Wildlife law to be modernised

Wildlife law is set to be streamlined as the result of a Defra-commissioned review by the Law Commission due next year. In its interim report published this month, the non-political body describes current law as ‘a legal landscape that is out of date, confused and often contradictory’.

This is because wildlife law is spread over so many Acts, with some species, such as the badger, having its own Act, and some of it dating back to 1829. The Law Commission says there are anomalies in the protected status of certain species and it recommends regular reviews on a species-by-species basis plus power to vary close seasons and to introduce control orders.

Instead of vicarious liability, as in Scottish law, it proposes imposing criminal liability on the ultimate economic beneficiaries. This could penalise a landowner whose gamekeeper has killed a raptor or a developer who has instructed a contractor to destroy a structure with bat roosts.

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‘We would like to see wildlife law return to “first principles”- in that all species need management and that a balance needs to be struck-so we’re content with the direction of travel,’ comments James Legge of the Countryside Alliance. ‘However, the devil will be in the detail and much will depend on who in Government ends up implementing the decisions. A new bill could have the potential to cause massive rows.’ Species management dominated debate at the recent 20th-anniversary celebrations for the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT). The Prince of Wales said, via pre-recorded broadcast, that a restored countryside doesn’t happen by accident.

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He commented: ‘It has been managed for thousands of years. We cannot abandon it or the fragile species which need protection, not just from intensive agriculture, but from predators, too.’ CRT chairman and co-founder Robin Page was as outspoken as ever: ‘None of the 25 conservation organisations that contributed to this year’s State of Nature document had the honesty to face the fact there is a predator crisis.’ Former Defra minister Richard Benyon agreed: ‘Foxes, corvids [and other predators] have increased dramatically in number and we cannot ignore this any longer.’

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