The long-running legal battle about Natural England’s refusal to issue a gamekeeper with licences to kill buzzards and sparrowhawks to ‘protect’ his pheasants is due to reach a climax tomorrow.
Northumberland gamekeeper, Ricky McMorn, backed by financial support from the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, brought a judicial review to challenge Natural England’s decision. The judicial review took place in the High Court (London) over three days in June 2015 and the decision was deferred. We understand the decision is due to be announced tomorrow.
A quick re-cap:
In 2013, Natural England secretly provided Mr McMorn with a licence to destroy buzzard eggs and nests in order ‘to protect a pheasant shoot’ in Northumberland.
Later in 2013, McMorn submitted four more licence applications to Natural England, this time to shoot 16 buzzards and 3 sparrowhawks. Natural England rejected the application.
In 2014, McMorn submitted another licence application, this time to shoot ten buzzards “to prevent serious damage” to pheasant poults. Natural England rejected the application.
We’ve blogged extensively about this issue (see here for a summary).
It’s worth noting that the judicial review concerns whether Natural England acted fairly when rejecting McMorn’s licence applications. McMorn has argued that Natural England has unlawfully acted inconsistently in the way it has dealt with the licensing of buzzards as compared with other species of bird and that Natural England has been unlawfully influenced by public opinion. He has also argued that it was unreasonable for Natural England Directors repeatedly to reverse the recommendations of Natural England’s specialist scientific advisers that a licence should be granted.
The review is NOT about whether DEFRA/Natural England should entertain a licence application from a gamekeeper with a previous conviction for possession of banned poisons (apparently that’s not a problem, according to DEFRA/Natural England), nor whether the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation should expel a member with a conviction for possession of a banned poison (apparently not, according to the NGO), and nor whether there’s any scientific evidence to demonstrate that buzzards (and sparrowhawks) have a substantially detrimental effect on game bird shoots (there isn’t any evidence).
Tomorrow’s long-awaited decision will no doubt be interesting, whichever way it goes.