Landmark ruling on shooting buzzards preying on game birds

A buzzard in flight. Picture by Danny Spring.
A buzzard in flight. Picture by Danny Spring.
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A LANDMARK legal ruling which overturned a refused licence bid for permission to shoot buzzards preying on infant game birds will have “significant implications” for the country’s gamekeeping industry, lawyers have said.

Yorkshire firm Gordons, acting on behalf of Northumberland gamekeeper Ricky McMorn, led a protracted case that concluded Natural England made the wrong decision not to allow Mr McMorn to shoot buzzards which were killing young pheasants before they could be released for shoots.

Matthew Howarth, a judicial review expert at Gordons who represented Mr McMorn and the National Gamekeepers Organisation which supported the gamekeeper, said: “The case should reassure farmers, gamekeepers, and others working to create an environment balancing human and ecological interests that Natural England will treat applications for wildlife licences, including those to kill buzzards, more consistently in the future.”

On Friday, Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting in the Administrative Court at the Royal Courts of Justice, quashed Natural England’s refusal to grant a licence for the control of common buzzards last year.

According to the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act it is illegal to kill wild birds without a licence. But licences can be granted in the interests of public or air safety, for research and, as in Mr McMorn’s case, to prevent serious damage to crops or livestock, including, game birds kept for shooting.

Friday’s court judgment followed a three-day judicial review hearing held in June.

Self-employed Mr McMorn had unsuccessfully applied for a licence on five occasions between 2011 and 2014. He sought a licence because buzzards were killing young pheasants before they could be released for shoots. He wanted the licence to cover six shoots that he operated but while he continually sought to obtain one, his shoots became unviable.

Gordons’ Mr Howarth said: “In the judicial review, we specifically challenged Natural England’s latest 2014 rejection on a series of grounds, all of which Mr Justice Ouseley has upheld.

“He has agreed that Natural England unlawfully took public opinion into account and acted unreasonably in declining the licence application.

“He also ruled that Natural England unfairly failed to consider its own technical assessor’s recommendation that eight buzzards should be captured alive through cage trapping and moved to captivity.

“In addition, the judge considered that Natural England unlawfully operated an undisclosed policy about how buzzard applications were to be treated.”

There are over 300,000 buzzards in the UK, making it is a green listed species - of less serious conservation concern than species listed ‘amber’ or ‘red’.

Following the ruling, a Natural England spokesperson said: “We are considering the judgement of the Court and its implications. Whilst we are disappointed at the outcome, we welcome the Court’s clarification on the legal framework.”

The ruling was welcomed by Lindsay Waddell, chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, who said in a statement: “I trust that wildlife licensing decisions will, in future, be made by Natural England fairly and on the facts, without fear or favour.”