Yesterday, taking us slightly by surprise, Natural England announced changes to the General Licence that will come into effect in 2010.

What is the General Licence?  It is a bit like a 'pest list' so we aren't terribly keen on it from that point of view - no wildlife should be demonised in that way.  But it does cover a fairly small number of species where it is possible to kill them without having a specific licence to do so.  In other words - you don't have to fill in a form and send it off to NE in advance, but you still do need to have a legal justification for killing species such as crows, magpies, gulls and jackdaws.

The announcement yesterday added four non-native species to the list;  ring-necked parakeet, monk parakeet, Canada goose and Egyptian goose.  This isn't what the RSPB recommended in our consultation response but we can see why NE made this move with good nature conservation motives (and probably an eye to the Government's anti-regulation agenda).  However - in practice it changes rather little - if you had a legitimate reason to kill these species you could have got a licence - and you still need a legitimate reason under the general licence. People should not imagine that it is now open season on these species or they might fall foul of the law.  So the Independent newspaper's characterisation of our position as uncomfortable acceptance of the species being added to the General Licence is probably just about right. 

We would like to hear what Defra think.  Is the change in the General Licence a move to reduce the population by a back door route?  If so we think this is a wrong and sneaky way to do it.  What is the Defra policy on these species?  In a leader, the Independent wrongly says that the RSPB is reluctantly in favour of a cull - that is not correct.  And no-one has suggested a cull - have they Defra?

There is, hidden away, a rather good thing in this review.  If you are convicted of a wildlife crime then you will not be able to act under the General Licence in future.  This already applies in Scotland.