Wildlife Licensing Crisis

Rare, vulnerable birds and young livestock have been hammered this spring by crows, rooks, gulls and other predators because the wildlife licensing authority, Natural England, has granted only 6% of licence applications made by gamekeepers and farmers to control predatory birds on many of England’s most precious wildlife sites.

These photos and videos, collected by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO), show examples of the widespread damage that can occur when control of common predatory birds is not allowed to take place.

The NGO, together with the Moorland Association and the Countryside Alliance, recently sent a paper to the Secretary of State for the Environment, The Rt Hon George Eustice MP, entitled, ‘Wildlife Licensing in England: Chaos, Crisis and Cure’. It catalogues a litany of errors and delays by Natural England and explains how the failure to issue workable licences has caused a crisis in the countryside. These photos and videos show that crisis.

We are asking Defra to take back control of all wildlife licensing and to make it work.

Already, George Eustice has responded by extending the main General Licences saying, “It is vital that we have a robust long-term licensing system which balances the needs of users and our wildlife.” We want to help make sure that happens.

Video Credit: Garry Allen, friend of the North Pennines Moorland Group. Corvids are not only devastating to wildlife but farm livestock too

Its not just Crows, Ravens and Gulls that damage livestock. The images below show lambs with their eyes pecked out by Rooks and Jackdaws, common species for which NE is not currently issuing control licences because there is no ‘genuine problem or need’ .

We’ll be updating this blog as we receive more evidence on the ground which shows how delays and problems with licences have taken a dreadful toll. Please share any evidence you have with us to info@nationalgamekeepers.org.uk or via WhatApp messenger to John Clarke 07824099937 and we will upload it.

For the past few months our most protected wildlife sites have been littered with predated eggs, many of them from species whose populations have been plummeting in recent years. The sites in question were given protection because of the diverse birdlife that they contain, yet the management practices, including licensed control of predators, which supported that diversity are now being hindered by Natural England – the very body charged with their care.

It is not only gamebirds and waders that are being decimated by predation. Below is an egg belonging to the iconic Merlin, predated recently from a nest in the Yorkshire Dales, probably by a crow. Merlins are a charismatic moorland birds, red listed for their rarity and vulnerability, like Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plover. All these species have been hammered this spring through lack of wildlife licences.

Predated Merlin Egg from the Yorkshire Dales.

We have diary entries from one upland estate in Yorkshire where the gamekeeper on the ground witnessed 16 separate predation events carried out by Jackdaws, Rooks, Carrion Crows, Ravens and Gulls. This was over just a one month period between the dates of the 11th May and 9th June 2020. One of the witnessed events was the predation of eggs out of a Short Eared Owl nest.

Jackdaws predating on wild birds eggs on protected sites in the English uplands

If there is any doubt on what versatile hunters Gulls are, have a look at how quickly this one manages to catch 5 bats as they leave the roost. How long do you think it will take before this one has wiped out the entire colony?

Cull actively hunting, killing and eating bats
A Lesser Black-Backed Gull shot when licences were still issued for them, with a red grouse chick in its bill.

Gulls dont just take eggs and small chicks, they are more than capable of devouring larger species, and the conservation status carries no baring to them.

Here is a herring gull eating a corncrake chick

The video below shows airal footage filmed over a colony of Lesser Black Backed Gulls in Lancashire.

Now that the refuse tips are capped, stopping a ready supply of food, Gulls are relying more and more on hunting rather than scavenging. What impact do you think this number of gulls hunting and nesting on a SSSI will have on the Red Listed birds that inhabit that area? Also hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent on repairing damage caused by pollution from the industrial revolution, that work is now being undone by the the large deposit of guano, the result of which input huge amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous compounds that do not suit the usual flora of the uplands. Plants are also removed for nesting material and are destroyed in boundary disputes. All of these actions are affecting the stability of the peat, carbon sequestration and water quality.

This trail camera footage taken on a protected site in the English uplands – Rooks are predators of eggs and chicks

This spring, Natural England has not granted any applications for rook licences in our European protected sites, where some of our rarest ground nesting birds are under threat. They have not granted any licences for jackdaws either.

In fact, out of 1200 licences applied for in total since January, up until 17 June (which is long after most birds have nested) they had granted just 73.

The NGO knows of just one gull licence issued in the whole of rural England this year, whereas last year licences were issued to kill over 5,000 adult gulls and to destroy 40,000 eggs. Imagine the toll that all those extra gulls have exacted on rare and vulnerable wild birds this spring.

This has to change. We must have the robust and practical licensing system that the Secretary of State has now promised. If you care about this issue, keep the pressure on. Make sure your MP knows about the damage that common predatory birds are doing whilst licences are so hard to come by. Send on this page so that others can see the damage. And if you have your own footage of similar incidents to those shown here, please email the NGO and we will add them. Thank you.

National Gamekeepers’ Organisation 23 June 2020

Added 25 June 2020:

Garden birds are not immune.

The cost to our smaller garden and farmland birds should not be underestimated either. Many of us have seen Crows, Jackdaws, Rooks, Magpies and Jays working up and down hedgerows searching out eggs and fledglings.

Below is a Blackbird nest that was destroyed this spring by a Magpie.

And the following images were sent in by a witness to an attack on a Thrush nest by both Magpies and Jackdaws, one young thrush was still alive (the one on the left) but unfortunately it was too badly injured to be saved.

If you have any further photographic or video evidence to share on this site, then please email it to john.clarke@nationalgamekeepers.org.uk or WhatsApp it to John Clarke on 07824099937. Thank you.

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