Licence to kill or legitimate control scheme?

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which is the Scottish Government’s adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland, launched a 12-week consultation about what it calls ‘the control of wild birds’ last week.

The consultation covers circumstances when wild birds can be ‘controlled’ under General Licence.

SNH’s press release states: “All wild birds are protected by law. But in some circumstances, SNH allows wild birds to be controlled – for example, to prevent serious damage to crops, protect public health, and ensure air safety when flocks of birds are liable to get in flight paths.”

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s Head of Wildlife Management, said: “Our role is to help wild birds thrive, but we must balance this with making sure the public is safe from health and safety risks, as well as ensuring that farmers can protect their crops.

“We have brought forward our planned consultation in light of the ongoing legal challenges in England. We want to ensure that our licences take into account the implications of those challenges and remain clear, proportionate and fit-for-purpose.

“The consultation, along with our ongoing work, will provide us with valuable feedback – this will allow us to consider if we need to make changes to the current set of licenses for 2020.”

The legal challenge referred to is that raised by Wild Justice to the system in England.

Wild Justice is a new not-for profit company set up by campaigners including Chris Packham to fight for wildlife. Their legal challenge forced Natural England to stop permitting the widespread killing of birds with no oversight, as they were unable to show that this was being carried out as a last resort measure.

SNH’s press release again: “General Licences cover relatively common situations – such as preventing agricultural damage and protecting public health and safety – when there’s unlikely to be any conservation impact on a species. They avoid the need for people to apply for individual licences for these specific situations. General Licences must strike the appropriate balance between species conservation and a range of other legitimate interests.”

SNH is looking for feedback specifically on the three most commonly used General Licences: those covering conserving wild birds, preventing damage to agricultural interests, and protecting public health and safety.

Robbie Kernahan added: “We would like to reassure those who are currently operating under the current 2019 General Licences in Scotland that these remain in place, allowing those who comply with the conditions to continue to use them.”

However, SNH’s plans have been criticised as “calling open season on killing ravens”.

Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman said: “This consultation was meant to be about improving protections for birds, but incredibly Scottish Natural Heritage has used it as a vehicle to allow the free slaughter of ravens, a protected species.

“SNH’s proposals would mean that land managers could freely kill as many of these magnificent birds as they like, with no monitoring or oversight, which is particularly astonishing given only last year SNH got into hot water for awarding a licence to kill up to 69 ravens a year.”

insideMORAY readers can come to their own conclusion by reading the consultation documents, which are available at https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/2019GL/