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Law Could Facilitate the Killing of Grey Squirrels and Badgers

Killing so-called "pests" such as badgers, deer and grey squirrels will be made easier under Government proposals. The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has asked independent body the Law Commission to update wildlife law.
August 24, 2012 Updated: July 12, 2022

The proposals, currently out for consultation, include plans to introduce new powers so that species such as grey squirrels, considered “vermin”, could be wiped out in some areas. Landowners argued it was necessary to update legislation to take account of the growing number of “invasive” plants and animals entering the country because of climate change and increased travel. Also the spread of animals diseases. However, animal rights protesters said it was simply an attempt to wipe out certain animals for the sake of the forestry, shooting and farming industries. Current wildlife laws are a mixture of directives from Europe and regulations drawn up since the 1800s. Richard Percival, the manager of the public law team at the Law Commission, said the law needed to be updated to deal with the challenges of the modern world. “We need to update wildlife law,” he said. “A lot of it is very old and there are a number of different Acts.” Already it is possible to kill off invasive plants and animals but the proposals would make it a lot easier to carry out mass culls. Species considered a problem like Chinese mitten crabs or ‘killer shrimps’ could be put on an ’emergency list’ to make it easier to kill them. ‘Species control orders’ would force landowners to wipe out species that threaten the whole countryside. This would also enable extensive culls of plants like Japanese knotweed or animals like the dog-like muntjac deer, both of which were introduced from Asia and are now a threat to native species. It would be illegal to refuse to take part in the cull. Government agents would be able to enter an area without the landowner’s permission in order to bring an invasive species under control and perhaps even charge for costs incurred. For example, species control orders could allow a cull of grey squirrels across an extensive area in order to protect trees or native species like red squirrels – despite the non-compliance of some landowners. The consultation is also looking at wildlife licenses to allow the killing of certain ‘troublesome animals’ for a limited amount of time. For example, if cormorants, known as ‘sea crows’ are causing a problem for local fishermen. Buzzards may even be considered if it is proven they are affecting the local wildlife and economy by killing game birds. The Commission is also looking at whether there should be the right to appeal against the issuing of these licenses to kill certain animals. Andrew Tyler, Director Animal Aid, said animals are not causing harm except to the interests of agri-business, shooting, and forestry. He accused Defra of ‘colluding’ with these groups to wipe out these animals. “What they are looking at is to fix the law so that it would legitimize the demonization of flora and fauna that has a place in our landscape.” Christopher Price, Director of Policy and Advice, at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), agreed the law needs to be updated. He pointed out that another issue is around the burden of proof in wildlife law on badgers and wild birds and eggs. For example, it is necessary for a person to prove they have not killed a badger to escape prosecution, rather than the burden falling on the state to prove the suspect has. “It is good they are looking at the burden of proof and non-native species because the legal framework does not deal with the current situation,” he said. However, Mr. Price voiced concern about plans in the consultation to introduce the idea of vicarious liability. This would mean landowners are responsible if an employee has killed a protected species on their land. It also proposes penalizing people for recklessly killing wildlife – for instance by chopping down a tree with birds nesting in it – as well as doing it intentionally.


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