Above: thousands of ‘pest’ birds, such as jackdaws, are killed each year under a general licence


NEW CONSERVATION GROUP Wild Justice – founded by Chris Packham, Mark Avery and Ruth Tingay – is crowdfunding an action in court against Government conservation watchdog Natural England (NE) over wild bird culls. Most wild bird species are protected without a specific licence, but thousands of “pest” species such as crows, rooks, jackdaws and magpies are killed each year under a general licence, with jays, lesser black-backed gulls, Canada geese and ring-necked parakeets also targeted if causing crop damage or posing a risk to humans. No test is imposed on whether this is genuinely an act of “last resort”.

Wild Justice argues this is unlawful and is seeking a judicial review: “We’re not saying that no birds should ever be killed,” said Mr Avery. “But the means that Natural England have chosen to authorise this are unlawful because they are not taking enough care to judge individual cases, or indeed any case at all.” All of £36,000 being sought online at CrowdJustice has been raised.

In February, The Guardian reported that special licences have also been issued in the past five years to destroy 170,000 wild birds, eggs and nests, including of rapidly declining species such as the curlew, which is near extinct in southern England, largely due to bird-strike fears around airports.

NE’s director of operations, James Diamond, said: “These licence applications are carefully considered by our experts – including our ornithologists where necessary – and are only granted when all other measures have been explored. The number of birds that may be killed is strictly limited and won’t harm the conservation status of any species.”

Requiring licensing would put pressure on NE, whose budget has been halved in the past decade, but Mr Packham said: “They have been put in place to protect and manage our wildlife, and if they are failing to do so through negligence or because they are under-resourced, then we have a right to question their decision-making.”

For more features from Cage & Aviary Birds, click here.