14 July 2013
Article by Alex Royan, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 provides legal protection to a large number of plant and animal species in Wales. However, in some circumstances licences may be acquired to carry out activities that would otherwise be regarded as illegal.
A devolved matter
Responsibility for the implementation of wildlife licensing under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in Wales lies with
Natural Resources Wales (NRW). NRW may permit licences for certain activities for purposes such as scientific research, conservation, public health or safety, preventing the spread of disease, and preventing serious damage to crops. However, licences cannot be permitted under the Act for development purposes.
NRW may provide licences for some activities under a General Licence. This is used for activities with a low risk for the welfare of protected species and typically applies to species considered as pests, as invasive, or as a public health risk. A General Licence may permit the uprooting of plants, the killing of wildlife, or the destruction of wildlife habitat, depending on the circumstance.
Natural England Consultation
Natural England has recently closed a consultation on ‘General and Class Licences under wildlife legislation in England’. Natural England state that the purpose of the consultation was to ensure that they:
Strike a balance that ensures the protection of species and sites whilst reducing any unnecessary burdens on those we regulate.
The consultation included proposals to add some species of bird to the General Licences, including Greylag Geese, Egyptian Geese and Mallard. This would allow the killing of birds and the destruction of their nests and eggs to prevent agricultural damage or disease. The consultation also sought to seek views on permitting the taking, damaging and destroying of nests and eggs of Pied Wagtail, Robin and Starling in situations where nests pose a potential health and safety hazard. Views on a voluntary reporting scheme were also gathered as records on the application of General Licences are not currently collected.
The consultation has generated considerable debate and polarised opinion amongst prominent UK environmental and agricultural organisations.
The RSPB’s response outlined its opposition to the consultation, in particular citing a lack of supporting evidence for proposals to add species to the General Licence on the grounds that they are a threat to native wildlife. They also have concerns that it would allow the destruction of nests of species such as robins without monitoring or reporting. Additionally, the RSPB considers it inappropriate for species such as starling to be killed/taken under General Licence due to sustained population declines.
The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation both agree with proposals to add species to the General Licence but lament the increased burden on licence users. Similarly, the National Farmers Union (NFU) rejects proposals for voluntary reporting of General Licence activity.
Relevance to Wales
The Natural England consultation concerns only the arrangements for licensing in England and NRW has not announced proposals to introduce such measures in Wales. The Welsh Government previously removed the Starling, House Sparrow and some species of gull from General Licences for preserving public health and safety, and the Starling from General Licences for agricultural pests, over concerns that this was contributing to population declines.