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Wild Justice legally challenges licences for killing of wild birds in Northern Ireland

Environment campaigners Wild Justice have launched a legal challenge to the issuing of licences for the killing of wild birds in Northern Ireland.

Posted on 29 October 2021

The organisation, which advocates for nature conservation and wildlife protection, has sent a judicial review pre-action protocol letter to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) setting out why the decision to issue three general licences in September that permit the killing of birds in Northern Ireland is unlawful.

The following licences were issued under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and permit the killing of the Hooded Crow, Carrion Crow, Feral Pigeon, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Jackdaw, Magpie, Rook, and Woodpigeon:

  • Licence TGP/1/2021 allows killing for the purpose of preserving public health or public safety;
  • Licence TGP/2/2021 allows killing for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease and preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber and fisheries; and
  • Licence TGP/3/2021 allows killing for the purpose of conserving wild birds.

Licences 2 and 3 also permit the killing of Herring Gull, House Sparrow, and Starling.
 
However, before issuing the licences, the 1985 Order requires DAERA to satisfy itself that there is no other satisfactory solution to achieve the purposes listed, say Wild Justice, who are represented by law firm Leigh Day acting through their agent Northern Irish solicitors Phoenix Law.
 
In their legal letter, Wild Justice tell DAERA that the 2021 General Licences are unlawful and breach the 1985 Order for these reasons:

  • DAERA had not satisfied itself that there was no other satisfactory solution in relation to the killing being authorised for the respective purposes for which the 2021 General licences were issued.
  • DAERA did not comply with Section 18(6) of the 1985 Order in that it failed to specify the circumstances and conditions subject to which birds may be killed or the “Area of Use” for the 2021 General Licences.
  • There is no evidence to justify the inclusion of certain species in the 2021 General Licences.
    DAERA failed to seek out the relevant information required to make a decision to grant the 2021 General Licences at all.
  • DAERA failed to complete any consultation prior to issuing the 2021 General Licences.

Wild Justice, led by Dr Mark Avery, Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham have called on DAERA to withdraw the unlawful 2021 General Licences, to review its decision to issue such licences or to re-issue them in a way that complies with the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.
 
Wild Justice said:
 
“DAERA's general licences are awful. We have been in detailed correspondence with the department over the changes needed to make their licences scientifically and legally acceptable for months. Our legal challenge is firmly based and we will pursue it robustly. The licensing of killing of wildlife is not a trivial issue - we hope to force DAERA to do much better.”
 
Leigh Day Associate Tom Short said:
 
“Our client has repeatedly explained to DAERA in correspondence over several months the various ways in which the department failed to comply with the requirements of the 1985 Order such that its previous general licences were unlawful. Remarkably, nothing has changed in DAERA’s approach to issuing the 2021 General Licences. Wild Justice believe that the current licences are both unlawful and a travesty for wildlife protection, and they intend to challenge DAERA’s decision to issue them.”

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Tom Short
Corporate accountability Planning Wildlife

Tom Short

Tom Short is an associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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Carol Day
Planning Wildlife Environment

Carol Day

Carol founded the firm's environmental litigation service in 2013

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Hen Harrier

Wildlife and nature conservation