This morning, Defra has published an exchange of letters between the new chair of Natural England and Environment Secretary Michael Gove regarding the General License. In short, Mr Gove will take control of General License decision-making for now and he has issued a call for evidence to review how the General License should operate in the future.
We shall clearly engage with this review. But I have two immediate thoughts.
First, any review needs to ensure we end up with a licensing system which is compliant with international law, is open and transparent, whilst being appropriately monitored and enforced. We need a system where licences are only issued when there is no other option, and when non-lethal alternatives have been exhausted. That is how the RSPB has used them effectively for nature conservation and that is what will give everyone confidence.
Second, Natural England's independence from government must be re-established, whilst receiving the funding it most desperately needs. Any review should take into account that Natural England has had its budget halved over the past decade and has been stripped of its communications functions. If this government is serious about restoring England's natural environment then we require an independent agency with the capacity to fulfil its statutory obligations and other commitments.
Won't Gove's decision to take over the general licences mean there is much less chance of a good outcome for nature from this change? You can just imagine how red hot his phone has been with calls from the bloody-thirsty and lead-addled.
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