The following statement has been issued by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation:
High Court Grants Gamekeeper Go-Ahead To Challenge Natural England
Tuesday 25th Nov 2014
A gamekeeper has been given permission by the High Court to proceed with a claim for Judicial Review against the Government’s wildlife licensing authority, Natural England (NE). The self-employed gamekeeper had applied for a licence to control buzzards attacking young pheasants on a small game shooting enterprise he runs for local farmers in Northumberland. NE acknowledged that the birds of prey were causing serious damage but refused to issue a licence under the well-established licensing process approved by Parliament for use in such circumstances.
The Honourable Mrs Justice Thirlwall DBE gave permission to proceed with the claim for Judicial Review on the basis that it was arguable NE had been inconsistent and unreasonable in refusing the licence. The case will now proceed to a full hearing which is likely to take place in the first half of next year.
Ricky McMorn, the self-employed gamekeeper seeking the buzzard control licence, may go out of business and lose his livelihood if a licence is not forthcoming. He said:
“This is a real David and Goliath situation. I am having to battle the might of the state in the form of Natural England to protect my birds and my job. They admit I’ve got a problem and agree that I have done everything I can but still they won’t give me a licence. It’s unfair and it’s wrong. Hundreds of other people get licences to kill protected birds every year.”
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects all wild birds but it also allows for control licences to be granted for certain purposes. One of these is the prevention of serious damage to livestock including, specifically, gamebirds kept for the provision of shooting. Before any such licence can be granted by NE strict tests must be met – including demonstrating that the damage being caused is indeed serious and that there is no other satisfactory solution. Where these tests are met, however, a licence cannot be unreasonably withheld.
Whilst refusing this licence, in earlier considerations of the case NE has accepted that:
- the damage being experienced is serious;
- buzzards are the main cause of the pheasant deaths;
- Mr McMorn has done all that can reasonably be expected of him in scaring off the buzzards and otherwise protecting his pheasants;
- removing a small number of buzzards from the site would not compromise the species’ conservation status.
There are now over 300,000 buzzards in the UK and numbers are booming. The population has undergone a four-fold increase during the last forty years according to The State of UK Birds 2014, published on behalf of Natural England by the RSPB.
To prevent damage to fisheries, NE regularly issues licences under the same system to kill many thousands of cormorants each year – up to 20% of the UK population. Cormorant numbers peak at around 41,000 birds in the UK, compared to 300,000 buzzards.
NE also allows buzzards to be killed at UK airports and it has, in the recent past, allowed a free-range poultry farmer to trap and remove buzzards causing serious damage to his chickens. This is in sharp contrast to applications made by gamekeepers, where no licence to kill or remove buzzards has ever been granted.
Mr McMorn’s case is being supported by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO), which believes strongly that the law and due process should always be followed. The NGO’s spokesman said:
“This case is about a gamekeeper who is trying to do the right thing within the law to address a real and serious threat to his livelihood. NE has a duty to administer licensing fairly, yet the facts speak for themselves. Extensive discussions with NE about solving our member’s problem and saving his job have got nowhere. It is time to let the High Court decide whether NE has been acting in accordance with the law.
“Fair and proper implementation of the longstanding licensing system is essential, not only to the wellbeing of the countryside and those who work there but also ultimately to its wildlife. If expanding predatory species become problematic but people are denied access to the existing legitimate solution, the risk of mavericks undertaking indiscriminate, illegal activity will never go away. We utterly condemn illegal persecution of birds of prey and it must stop.”
Previous blogs on this issue:
23 May 2012: RSPB response to DEFRA’s (illegal) buzzard trial.
30 May 2012: DEFRA backs down on Buzzard ‘management’ trial.
13 June 2012: #Buzzardgate aftermath.
10 January 2013: The buzzard blame game.
3 June 2013: Buzzard licencing: turning up the heat.
5 June 2013: Natural England says no to buzzard-killing licence.
20 June 2013: Hand in of buzzard petition today at Holyrood.
26 September 2013: Buzzard licence applicant tries for four more licences.
1 October 2013: Why we don’t trust the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.