A pair of woodpigeons engaged in their nuptial courtship blissfully unaware of the current fury among the farming and shooting communities over whether they can be legally shot. According to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, there are over 5 million breeding pairs of woodpigeon in the UK, a population increase of 134% between 1970 and 2011 causing annual damage to crops of around £115 million or a yield loss of between 10 and 40%. This is in spite of 3.6 million Woodpigeons being killed annually under long-standing General Licences issued by Natural England.
However, it was Natural England revoking of these licences and the issuing a few days later of species-specific licences which caused the storm. General Licence 31, “To kill or take Woodpigeon to prevent serious damage to crops”, lays down the circumstances in which woodpigeons can be shot or trapped, only during the “peak breeding season” for example. What is not included is the shooting of woodpigeons for the pot or just for fun and it is these latter shooters that are particularly irate. But they need not be worried Defra has taken over the licencing from Natural England and the environment secretary Michael Gove is expected to accede to the “sport” shooters demands. That is if he not preoccupied with job hunting.