The WAWC has today (9 October 2019) published a review of the animal welfare implications of the taking and killing of wild birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The context for the review is the ongoing consideration of General Licences (GLs), which permit the widespread taking and killing of certain species of bird for a variety of purposes including the conservation of wild birds and the protection of crops and livestock.

Following a legal challenge in early 2019, three GLs covering the killing and taking of specified Corvidae and other species in England were withdrawn. The licences were subsequently re-issued with amendments, and reviews of the evidence supporting the licences are taking place in England (Defra 2019b) and the devolved administrations. The consultation undertaken by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) closes today and WAWC has submitted the welfare review as part of its response.

The WAWC believes there are important ethical and welfare considerations about the shooting and trapping of birds which need to be taken into account in formulating any new arrangements. The newly-published WAWC review considers:

  • Evidence about the efficiency of shooting, wounding rates and related animal welfare implications of birds covered in the GLs
  • Evidence about the physical and physiological effects and the consequential animal welfare impacts associated with the live trapping of corvids
  • Evidence about the social impact of the removal of a proportion of a population of birds and the implications for animal welfare
  • Ethical considerations
  • Evidence gaps and pointers to further study.

Consistent with its founding principles, the WAWC review states:

“If the increasing knowledge of animal sentience is taken into account, a case for better governance of human activities where these affect the welfare of wild animals emerges. The keepers of farm, companion, zoo, research and other captive animals in the UK are subject to animal welfare laws and codes of practice which, while having a basis in science, have also been shaped by ethical debate amongst parliamentarians and the general public. A comparable approach which combines science and ethics to reduce harm to sentient wild animals and prevent suffering caused by human activity is warranted.”

The WAWC response to the SNH consultation reflects the evidence of the welfare review and recommends, among other things, that lethal control of wild birds should only be a last resort after non-lethal approaches have been tried and failed. Birds must not be shot and trapped at times when there is a risk of leaving dependent young to starve. Shooters must be competent and suitably equipped to carry out humane shooting and must ensure that the pick-up and the dispatch of wounded birds is undertaken competently and without delay. Registration, recording and reporting of all licensed activity must be introduced, to enable official monitoring. Finally, the WAWC recommends that the use of Larsen and other cage traps must be proscribed until and unless there is evidence that the behavioural needs of decoy and trapped birds in such traps or re-designed traps can be met.