licence 31.

If there is to be a change in the legal status of the Woodpigeon then, as I understand it, that would require legislation. If the government legislated to allow shooting of Woodpigeons for ‘sport’ or food, in addition to preventing serious damage to crops, then it would surely want to ensure that non-toxic ammunition was always used for any food going into the human food chain.

Another interesting feature of GL31 is this …

… where the peak breeding season is defined as ‘taken to be the period from May to September’. The previous GLs did not, as far as I can recall, have any mention of this period. It’s not quite business as usual is it?

Let us move on to serious damage, where serious damage is …

That looks a bit feeble to me. The licence is clear that ‘serious damage’ is more than ‘mere nuisance, or minor damage or normal business risk’ but then appears to accept that any feeding, on any of a large number of crops, at any time of year, under any circumstances, has the potential for ‘serious damage’. That’s like saying that we all have the potential to be murderers (which we do) and then assuming that we are all murderers (which we aren’t). Seems to me to be worth looking at in a bit more detail, that’s all I’d say for now.

I see that BASC has put out an interesting and vaguely sensible document on pigeons – interesting that it isn’t the NFU (farmers) but BASC (shooters).

There are some differences between what BASC (shooters) say about pigeon damage and the best ways to prevent damage compared with what the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board 2014 report on the subject says (even though it is possibly the report that BASC unsatisfactorily cites). For example, whereas BASC say that AHDB say that damage is 10-40% that was based on the perceptions of growers (and they wouldn’t exagerrate would they?) contacted by a telephone survey but the same report states that measured losses of yield (albeit measured in 1989 when overall Woodpigeon populations were lower in the UK) were in the order of 9%.

The AHDB report also has interesting things to say about methods of shooting and scaring that don’t appear to have been taken fully on board by BASC (who represent ‘sport’ shooters as well as farmers who sometimes need to shoot, remember) and some of which don’t seem fully integrated with GL31 – but I’ll read all of this stuff again over the weekend (particularly if it rains).

My discussions with some local farmers over the last few days have been along the lines of; they want to be able to shoot Woodpigeons as an aid to scaring, and they’d rather not have to fill in forms, but that most of the damage to crops is in very narrow periods of the year Jan-Mar (usually, in these parts, for oil seed rape). I get the impression that farmers will be easily satisfied by sensible regulation but that people shooting for fun may be more irate, and will be praying farming in aid of what are basically sports shooting motives. But hey, we’ll see.

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