What does Wild Justice’s latest challenge mean for shoots

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Wild Justice is claiming victory in their latest challenge to DEFRA but it’s not that clear cut. The focus of the challenge was releasing birds around EU recognised SSSI’s. These Sights of Special Scientific Interesteffect as many as 25% of shoots in the country. The outcome from DEFRA isn’t as damning as some may have you believe.

The initial challenge wanted a 5km buffer between the boarders of an SSSI and any released gamebirds. This would have been particularly pertinent in the North of the country. Adding 5km to the boundaries of each SSSI would have many of these sights boundaries touching. As you can see the number of SSSI’s in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Lancashire is high. This additional buffer could take away some of the UK’s best shoots.

SSSI map of England Wild Justice

Thankfully, DEFRA has refuted the 5KM buffer and instead conceded an additional 500m. This is a far more manageable change and will impact far fewer shoots.

Wild Justice confusion

The manner in which Wild Justice celebrated their “victory” is little surprise on a PR front but in reality, little was won. Shoots operating on SSSI land were already doing so with consent from Natural England. With the 500m buffer it seems unlikely that many shoots that weren’t already part of the process already will be brought into the scheme.

In terms of real world change that we will see as a result of this challenge, the answer is little to none. For the shoots affected pens will have to be moved but not by much. The review shows that the average distance of release pens from SSSI’s were already 350 meters. In terms of worse case scenario, this certainly isn’t it. The results aren’t final either and this review will continue in time for next year’s season.

Wild Justice claim “Common Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges are now recognised by government as problem species”. However, reading the 117-page document from DEFRA this statement is never made. Unfortunately, I believe this is an assumption made on the premise the review is taking place at all.

Deer on an SSSI Wild Justice

For SSSI Shoots

For this season nothing will change, while the season is on hiatus amid a second COVID lockdown land management can continue. In terms of next season, DEFRA and Natural England still have to formalise what the next step is. Statements made by the large shooting bodies suggest there is little that will change in reality.

The Shooting Times has compiled statements from these bodies which you can read HERE. In summary, none of the bodies are overly concerned that much will change. Wild Justice seems to have overestimated the number of shoots that will be impacted and the resulting solution won’t be as impactful as they had hoped. The expectation is there will be a general license for these sites and individual conditions under a bespoke license.

Pheasant are under threat from WIld Justice

For non SSSI shoots

We aren’t out the woods quite yet but for now nothing changes. The push from Wild Justice and the RSPB look to reduce the numbers of Gamebirds released each year. However, as we have mentioned before and repeated in this document is that predator species are to blame. This document cites that 60% of released birds are predated at some point in their first year. By reducing the number of released birds pest control will have to increase which the RSPB won’t support.

For now, non SSSI shoots are unaffected by the review and will be able to continue as normal. Land management and pest control work is unaffected by this review. Whether this change next year we are yet to find out but the framework to legislate that will be immensely complicated. We are already aware of the benefits that Land Management has to ecosystems. So to legislate on these procedures could be catastrophic.

Conclusion

It seems that finally facts have out weighed opinion again. Under the weight of social pressure and Chris Packhams forum through the BBC, DEFRA started their review. However, unsurprisingly upon review of the evidence there is little to support the claims of Wild Justice. The areas under the spotlight are best in the hands of private individuals following land management practices.

The real world implications at this point are none. While we have to wait to see the results of the review this is the opposite to last years general license fiasco. With DEFRA now consulting with the GWCT and other bodies it seems likely the resulting legislation will be similar to what we already know. Other than the increased buffer there seem to be little other decided at this stage.

We wont know for some time whether there will be widespread change but it’s unlikely. If gamebirds were having such impacts on SSSI’s it would have already been a talking point. This an attempt from Wild Justice to create a thorn in the tail for fieldsports. Hopefully we can report back at the start of next year to squash this once and for all.

Pheasant release under threat by Wild Justice

UPDATE

The GWCT have released a very handy document breaking down the claims vs the facts. The GWCT has been working with DEFRA to create a framework for next year. This document is well worth a look and may help with those shoots being affected.

You can read the GWCT document HERE

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