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England Approves Licences To Kill Skylarks “for purposes of sport”

* Natural England’s bird control licence data for 2022 is about to be published….

* Complete statistics for 2022 reveal some staggering figures, affecting dozens of species:-

  •  8,913 birds were permitted to be shot
  • 18,474 eggs allowed to be taken and/or destroyed by various methods
  • 4,540 nests approved for destruction
  • 3,010 birds permitted to be taken using other methods, including hunting quarry birds through falconry for sport

* Falconry licence data, included for the first time, shows red listed species being killed for sport including Skylark, Fieldfare, Redwing, Meadow Pipit, Mistle Thrush and more, in addition to more common birds such as various corvids, gulls and doves.

I can now report that Natural England‘s annual bird control licensing statistics are collated and will shortly be published on their website, there’ll be a link to the data file from my blog when it’s available.
Meanwhile Natural England sent me a copy of the statistics and I’ve had an initial perusal.

While it’s great that the data is now freely available every year because of our campaign – the sheer extent of the killing remains lamentable. However, we are at least now able to scrutinise the figures and raise questions where we find anomalies within the licences.

Falconry data included for the first time
And something new for this year, adding to the general heartache over the killing of our wild birds, is that for the first time, Natural England is including data for falconry licences that they issue “for purposes of sport”. 
These are licences permitting the killing of wild birds, not by shooting, but in the course of falconry. 
Now, this in itself might not sound too significant, but I’ve looked at the list of birds permitted to be killed in this way – it includes various corvids, gulls and common birds such as Wood pigeons and Blackbirds – but I am alarmed to see red-listed birds among the species for which licences have been granted, such as the iconic Skylark, Fieldfare, Redwing, Meadow Pipit, Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush, to name but a few. 
One such licence, issued to an applicant from Suffolk, approved the taking of up to 40 Skylarks, and that is just one example.
Others allowed the killing of smaller numbers of Meadow Pipit, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Starling and House Sparrow.
Naturally, birds of prey kill all of these rare species – to survive.
But, surely killing them for ‘sport’ is inappropriate in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, when these species are in severe decline and vulnerable?
That the killing, (effectively hunting), is being licensed by the government’s nature watchdog seems especially perplexing – and ironic.
I realise that this opens up a whole new contentious debate, that of falconry and killing in the name of sport, and Natural England might well say that their hands are tied – falconry is legal and therefore they have a duty to ‘manage’ it.
The problem is that many of the species being killed under Natural England‘s falconry licences are of high conservation concern, and I think that makes it unethical.
As we know, there is little or no monitoring of licences, Natural England rely on the honesty and integrity of licence holders when submitting their return, under the terms of their licence.
So, do we know how many Skylarks are actually being killed?
It feels like a mixed blessing having the addition of the falconry data this year. On the one hand, as Natural England told me, the falconry figures are included “in line with our commitment to transparency“, which is great, and indeed one of the primary aims of our campaign.  It’s just so very depressing to see all the killing.

Data to be publicly available soon
But anyway, I’m told the data will be published on the .gov website soon (if not then I will publish it myself). Please take a look and do feel free to alert me to any licences that might require clarification, I can ask those questions and get answers where necessary.

Other news
In other news, it looks like the remaining licences for the harvesting of Black-headed gull eggs (for human consumption) may have been withdrawn, I’m trying get clarification on this after Natural England told me that ‘currently‘ there have been no licences issued this year. But they also told me last month that they would be assessing them again in March.
If it is the case that they have been suspended, then it would mean that the murky trade in Black-headed gull eggs has effectively been brought to an end, a huge success for our campaign, though we need to remain vigilant in case the licences are reinstated.

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