The men and women working hard to protect and conserve wild birds were dealt a boost today (18 January) as the High Court has ruled that Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) General Licences are lawful. This came after a legal challenge by Wild Justice. The campaigning body, led by Mark Avery, Chris Packham and Ruth Tingay, argued that NRW ‘was not doing its job properly’.
The legal challenge related to general licences GL001, GL002 and GL004 to kill wild birds issued by NRW on 1 January 2020. It also looked at the extent to which the licences specified the circumstances in which they may be relied on, and whether NRW had sufficient evidence to justify derogating from the general prohibition on the killing of wild birds, such as carrion crows, jays, magpies and jackdaws. They are available for the purpose of preventing serious damage or disease to crops or livestock, protecting public health and conserving certain species of wild birds.
Despite asserting earlier this month that they are ‘hopeful that the judge will say that NRW’s general licences are unlawful’, Wild Justice has announced that is it ‘delighted at the content of the judgment, and its implications.’
Ceri Davies, NRW’s Executive Director for Evidence, Planning and Policy said the Welsh government sponsored body were 'pleased' with the ruling. "The judgment confirms the evidence based and proportionate approach taken by NRW," she said.
One rule for one and another for gamekeepers?
There is also a curious discrepancy in the way Wild Justice approach lethal control.
Today they argued that “Wild Justice believes these same issues appear to apply to the 'livestock and crops' licence (GL001) and so farmers should be aware that they may be acting unlawfully if they carry out 'pest control' at inappropriate times of year or in the 'wrong' places. This is not, currently, a matter of the highest priority for Wild Justice as all along we have concentrated on the 'conservation' licence GL004. But this judgment does have implications for other casual bird killing.”
If they are concerned enough about when crows are killed to raise a costly legal battle, surely they should be equally concerned about the fate of these birds across the licences.
What is the Wild Justice agenda? The GWCT is upfront about its aims – we want all reasonable tools to be available to those trying to maintain healthy populations of common birds and protect red and amber listed birds like the curlew, which could be extinct in Wales by as early as 2033. The above claim suggests that Wild Justice deem the protection of crops and livestock to be more important than protecting curlew and lapwing.
And at what cost? Wild Justice earlier claimed they were using £42,500 of donations for this challenge. We wait to see how much the Welsh taxpayer had to cough up for lawyers to question General Licences that Wild Justice themselves initially welcome.