Michael Gove seizes powers to issue shooting licences in bitter row over control of wild birds

The Environment Secretary has seized control of shooting licensing powers in a bid to resolve a bitter row over the control of ‘pest’ wild birds.

Michael Gove informed Natural England on Saturday he was taking over some of its functions due to ‘the scale of interest and concern’ over the organisation’s decision to revoke certain licences due to legal threats from wildlife campaigners.

Officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have been instructed to formally gather evidence to help determine the future of licensing arrangements.

Mr Gove said the situation needed 'to be considered with particular intensity and urgency' and that he would decide on 'the best way forward'. The Environment Secretary takes over the issuing of general licences under section 16(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Mr Gove said the situation needed 'to be considered with particular intensity and urgency' and that he would decide on 'the best way forward'. The Environment Secretary takes over the issuing of general licences under section 16(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Mr Gove said the situation needed ‘to be considered with particular intensity and urgency’ and that he would decide on ‘the best way forward’. The Environment Secretary takes over the issuing of general licences under section 16(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Environmentalists at Wild Justice sought a judicial review of licences which permit the killing of certain species of wild birds to prevent serious damage or disease in farmland.

The legal challenge led Natural England, the body advising the Government on managing the natural environment, to revoke three general licences which allowed the shooting of 16 species of bird, including crows, magpies, Canada geese and feral and wood pigeons.

Broadcaster Chris Packham said he had received death threats after backing the legal challenge. He is a director of Wild Justice

Broadcaster Chris Packham said he had received death threats after backing the legal challenge. He is a director of Wild Justice

Broadcaster Chris Packham said he had received death threats after backing the legal challenge. He is a director of Wild Justice

They were replaced by individual licences, but rural bodies complained that the decision had left farmers and gamekeepers in chaos.

The issue hit the headlines after the bodies of two dead crows were hung from a gate outside the home of TV wildlife expert Chris Packham, two days after Natural England’s decision.

Mr Packham, who is a director of Wild Justice, said he had received death threats after backing the legal challenge.

Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, wrote to the Environment Secretary on Saturday inviting him to temporarily take control of the situation.

He said his organisation was ‘forced’ into revoking the licenses after ‘unequivocal legal advice’ indicated it would lose a defence mounted against the legal action.

Mr Juniper said Natural England ‘had no choice but to concede to the claim by accepting that the current licence was unlawful’.

The issue hit the headlines after the bodies of two dead crows were hung from a gate outside the home of TV wildlife expert Chris Packham, two days after Natural England's decision

The issue hit the headlines after the bodies of two dead crows were hung from a gate outside the home of TV wildlife expert Chris Packham, two days after Natural England's decision

The issue hit the headlines after the bodies of two dead crows were hung from a gate outside the home of TV wildlife expert Chris Packham, two days after Natural England’s decision 

He added: ‘Despite our efforts to explain the need for the change, some groups are reporting confusion among their members and a level of dissatisfaction that is in some cases spilling over into frustration.’

In a written response, Mr Gove said the situation needed ‘to be considered with particular intensity and urgency’ and that he would decide on ‘the best way forward’.

The Environment Secretary takes over the issuing of general licences under section 16(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

This does not affect Natural England’s ability to grant individual licences.

Bodies including the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Countryside Alliance, and the National Gamekeepers Organisation previously wrote an open letter to Mr Gove calling on him to launch an investigation into Natural England’s decision.

BASC chief executive Ian Bell said he hoped Mr Gove’s move would be ‘the first step to resolving the current chaos in the countryside’.

He added: ‘This shambles of the last week or so was created by Natural England’s ill-advised decision to withdraw all licences without consultation or notice and, in effect, remove pest control at a critical time of year.

‘We hope that this intervention by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, represents that he is getting a grip of this problem and BASC will join the other leading organisations in providing evidence into the review to ensure we end up with a system of general licences that are fit for purpose.’

A call for evidence on the impact of the withdrawn general licences has been launched by Defra and will close on May 13.

Mr Gove will then take a further week to consider submitted views before making a decision.

The legal challenge led Natural England, the body advising the Government on managing the natural environment, to revoke three general licences which allowed the shooting of 16 species of bird, including crows, magpies, Canada geese and feral and wood pigeons [File photo]

The legal challenge led Natural England, the body advising the Government on managing the natural environment, to revoke three general licences which allowed the shooting of 16 species of bird, including crows, magpies, Canada geese and feral and wood pigeons [File photo]

The legal challenge led Natural England, the body advising the Government on managing the natural environment, to revoke three general licences which allowed the shooting of 16 species of bird, including crows, magpies, Canada geese and feral and wood pigeons [File photo]

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