Michael Gove lifts the ban on shooting birds that triggered death threats against Chris Packham

Farmers can get back to ‘business as usual’, British Association of Shooting and Conservation says

Abby Young-Powell
Friday 14 June 2019 20:18 BST
Michael Gove lifts the ban on shooting birds that triggered death threats against Chris Packham

Michael Gove has lifted a ban on shooting birds that was introduced following pressure from environmentalists and saw death threats levelled against Chris Packham.

The U-turn follows calls by angry Tory MPs for the environment secretary to “take back control,” after the ban was heavily criticised by farmers and rural landowners.

Earlier this year, Natural England, the non-departmental public body sponsored by the environment department, changed rules that allowed the shooting of 16 bird species, including crows, wood pigeons and jays to protect crops and livestock.

The decision came after a legal challenge from Wild Justice, a conservation group set up by Packham and Ruth Tingay, among others.

After it came into force, farmers claimed they could no longer cull crows attacking newborn lambs or stop pigeons stripping their crops, unless they applied for individual licences. This left them fearful of prosecution, they said.

After the ban came into force, Packham received “death threats of a very serious nature” against him and his family.

Dead crows were also strung to the gate outside his home.

The wildlife presenter told Good Morning Britain at the time that “bullies” were targeting him, as well as small businesses and charities that he is affiliated with.

“We’ve had packages sent containing human excrement,” he said.

BBC presenter Chris Packham found dead crows strung up outside his house

Now Mr Gove has issued three new licences which are almost identical to the one that was banned.

However, they have a new stipulation that they do not apply in certain protection zones.

They “seek to minimise some of the negative impacts that the withdrawal of the previous licences had”, Mr Gove said in a statement.

Welcoming the announcement, the chair of Natural England Tony Juniper CBE said: “Our aim has always been to ensure that there is a robust licensing system in place which takes into account the needs of people and wildlife.”

Mr Gove, a Tory leadership contender, began an investigation into the ban in May, saying it was something that needed to be done with “intensity and urgency”.

Over 4,000 responses were submitted as evidence, including crow attacks on lambs and ewes during lambing and public health issues caused by pigeons in urban areas.

The British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) told The Independent the new licences will allow many in the countryside to “get back to business as usual”.

Chief executive Ian Bell said: ”We are content that the new, additional general licences will be fit for purpose in many areas.”

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, also told The Independent that the group was ”grateful for the secretary of state’s intervention”.

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However, Mark Avery, who co-founded Wild Justice, said on his website that the new general licences were “not so new”.

He wrote that the group “will be looking carefully at these and consulting with our lawyers over the next few days”.

Paul de Zylva, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told The Independent: “We need as much protection as possible for animals and the habitats they desperately need. Instead we have Mr Gove reversing protection for birds.”

Martin Harper, global conservation director at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) also said in a statement that the new licences “do not go far enough”.

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