Wildlife has a host of problems, including loss of habitats, climate change, pollution and disturbance. You might think therefore that the Government's nature conservation agency, Natural England, would be devoting its meagre resources to devising new and better ways to protect and help our beleaguered species. Recently however they seemed to be intent on doing just the opposite.
They have just consulted on whether or not robins, starlings and pied wagtails should be placed on the list of species for which no special licence is needed to disturb, kill them or destroy their nests. They suggest making them subject to a 'General Licence' alongside, amongst others, crows, jays, wood pigeons, collared doves and Canada geese. One of the criteria for birds to be placed on the list is 'causing persistent problems'. Starlings were only taken off the list in 2005 because their numbers were, and still are (66% down in 35 years) declining.
The proposal is linked to those all too familiar spectres health and safety. Examples given include nesting in hospital ventilators and incursions into food preparation areas. No mention of complaints from developers and contractors whose work can be delayed by inconveniently nesting birds. Not all complain though; recently Severn Trent Water were denied the use of a 40 tonne crane because of nesting pied wagtails. Engineer Dan Cunliffe said: 'We're thrilled about the birds nesting in our machinery. We're fully aware of the regulations that protect nesting birds, so we stopped work immediately'.
Natural England say that allowing the birds to be subject to General Licence provisions does not make indiscriminate killing lawful. Maybe not, but the controls related to a General Licence are very weak. No application is necessary, no evidence has to be provided and there are no reporting or compliance conditions. Individual Licences can already be applied for to deal with real problems. These require an assessment of need, provision of detailed evidence, and reporting and compliance checks.
So, here we have an agency, starved of resources by the Government, faced with huge losses and damage to the interest it is there to help, investing its time and energy into making things worse for a group of innocuous species, to solve a problem which doesn't exist.