The review will look at areas including the number of gamebirds released and their impact on protected sites, the consenting process, and whether further safeguards could be provided to protect sites. There will be no immediate changes for owners or occupiers of land.
In response to a pre-action protocol letter from Wild Justice in July 2019, last September Defra accepted that in principle the annual release of non-native gamebirds on, or affecting, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) is capable of constituting a “plan or project” requiring appropriate assessment within the meaning of the Habitats Directive.
Whether they will do so in any given case will depend on whether they may have a significant effect on the specific SPA or SAC in question. This will depend in turn on the nature of the activities, the features and condition of the SPA or SAC, the distance from the SPA or SAC where the activities are carried out and the possible effects of the activities. While not accepting the argument that current laws do not provide for appropriate assessment in such cases, Defra committed to undertake a review to consider the legislative arrangements around the relevant activities and whether there are ways in which their effectiveness could be improved.
The review is looking at the following areas:
- Consenting process: in conjunction with Natural England, Defra is reviewing the effectiveness of the process around Operations Requiring Natural England’s Consent on European protected sites in relation to gamebird release.
- Special Nature Conservation Orders (SNCOs): exploring the effective use of SNCOs in relation to gamebird release, which have to date been used as a last resort option designed to limit potentially damaging operations on or near protected sites.
- Legislative options: reviewing the current legislative arrangements that are of relevance to the release of non-native gamebirds on or around European protected sites, including considering whether any amendments to current regimes could provide further safeguards to protected sites. Defra is also exploring other possible options for regulating such releases if current arrangements do not provide a solution.
- Number of gamebirds released and their impact on protected sites: examining available data to establish an estimate of the number of gamebirds that are released on or around protected sites in England. In terms of their impact on protected sites, considering available evidence including the findings from a literature review jointly commissioned by Natural England and the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC), and a scientific forum being organised by Exeter University, which are both expected to conclude in March 2020.
Defra will meet with interested stakeholders to give them the chance to input their views into this review. Once the review has concluded, Defra will consult with stakeholders on any substantive changes that are being recommended.