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Red-legged partridge pokes their head out of long grass

Wales is holding a public consultation on licensing parts of the shooting industry

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is asking the public for its thoughts on new regulation for releasing pheasants, partridges and other ‘non-native’ birds killed by the shooting industry.

At present, there are regulations around the release of birds inside Wales’ sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs). However, beyond those areas, there is almost no regulatory oversight. As a result, NRW said it is concerned about the impact this lack of oversight has on monitoring and managing:

“potential environmental impacts from these releases, including their potential effects on European protected sites.”

As a result, it is considering a licensing system for releasing birds for shooting. It plans to institute this by adding pheasants and red-legged partridges to part 1 of Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This means the government would recognise those birds as a potential threat to native biodiversity and habitats.

However, the proposed licensing system will comprise two parts. First is a license for releasing within – or within 500m of – SSSIs and other sensitive protected sites. NRW said this licence “must be applied for, are given individual consideration by NRW, and are issued to a particular person”. Second is a general licence. To administer that, NRW will identify protected sites where releasing birds for shooting is “highly unlikely” to impact its designated features. It will then include these sites as part of the general licence.

NRW is asking for the public’s thoughts on this system. You can read further details about the proposals here. You can fill in the survey here. The consultation closes on 20 June.

Licensing is a lifeline

Protect the Wild’s stance is that licensing systems are a lifeline rather than a detriment to the shooting industry. In particular, once such systems are in place, they make pushing for further regulation much more difficult.

Two pheasants flying

Evidence of this can be seen in parliamentary debates that led to the Hunting Act. Pro-hunting peers at the time attempted to insert a licensing system into the legislation when they realised an outright ban was on the cards. While even the so-called ‘total ban’ has itself proved fairly useless, permitting a licensing system would have made ending the hunting industry – something that now seems within grasp – much more difficult.

As a result, we should be seeking an end to the cruel and abusive shooting industry altogether. Licensing is a misstep on this path.

Keep our eyes on the prize

The shooting industry strongly disagrees, of course. BBC News reported that the Welsh director of the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Steve Griffiths, viewed the proposals as “the next step towards their endgame of shutting down all shooting in Wales”. Nation.Cymru reported the Countryside Alliance as saying the same thing. Meanwhile, fellow shooting industry lobbyists the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) described the plan as “extremely concerning”.

Such comments are likely exacerbated by the Welsh senedd’s movement towards banning snares.

It is in the shooting industry’s interests to exaggerate the threat of a licensing system in the hopes of using it as a bulwark against further regulation. In reality, it would change little about the short- and long-term operation of the industry. Therefore those of us that want to see an end to shooting altogether must view such incremental changes as NRW’s proposed system with a critical eye. We want an end to the killing of birds altogether, not just a government-approved system of murder.

Share your thoughts on NRW’s licensing system proposals here.