Environment Secretary Michael Gove takes over licencing powers after Natural England's bird control decision questioned

Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Picture by Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Picture by Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has stripped the Government’s chief environmental advisory body of its powers to grant general licences for the control of ‘pest’ birds.

The Defra Minister said he was removing the responsibility from Natural England “for the time being” after three crucial licences were suddenly revoked just over a week ago.

Natural England pulled three licences which allowed 16 bird species to be shot freely, following a legal challenge by new campaign group, Wild Justice.

The Countryside Alliance told of “utter chaos” caused by the decision and the National Farmers’ Union said its members had reported lambs being injured by crows and crops being damaged by pigeons in the last week.

As reported in The Yorkshire Post, Farming Minister Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby, has demanded an investigation into how Natural England reached its decision.

In a letter to Natural England chairman Tony Juniper on Saturday, Mr Gove confirmed he was taking over the responsibility for general licences.

He wrote: “I consider that it is appropriate for me to take over the functions... for the time being. I do so recognising the scale of interest and concern that has been generated by the decision to revoke; and because my judgement is that the present situation needs to be considered with particular intensity and urgency.”

His department, Defra, has also issued a call for evidence to gain a clear understanding, by Monday, of the implications of Natural England’s decision for the protection of wild birds, and the impacts on crops, livestock, wildlife, disease, human health and safety, and wider nature conservation efforts.

A separate review of general licences will take place later in the year, Defra said.

By Friday evening, Natural England had issued three new general licences for the control of carrion crows, Canada geese and wood pigeons.