Blow to Welsh bird conservation as corvids removed from GL

Like all members of the corvid family, magpies are extraordinarily intelligent birds

Despite its own evidence to the contrary, Natural Resources Wales have voted through changes to the General Licence system that prevent the control of jays, magpies and jackdaws fro conservation purposes - Credit: MikeLane45 / Getty Images

The public in Wales can no longer control magpies, jays or jackdaws for the purposes of conservation, after NRW pushes through changes to the General Licence system

The Board of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has pushed through a decision to remove magpies, jays and jackdaws from the Welsh General Licence 004 for the purpose of protecting wild birds, even red-listed birds, after board members voted in favour by six votes to three on the proposal. Those requiring permission to control these three species for the purposes of conservation will now need to apply for a specific licence - a lengthy system which has been heavily criticised in the past.

The decision has been met with confusion and concern by rural organisations due to the apparent lack of regard for evidence provided to the public by NRW itself in its consultation document. In this document, NRW refers to its own 2019 review, which clearly states there is "well established scientific evidence of impact" for magpies and jays to be included on GL004.

The document went on to state that: "There is strong evidence that nest predation by jay is likely to be greatest for open-nesting birds in scrub or woodland habitats. On this basis we believe that it is appropriate to include jay on a general licence for the purpose of conserving wild birds, but that the beneficiary species of such control should be restricted to breeding wild bird species of scrub and woodland habitats."

There have also been changes made to GL001 (issued to prevent damage to crops and livestock), which will will specify which species of birds can be controlled matched to types of damage, further complicating the process and presenting another barrier to effective pest control for farmers.

The new licences come into effect from the 1st of July 2022

What do our rural organisations say?
Rachel Evans Director for Countryside Alliance Wales said: “It seems that NRW have once again bowed down to the pressure from animal rights groups and have completely ignored their own evidence. 82% of respondents to the consultation in a yes/no exercise wanted jay to be removed from a general licence, it seems that this has been accepted contrary to NRW’s own evidence. It is completely bizarre.
“NRW are set to implement a six yearly review for the general licence, by which time we are likely to start seeing a significant impact on wild birds that have been afforded protection in the past. Protection  that has now been reduced dramatically due to the decisions made by the board of NRW last week. There has been so much work carried out to conserve  the curlew, which even received Ministerial backing, yet we are now faced with a significantly reduced protection level for this iconic bird. You have to start wondering where NRW's priorities really lie.” 

Steve Griffiths, BASC Wales director, said: “It is an ill-judged approach. NRW is introducing needless red tape that makes it more difficult to control these known predatory species. It is a deeply damaging move for conservation in Wales.
“The bureaucracy required to apply for these individual licences can take months to navigate. That means there will be damage inflicted on species that are of conservation concern in Wales, such as curlew.
“NRW has failed to provide evidence for this unnecessary policy change. It is a retrograde blow for conservation in Wales.”

The National Gamekeepers' Organisation (NGO) published an open letter to NRW which includes personal anecdotes from its members detailing predation by the species that have been removed from GL004, along with a damning overview of the RSPB's failed flagship reserve in Powys: "If you would like to see what happens without predator control, we might suggest a visit to Lake Vyrnwy, the RSPB’s flagship reserve in Powys. When this was managed as a grouse moor, the area was abundant in red and amber-listed species including curlew, lapwing and black grouse.
"In the decades that the RSPB have managed the reserve without the use of predator control, all of these species have seen their populations plummet, as have many raptor species. This is again not just hearsay, but something the RSPB themselves admit. In their own bid for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the RSPB stated that without this money, “in the next few years curlew, black grouse and merlin will cease to appear as a breeding species in this area of Wales. It is likely the same fate would befall red grouse and hen harrier within the next decade.”