The Farmers' Union of Wales has slammed a decision by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to further restrict the ability of farmers and conservationists to control birds which are damaging crops or livestock, spreading disease or causing harm to species of conservation concern.
New General Licences for the control of certain bird species will come into effect on 7 October 2019, introducing significant additional restrictions for farmers and conservationists, compared with the current licence - and they even tie the hands of NRW staff seeking to protect rare species on Welsh Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).
FUW Land Use Committee Chairman Tudur Parry said: "NRW are running scared following a legal challenge earlier in the year in England from pressure-group Wild Justice. No such legal challenge has been made in Wales.
"It was certainly right of NRW to have reviewed the current legislation in light of what happened in England, but the new licences go far further than just making them legally watertight - in our view the review has been hijacked by those wishing to introduce additional and unnecessary restrictions which are unrelated to the risk of a legal challenge."
Mr Parry said that the advice given by the FUW and others with an interest in farming and conservation in regular meetings with NRW since February had effectively been ignored, meaning that the new rules would prevent or restrict important conservation work as well as preventing farmers from protecting their crops and livestock.
"NRW has statutory obligations with regard to protecting biodiversity, but have introduced changes which will actually make it more difficult to control species that cause immense damage to wildlife.
“They have even added an extra layer of restrictions close to Sites of Special Scientific Interest, many of which will now be more vulnerable to attacks by certain bird species," added Mr Parry.
Responding to the decision to no longer allow rooks to be controlled where they are damaging crops or spreading disease. Mr Parry said: "Rooks cause huge damage to crops all over Wales, and can decimate vast areas for example where seeds have been sewn, and preventing such damage being caused by a very common species is ridiculous."
A new licence no longer allows carrion crow, magpie, jackdaw, rook, jay, collared dove or wood pigeon to be controlled to protect public health - with the feral pigeon being the only species left on the list.
Another of the new licences massively restricts actions that can be taken to conserve wild birds, and does not allow actions to protect Wales’ most threatened species.
The new general licences will not apply in, or within 300 metres of 203 Welsh Sites of Special Scientific Interest, meaning the actions of NRW, farmers and conservationists in and around these areas will be further restricted, even though controlling certain bird species such as crows and magpies is essential for protecting livestock and ground nesting birds.
"Farmers will conclude from this decision that NRW is more interested in introducing ridiculous bureaucracy and restrictions for political reasons rather than protecting Wales’ wildlife and helping farmers protect their livestock and crops," added Mr Parry.