by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth
Birds are protected by law. In England and Wales there is only one organisation that can give you permission to disturb our wild bird populations – Natural England. Whether you operate an airport with birds on the airstrip or a hospital kitchen with birds in the ventilation shaft you can’t act without their permission. They do this by issuing licences. There are two broad types:
Case by case licences: If there is a high level of risk of harming the conservation of a species they will seek detailed evidence on a case by case basis. As you would expect, this can take time, visits, and plenty of old fashioned form filling.
It feels right that they have chosen a flexible licensing approach. If wood pigeons are causing serious damage to a farmer’s crop and if their management is unlikely to pose any risk to their population – why not give him the freedom to act before it’s too late? If the same farmer’s free range chickens were being taken by buzzards – Natural England would only issue a license based on individual basis – requiring more detailed evidence.
Central to this twin licence approach is regularly reviewing which species fall in which category. Natural England take this seriously and have, in past reviews, elegantly moved species from one list to another as the conservation status changes. Where does the robin come in all this? Well during the most recent consultation one of the questions asked by Natural England should robins be moved to the quicker general licence approach? This is sensible question, since:
a) They were only suggesting nest and egg removal (ie no robins to be killed)
b) Only on health grounds
If those that wish to disturb a nest could do so quickly (before a clutch of eggs are laid) the robin will attempt to nest again elsewhere and the risk to human health reduced.
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) supported the idea since it is apparent that its aim is to enhance the protection of robins while also preventing a human health risk. The robin population is going up and if there were future conservation concerns for the robin Natural England could always move the robin back to the slower more detailed licensing system.
In the past week a number of newspapers and journals (including Birdwatch) have published wilfully misleading reports on the GWCT’s response to the consultation. The GWCT urges national media to check their facts on robins! As does Rob Cooke, Director, Natural England here.
The GWCT are not advocating ‘killing robins’ as the reports suggests or have a vested interest in seeing this becoming a legal activity. Our interest was solely in the belief that this would enhance their future protection and congratulate Natural England for looking carefully at the practical options.