Medical News Have people in the UK really been banned from shooting wood pigeons?
25 April 2019
There will no longer be a blanket licence to shoot wood pigeons in the UKGeoff Smith / Alamy Stock Photo
By Michael Le PageWhat’s all this fuss about shooting birds?
People in the European Union can usually only kill wild birds if they have specifically been granted a licence to do so. But every January, the agency in charge of wildlife in the UK, Natural England, has been issuing a general licence that allows anyone in the UK to kill 16 species of birds including wood pigeons, crows, jays, rooks, jackdaws, magpies, Canada geese and parakeets. These general licences were revoked on 25 April, meaning individuals must now apply for a licence.
In February, wildlife conservationists Mark Avery, Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham launched a legal case asserting that the system of issuing general licences is unlawful. On 23 April, Natural England conceded that they were right.
And this has upset many people?
Yes. Many farmers and landowners are furious, saying they have to kill pigeons to protect crops, carrion crows to protect lambs, and so on. Someone got so upset they hung dead crows on Packham’s gate. Crows are also killed to protect ground-nesting birds such as threatened curlews and lapwings.
Do the conservationists want all the shooting to stop?
No, absolutely not, says Avery. The trio accept that landowners sometimes need to kill birds that are causing problems. Rather, the aim is to get everyone to sit down and talk, and agree on a system that is legal, fair and based on science, he says. People shouldn’t be able to kill birds just because they feel like it.
Can you give examples?
Farmers ought to able to shoot wood pigeons if they are causing damage to crops, Avery says. They are the main target already – it’s estimated 1 to 3 million pigeons are killed each year. By contrast, there’s no reason why people should be able to kill jays with impunity, Avery says. While they do kill songbirds, they are not to blame for the sharp decline in songbird numbers in the UK over the past 50 years – that’s due to farming practices destroying songbirds’ habitat.
What about crows?
This is the most contentious area. Besides sometimes attacking vulnerable farm animals such as newborn lambs, crows are the second biggest UK predator after foxes of ground-nesting birds. “There’s definitely a case for controlling crows around ground-nesting birds,” says conservationist Mary Colwell, who has written about the plight of the curlew. Organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds kill several hundred crows each year for this reason.
Altogether, it is estimated that 100,000 are killed each year, says Avery. “We’re not saying that none ought be killed but we’re saying that killing ought to be legal and well-thought through and regulated,” he says.
Are crows in decline, too?
No, far from it. They have been thriving and the population in the UK has grown to a million. It is suspected that the 50 million game birds released by the UK’s shooting industry each year are helping predators like crows and foxes thrive, as most are not shot and end up as, say, road kill. The high number of predators adds to the pressure on species such as curlews, though the main cause of their decline is intensive farming.
If people will still be able to shoot birds, why is everyone so upset?
It’s partly because the general licences have suddenly been revoked with just two days notice and no plan B. “Natural England is working at pace to put in place over the next few weeks alternative measures to allow lawful control of these bird species to continue where necessary,” the agency said in a statement. This was not the aim of Avery, Tingray and Packham – their lawsuit called only for the licences not to be renewed next year.
It seems Natural England decided to act sooner. It could not have happened at a worse time, says Colwell. But she supports the overall aim. “People shouldn’t be able to shoot wildlife just because they feel like it.”
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