We are fully prepared for a court battle, on behalf of UK wildlife, to force Defrato actually do its job.
Environmental group Wild Justice has been granted permission to apply for a Judicial Review of the secretary of state for the environment’s failure to assess the impact of the release of 50 million game birds on protected sites in England and Wales.
Wild Justice argued that the UK Government had failed to comply with its obligations under the EU Habitats Directive to provide a proper mechanism to evaluate the impact of the annual release of 47 million pheasants and 10 million red-legged partridges on Natura 2000 sites.
Defra argued that existing provisions in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 may ensure assessment and site protection in some circumstances, but pledged to review measures in place for assessing the impact of the birds’ release on protected areas.
The Review was launched in February 2020 but Defra has confirmed that it is neither reasonable nor realistic to expect measures to be implemented before summer/autumn 2020.
In granting permission to apply for Judicial Review, the Hon. Mr Justice Kerr said that Defra’s reliance on an ongoing review “does not amount to an unqualified assertion that release of gamebirds in July 2020 will be lawful in all respects”. He said it would not be appropriate to treat the claim, as Defra had, as “academic or premature”.
The Judge said a hearing by October, 2020 was needed, in plenty of time before the release of gamebirds in July 2021.
Wild Justice, whose lead members are Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery, said: “We are grateful to the Hon Mr Justice Kerr for his decision to expedite our case and thus dismiss Defra's claim that our legal challenge is 'vexatious' and 'pointless'.
“Defra admitted last year that it was required to assess the impacts of the vast numbers of non-native gamebirds on areas protected for conservation but has since dragged its feet.
“We are fully prepared for a court battle, on behalf of UK wildlife, to force Defrato actually do its job."
Leigh Day solicitor, Carol Day said: “Defra was prompted to launch a review into the release of gamebirds on protected sites following the threat of legal action by Wild Justice in 2019 and on the issue of proceedings sought to argue the case is academic and premature.
“In granting permission for Judicial Review and ordering a hearing before the end of October, the Judge has clearly recognised the importance and urgency of this case, which will now be given a full and proper airing in Court.”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from Wild Justice.