Countryside Alliance welcomes an urgent extension to general licences in Northern Ireland, but 'concerns remain'

The Countryside Alliance has welcomed an urgent extension to general licences in Northern Ireland, but has expressed concerns that they are only valid until 31 December 2022.

DAERA’s decision to update the general licences came after the rural organisation sounded the alarm when, as of midnight on 18 October until mid-afternoon today, farmers, pest controllers and game keepers were at risk of “unknowingly breaking the law” whilst controlling species such as pigeons and carrion crows.

General licences permit authorised persons, including farmers, pest controllers and gamekeepers, to carry out activities like pest control covering certain types of birds including magpies and crows to preserve public health or air safety, and prevent the spread of disease.

They also cover situations regarded as relatively commonplace, such as protecting livestock from predators and where there is unlikely to be any great conservation impact. General licences avoid the need for people to apply for individual licences for these specific circumstances, preventing any bureaucratic delays.

The Countryside Alliance has welcomed an urgent extension to general licences in Northern Ireland , but are concerned that they are valid only until 31 December 2022.

The ability to control several species of wild birds through licensing to prevent serious damage or disease, to preserve public health or public safety, and to conserve flora and fauna under ‘open licences’ was temporarily revoked earlier, prompting fears from rural campaigners that human and animal health could be adversely impacted.

This came at a particularly sensitive time with crops needing protecting from pigeons, and dozens of red-listed species need protection from corvids such as crows.

Gary McCartney, director of the Countryside Alliance in Northern Ireland, commented: “ The ability of those involved in farming as well as pest controllers, game keepers and land managers to control certain species in the interest of human, livestock and wildlife safety under general licences is vital to the smooth running of the countryside. While we welcome the latest update that these licences will be extended until 31 December 2022, we urge DAERA to ensure a situation like this never arises again. Rural workers and those involved in pest control cannot afford to be weighed down by unnecessary, complex bureaucracy. We will seek assurances that these general licences will be renewed again, well within time and with all interested stakeholders updated fully in advance”.

The full updated general licences can be found below: