Representing the National Wildlife Crime Unit, and with my colleague, PC Charlie Everitt, I attended an interesting seminar on Wednesday past, consulting on the best wording and most appropriate conditions for the general licences in Scotland from 2014 onward. Though there are 14 general licences derogating from various provisions of the law in relation to wild birds, the best known and most commonly used are those that allow certain species of birds to be killed or taken, or their eggs or nests to be taken or destroyed. This must be carried out by an ‘authorised person’ and all actions must be within the suite of conditions written into one or more general licence. Examples might be a gamekeeper shooting or trapping a crow to protect other wild birds, a farmer shooting woodpigeons to protect crops, or a pest controller shooting feral pigeons or taking the eggs of herring gulls to prevent the spread of disease or for human safety reasons (a gull with chicks may attack passers-by).
The day was hosted by Scottish Natural Heritage, the government agency responsible for nearly all wildlife licensing matters in Scotland. The spread of attendees demonstrated the diverse range of interested parties: from the game and land managers who are the main users of the general licences to the organisations keen to ensure that appropriate conditions apply to ensure birds’ welfare and conservation, to the police who ensure compliance with and enforcement of the licence conditions.
Most of the day took the form of workshops, where the principles, conservation issues, compliance and welfare were discussed in detail. Much debate involved the design and use of traps, such as the multi-catch crow cage trap and the Larsen trap, both of which have been in use for many years, and a new trap, the clam trap, the use of which before official testing has engendered considerable disagreement. It was interesting to see that, despite the different views of the members of the various workshops, there was very little disagreement about the requirement to control certain bird species, the benefits in many cases from doing so, the conservation concerns of rare birds such as golden eagles entering a trap, or of any non-target bird species that has eggs or dependent chicks being caught, and the welfare concerns both for the birds caught (target and non-target) and the decoy birds. Even in respect of the clam trap there was little dissent about the need to test the trap and the proposed methodology of doing so.
I left the seminar thinking that we are extremely lucky in Scotland that such an open relationship exists (certainly on this occasion) between legislators, practitioners, conservation and enforcement. While views may not always concur, at least the day demonstrated that polarised opinion is not helped by particular sides becoming entrenched. Listening to each other’s point of view, with some compromise so far as that can be achieved within the law, is a far more civilised means of effecting a conclusion that has some benefit for everyone. We need to leave to the politicians the oft-used method of one ‘side’ always negating and berating the other side. I was pleased that the day, the first of a series of discussions and development, seemed to be a success and I thank Scottish Natural Heritage for this initiative.