A1. Do you agree that requiring an individual licence for the sites in Group 1 and excluding the sites from list in Group 2 from the scope of the general licence will help minimise negative impacts on the relevant protected sites in an effective and proportionate manner?
We do not agree with the proposal that named sites in Group 1 should require an Individual Licence. Instead, the GL should simply exclude "Any site for which a Stop Notice issued by Natural England is in force." This approach would also mean that if new sites of concern were to be identified such that a Stop Notice were needed, they would automatically cease to be covered by the GL.
The intention to exclude the sites listed in Group 2 is correct because they are not at risk from negative ecological impacts of gamebird release.
A2. Do you agree that a 500m buffer zone around SACs and SPAs will ensure that releases do not cause deterioration or significant disturbance of protected features of the sites?
A 500m buffer is not proportionate. The NE scientific evidence review and NE's own advice to Defra highlight that any significant damage is invariably confined to release pens with high densities of gamebirds and to within just 15m of such pens. There is no scientific evidence that direct damage extends to 500m. It is our view that a buffer extending to 500m is over precautionary and not necessary. Our view is that there should not be a statutory buffer zone, rather that there is a recommendation to release birds in the buffer zone according to GWCT’s sustainable releasing guidelines.
A3. Do you agree that introducing a 500m buffer zone around SACs and SPAs is feasible?
A4. Do you agree with the density limits chosen in order to minimise negative impacts of gamebird release on SACs and SPAs?
The densities for pheasant release (1,000 birds/ha of release pen in normal circumstances and 700 birds/ha of release pen for sensitive sites) proposed in the consultation are based on research that shows that effects on soils and floras inside pens are minimised and have been recommended by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust for many years. Within the General Licence we recommend that there is an advisory notice stating that, in the buffer zone, any releasing of pheasants on particularly sensitive sites (e.g. ancient semi natural woodland) should be at 700 birds/ha of pen Otherwise, we agree that 1,000 birds/ha of pen is an appropriate density within any buffer. The GWCT guidelines also refer to an ‘overall pen-size limit of one third of total available woodland or similar suitable pen habitats’. The quoted density for partridges is derived from best practice rather than science. Partridges are usually released onto cultivated or improved agricultural ground with relatively little potential for any ecological consequences. We believe however, based primarily on good husbandry practices, that it is a reasonable figure.
A5. Do you agree that users of the general licence should be required to supply information on the location and number of birds being released under it, along with information on their SSSI consent for releases on SACs and SPAs?
We are opposed to the requirement to supply such information. Gamebird release sites are well- established targets for poachers and animal rights activists and are sensitive sites in their own right, vulnerable to disturbance. There are examples of such data sets being either misused within Government or leaked to outsiders, inadvertently or otherwise. Examples include the use of the GB Poultry Register data in relation to assessing this very scheme and the release to animal rights campaigners of lists of individuals registered with Defra for badger culling.
A6. Are there any other conditions that you would like to see in the General Licence for releases on SACs or SPAs?
A7. Please highlight any views you may have on the condition above, or additional suggestions for conditions.
Whilst we do not accept that the licensing regime including a buffer extending to 500m is necessary, the proposed releasing guidelines are related to the evidence base for potential harm to protected sites. We would oppose any extension of the conditions beyond what is proposed here.
A8. Please highlight any views you may have on the recommendation above, or additional suggestions for recommendations.
A9. Do you have any objections and representations with respect to the addition of the red-legged partridge and common pheasant to Part 1, Schedule 9 of the WCA 1981?
GWCT does not agree that an interim licensing regime is needed because there are already processes in place to ensure the integrity of these sites via the SSSI consenting process.
We would advise in relation to this proposal, that any amendment to Schedule 9 WCA 1981 should exclude the Group 2 sites (as identified in the consultation) and this should not be left to the general licence regime. It would be disproportionate and potentially unlawful to make gamebird release illegal on and around such sites which, by definition, released gamebirds cannot ‘harm’. The change to Schedule 9 should therefore, only make unlawful the release (unless licensed), of common pheasant and red-legged partridge on and within the buffer of European protected sites, excluding all those listed on Group 2, for a defined period of time (see below).
Pheasants and red-legged partridges are naturalised species, not ‘problem non-native species’ as implied by the addition to Schedule 9. Pheasants have been in GB for at least 1000 years and red- legged partridges since the mid 18th century and are native elsewhere in Europe. There is no evidence that wild breeding populations of pheasants or red-legged partridges have implications for similar or other wildlife species, as is usually the case for Schedule 9 species. Direct negative ecological impacts are restricted to release areas and are balanced by positive management. In contrast to all other species on schedule 9, released pheasants and red-legged partridges provide a significant privately funded mechanism to maintain and enhance the natural environment through the provision and improvement of habitats, as outlined in the NE evidence review.
A10. Do you agree with the proposed inclusion in the statutory instrument of the sunset clause and a requirement on the Secretary of State to carry out a review after two years of the need for these statutory restrictions on gamebird releases on SACs and SPAs and in a 500m buffer zone around them?
The GWCT agrees with the proposed inclusion of a sunset clause in the statutory instrument because it is essential to provide reassurance of the Secretary of State’s commitment that this is an interim measure, solely to enable the gathering of further evidence.
Part B – Economic Impacts - This section seeks to inform our understanding of the likely impacts of the proposed interim licensing regime on users and wider interested parties. It is only relevant for those respondents who will require a licence to release gamebirds.
The GWCT is not providing answers to the questions in Part B as they are designed and worded for shoot managers who release on the proposed areas.
C1. Do you wish to set out any alternatives to the proposed licensing regime that can be implemented within the same timescales and can provide the equivalent level of protection for SACs or SPAs?
The GWCT does not agree that an interim licensing regime is needed. SPAs and SACs are already, as they are SSSIs, subject to a consenting regime and processes to ensure their integrity.