Natural England shoots itself in the foot with consultation paper on pest control

It was clear to anyone who sat through the upland farming session at the NFU Conference that Natural England has a reputation problem.

Just the mention of the organisation sent a ripple of unease through the room. “Arrogant and ignorant” was the description used by one of the farmers attending. It was clear from the response that he was far from alone in his views.

So Natural England is doing itself no favours at all with its latest consultation on General and Class Licences. The NGO has published plans to change the general licence that allows farmers to control pests if they are causing agricultural damage.

In the past, farmers have been allowed to shoot if they could show other methods of getting rid of pests were “ineffective or impracticable”.

Isabel DaviesIsabel Davies, content editor

But Natural England now thinks farmers should only be allowed to shoots pests such as pigeons if they have first “taken reasonable and appropriate steps to resolve the problem, such as scaring and proofing”.

The suggestion conjures up some ludicrous images. How can you prove that you’ve taken reasonable steps to scare birds from your crops? What ideas does Natural England have in mind for the “proofing” of a field of oilseed rape?

You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s 1 April.

Given the amount of damage that pigeons can inflict on a crop and the millions of pigeons there are in the UK, the proposals are another example of Natural England officials getting carried away.

If Natural England wants to build strong partnerships with farmers then it needs to stop tying them in knots with unworkable policies.

If the organisation wants to be taken seriously it needs to stop coming up with ideas that make it look like a joke.

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