Wild Justice, the campaigning organisation that stands up for wildlife using the legal system and seeking changes to existing laws, have just mailed a hugely important press-release which looks at changes to the law impacting the role of gamekeepers which take effect in 2021.
The primary role of gamekeepers is not – as lobbyists like to tell us – ‘conservation’, it is killing any wildlife that their employers (the shooting industry) claim will impact their profits. This killing, which if you or I were to do it would see us breaking the law, has been allowed under the ‘barely-there’ terms of the government-issued General Licences. The terms of these licences have always been heavily loaded in favour of shooting, and heavily against native wildlife – especially foxes, mustelids (particularly stoats and weasels), Mountain Hares (see – Mountain Hares, partially protected), and corvids (members of the crow family: Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, Rook, and Raven – the very rare Chough is still fully protected).
Last year Wild Justice challenged the very loose way that the General Licence allowed corvids to be killed. What possible harm could Jays and Jackdaws cause, for example, and why should any native bird be killed simply to protect the profits of an industry that releases more than 60 million Schedule 9 non-native Common Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges every year just to be shot anyway?).
Along with changes to the welfare considerations of Stoats (see – New ‘protection’ for stoats?) and added protection for Mountain Hares in Scotland (which begins on March 1st), this will have enormous implications for gamekeepers, who have been happily slaughtering countless numbers of mammals and birds for decades without any restraints to speak of. This now changes, and as Wild Justice wryly state, “Gamekeepers operating crow traps will have to learn a new vocabulary to explain to the public what they are doing and why.”
Gamekeepers have never felt any need to explain to the public what they’re doing. It’s apparent though that increasing numbers of ‘the public’ are disgusted and horrified by what the shooting industry’s hired hands are doing to our wildlife and these changes to the law is just one more sign that what they have been getting away with for so long is not only ethically and morally wrong but legally incoherent as well…
Following reforms introduced as a result of Wild Justice’s legal challenges, the job description for gamekeepers in England has changed dramatically.
No longer is it legal to kill corvids to protect the adults, chicks or eggs of wild Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges under general licences issued by DEFRA. Under the terms of the conservation licence, General Licence 40, published on Friday for 2021, corvids can only be killed to conserve red-listed and amber-listed bird species of conservation concern and not the 60 million non-native Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges released into the UK countryside in a normal, non-COVID-affected year.
The Red and Amber lists of species of conservation concern include two main commonly-shot gamebirds; Grey Partridge (Red List because of large population decline) and Red Grouse (Amber List).
Captive gamebirds, such as in rearing facilities or release pens are classed as livestock and if serious damage occurs (which it hardly ever does) then corvids can be killed but only if non-lethal methods are impracticable (see General Licence 42). However, after release in late summer those captive-bred birds are no longer classed as livestock and cannot be protected by killing of corvids.
For most circumstances, the ‘protection’ of the two gamebird species shot in highest numbers (Pheasant 15m/year, Red-legged Partridge, 4+m/year) no longer provides a lawful purpose for killing corvids under the general licences.
Wild Justice suggests that a number of websites describing the role of gamekeepers, particularly lowland gamekeepers, will need to be updated to catch up with this legal change.
Gamekeepers operating crow traps will have to learn a new vocabulary to explain to the public what they are doing and why.
The job of a gamekeeper in England, particularly a lowland gamekeeper, is different in 2021 from what it has been for decades before.
If you like what we are doing then please consider making a donation through PayPal, bank transfer or a cheque in the post – see details here.Wild Justice (Directors: Mark Avery, Chris Packham and Ruth Tingay), 04 Jan 2021
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