The UK government, in advance of an application for judicial review brought by Wild Justice, a pressure group, have decided to amend the law through a statutory instrument which will add pheasants and red-legged partridges to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This schedule lists species that cause ecological, environmental or socioeconomic harm. In other words, the government recognises now that the introduction by bird shooting businesses of 60 million non-native game birds into the country can and does cause environmental and ecological harm and that it needs better regulation.
The basis of the above-mentioned application for judicial review was that the government had not carried out a risk assessment of the harm that 60 million game birds does to wildlife. I guess the government realised that they would lose that case and have pre-empted the outcome.
Carole Dave, a solicitor at the law firm Leigh Day who act for Wild Justice said that it is a “major breakthrough”. Arguably managing the impact or restricting the impact that game birds and game bird shooting has on the environment is overdue. The government decided that the birds must be released more than 500 metres from protected wildlife sites and this must be carried out under licence.
Under European law, assessment have to be carried out if there is potential for adverse effects on the environment and wildlife. The move by Defra has been praised by Martin Harper, the conservation director at the RSPB. He also wants increased regulation on driven grouse shooting and land management linked to it.
A system of licensing needs to be established with set minimum environmental standards by which a shoot would have to abide. If those standards were not upheld, there would be consequences and ultimately they would lose their licence to shoot – Martin Harper
The RSPB also want the government to the existing regulations amended to prevent the burning of vegetation on peat soils and to ban the use of lead ammunition, which has been banned when fired over wetlands since 1999. When heather is burned it can set fire to the peat which releases carbon into the atmosphere contributing to climate change and global warming. Peat is a great carbon capturer.
Lead ammunition damages the environment because of its impact on species up the food chain such as buzzards and it can also affect human health. The government’s Environment Bill is before Parliament but it’s been extensively delayed because of the coronavirus restrictions on parliamentary business.
It is hoped that this government move regarding regulating game bird shooting is a marker for the future and that we may see more environmentally friendly policies emanating from the government down the line.
P.S. Chris Packham is a leading conservationist who has lead the Wild Justice campaign.