Following reforms introduced as a result of Wild Justice’s legal challenges, the job description for gamekeepers in England has changed dramatically. No longer is it legal to kill corvids to protect the adults, chicks or eggs of wild Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges under general licences issued by DEFRA. Under the terms of the conservation licence, General Licence 40, published on Friday for 2021, corvids can only be killed to conserve red-listed and amber-listed bird species of conservation concern and not the 60 million non-native Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges released into the UK countryside in a normal, non-COVID-affected year.
The Red and Amber lists of species of conservation concern include two main commonly-shot gamebirds; Grey Partridge (Red List because of large population decline) and Red Grouse (Amber List).
Captive gamebirds, such as in rearing facilities or release pens are classed as livestock and if serious damage occurs (which it hardly ever does) then corvids can be killed but only if non-lethal methods are impracticable (see General Licence 42). However, after release in late summer those captive-bred birds are no longer classed as livestock and cannot be protected by killing of corvids.
For most circumstances, the ‘protection’ of the two gamebird species shot in highest numbers (Pheasant 15m/year, Red-legged Partridge, 4+m/year) no longer provides a lawful purpose for killing corvids under the general licences.
Wild Justice suggests that a number of websites describing the role of gamekeepers, particularly lowland gamekeepers, will need to be updated to catch up with this legal change. Gamekeepers operating crow traps will have to learn a new vocabulary to explain to the public what they are doing and why.
The job of a gamekeeper in England, particularly a lowland gamekeeper, is different in 2021 from what it has been for decades before.