Game bird shoots lose ‘licence to kill’

Last week Natural England controversially announced the withdrawal of licences to routinely kill wild birds on game bird shooting estates.

The move was made in the face of a legal challenge by Wild Justice — a new environmental organisation which represents wildlife in the courts, and shows that Natural England, the government’s habitat regulator, has conceded the habitual killing of sixteen species of wild birds was illegal.

Gamekeepers have routinely exploited general licences to purge the countryside of crows, magpies, rooks and other wild birds using macabre methods. Their goal? To ensure enough red grouse, factory-farmed pheasants and partridges make it up into the air to be used as feathered targets.

Larsen traps are one draconian tool used for gamekeeper’s cruel endeavours - scores were recently documented by the League on the Walshaw Moor Estate, being prepared for deployment across the grouse moor throughout spring and summer.

Birds held captive in larsen traps are caused considerable distress and suffering - often injuring themselves when repetitively flying at cage walls in a forlorn attempt to escape. Some wild-caught birds are held for weeks on end to entice others into the traps. Many are deprived of food and water - like on the Chargot Estate, where a gamekeeper was cautioned by police for criminal animal cruelty. The game bird shooting industry recommends killing trapped birds by bludgeoning or slamming their heads against the blunt cage edge.

Natural England’s concession means that, as of Thursday 25 April, it will be illegal for gamekeepers to habitually trap, shoot and destroy the nests or eggs of corvids on shooting estates. Hobby killers engaging in the emerging bloodsport of pigeon roost shooting will also, for the first time, be required to obtain a licence.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this move has not been welcomed by the shooting lobby. However, instead of a rational measured response, we have seen prominent Wild Justice member and well-known TV presenter Chris Packham  sent death threats, human excrement and having dead crows nailed to his gate. There is nothing I can say about these actions that doesn’t speak for itself.

While Natural England has also announced new, legal, licences will replace the old, that they were forced to concede in the first place is testament to the strength of Wild Justice. It may be a new organisation, but it has made a very big impact in a small amount of time. British wildlife needs its champions and defenders. I, and the League Against Cruel Sports, welcome it, and we are all  very keen to see what’s next.

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