New Bill is ‘badly drafted’

Red kites, barn owls and capercaillies could be in the firing line because new laws designed to protect wildlife are so badly drafted that rare birds and animals have been included as ‘non-native invasive species’.

The Infrastructure Bill, currently going through the House of Lords, is designed to give landowners more power to control foreign species, such as grey squirrels, where the animals have become pests. However, the definition of ‘non-native’ is so vague it risks giving a green light to kill a number of species many would consider are now an important part of the modern British landscape.

The Bill defines non-native species as those that are ‘not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain’. This could include species that were once extinct in Britain and have now returned or species that become established in Britain because of a changing climate. For example, red kites, short-haired bumblebees, cranes, large blue butterflies and sea eagles have all been reintroduced, having previously become extinct, and species such as the hoopoe and little egret are now becoming more common in the UK.

The draft legislation also allows the killing of species that are listed under Schedule 9 of the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981 as animals that need special licences to breed. These include barn owls, corncrakes, choughs and capercaillies, species that originally required a licence to allow their controlled release in the countryside in order to boost diminishing numbers.

A group of 24 experts from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Natural History Museum and the University of Oxford has written to the journal Nature to express their outrage at the proposed law.

Although the Government insists the new powers would only be used where animals are causing harm, the conservationists are concered that labelling certain species as ‘non-native invasive’ sets a dangerous precedent as it could allow the killing of the animals in future.

Ultimately, conservationists fear the laws would stop the reintroduction of controversial species such as the beaver, lynx and wild boar or would allow the killing of those animals. ‘The current definition has serious implications for wildlife management,’ warns Sarah Durant of ZSL. ‘Once a species is classified as non-native, it can also be classified as invasive and would there-fore be subject to any invasive-
species legislation.’

The RSPB agrees that the legis-lation is so badly drafted that it may put rare species at risk. ‘As it’s currently drafted, the Infrastructure Bill wrongly defines some species, such as the red kite or barn owl, as non-native. This is surely not the Government’s intention.’ However, a Government spokesman insists the new laws will only apply to animals that are proven to be damaging native wildlife and will not stop the ‘legitimate reintroduction’ of species.

First published in Country Life magazine on September 3 2014