The English countryside just got a lot more peaceful, thanks to one big decision

Man shooting pigeons
Support us and go ad-free

Natural England (NE) will no longer license free shooting of 16 ‘pest’ bird species in England. The move came after wildlife campaigners launched a legal challenge to the licensing system. While campaigners have welcomed the news, the timing has come under fire from all parties.


As of 25 April, NE has suspended general licences (GLs). These permits allow the holder to kill birds including woodpigeons, crows, magpies, and Canada geese. NE said the move was the “first stage of a planned review of general and class licences”. And it said it was the result of a legal challenge to GLs launched by campaign group Wild Justice. Wild Justice’s argument was essentially that NE was not taking proper steps when issuing GLs, making the process “unlawful”.

NE will still license killing during its planned review, but people will have to apply for species-specific licences.

Wild Justice set up a public fundraiser on 15 March to raise £36,000 for its legal bid. It hit that target in 10 days. Following this, news of the bid went quiet until 23 April when NE announced its decision “out of the blue“. The statement came as former Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper took up his new role as chair of NE.

Wild Justice said “millions of birds” are killed annually under GLs and “many of these deaths will not be justified”. As a result, it was “delighted” to have succeeded in getting the system reviewed. Bodies representing farmers, gamekeepers, and sport shooters, though, were less enthusiastic.


There were just two days between NE’s announcement and the suspension of GLs coming into force. This sudden turnaround prompted a backlash from pro-shooting voices. Peter Glenser, chair of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said it was “utterly unacceptable”. And Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner described the timing as a “recipe for disaster”.

However, all parties appeared to disown the abrupt timing. Juniper said on Twitter that it was “not a choice” by NE but the result of Wild Justice’s legal challenge. Meanwhile, Wild Justice also recognised the unexpected disruption. It said the suspension would have financial implications for the public and give little time for farmers and landowners to adjust to the news.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

But the group also pointed out that:

NE could have, and in our view should have, conceded the correctness of our legal arguments many weeks ago. … This is a mess of Natural England’s making – they have operated an unlawful licensing system and they have dillied and dallied over admitting it.


Disdain for the move by the shooting industry is based on the idea that pigeons, crows, and parakeets are ‘pest species’. A video shared on Twitter by farmer and shooter Peter Casey showed pigeons flocking around a field of crops. Casey presented this as evidence of “the damage that pigeons do”.

But as satirical Twitter account Bigly pointed out, GLs have done very little to control the population of woodpigeons. In fact, the British Trust for Ornithology said in 2010 that woodpigeon populations are likely to have grown because of arable farming. As Bigly said, the shooting industry’s concerns stem not from conservation but because “they have abused the [GL] for their own gain for years”. This abuse, Wild Justice argues, takes the form of the casual killing of birds, rather than killing as a last resort.

Wild Justice’s fundraising campaign was hugely popular and showed the public are horrified by England’s treatment of its wildlife. And the suspension of GLs is a promising sign for the young organisation.

Featured image via YouTube – theshootingshow

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us