Following NRW’s consultation at the end of last year, this week we have been made aware of proposed changes to the General Licences in Wales. These proposed changes could come into force on 1 July, after the current licences expire at the end of June. The proposed changes are being voted on next week by the NRW board on the 24 March.
The GWCT is extremely disappointed with the proposed changes, which could be considered a worst-case scenario given the questions posed within the previous consultation. If the board votes to accept the changes, then General Licence 004 ‘Licence to kill or take certain wild birds for the purpose of conserving wild birds’ will change dramatically and severely constrict conservation efforts across Wales.
At a time when the Welsh Government has declared a nature emergency due to declining species, we are baffled that NRW is stripping away a tool from the conservationist’s toolbox and hindering conservation efforts. Most conservation organisations agree and realise the importance of predation control within nature conservation, understanding that habitat alone is not enough to reverse nature declines in certain species. However, despite NRW’s own review concluding that there is well-established scientific evidence of impact for magpie and jay to be included on GL 004, it proposes to remove these species from the licence along with jackdaw.
Its reasoning to remove magpie is that they have declined in Wales and will soon be Amber listed. Following the principle that a Bird of Conservation Concern should not be subject to control under a general licence may seem sensible on paper, but the picture is more complicated than that. Magpie have declined by approximately 25% in Wales since the 1990s, but following the above principle fails to recognise any form of historical context to that 1990s population, which had more than doubled since the 1960s. Despite the recent decline, we still have a high abundance of magpie in the Welsh countryside, which still have the localised capacity to stall population recovery of hedgerow and woodland nesting birds.
In its consultation, NRW had stated that it believed it was appropriate to include jay on GL 004 but limit beneficiary species to breeding wild bird species of scrub and woodland habitats, as has been done on the English licence. However, NRW has now proposed to remove jay off the licence completely, in what can only be assumed is a response to its consultation feedback, where 82% of responses thought jay should be removed. Predation control is an emotive topic and is often poorly understood, and we argue that decisions should be made on scientific evidence rather than public pressure.
NRW has also clarified the window where eggs and chicks can be protected by establishing dates between which carrion crows can be controlled under GL 004. Users of GL 004 ‘Licence to kill or take certain wild birds for the purpose of conserving wild birds’ will now only be able to control carrion crow to conserve other wild birds between 1 February and 31 August.
Please note the above changes do not impact GL 001 ‘Licence to kill or take certain wild birds to prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit or to prevent the spread of disease to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit’, which allows the control of Canada goose, woodpigeon, feral pigeon, carrion crow, jackdaw and magpie.