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Natural England 'rolled over' in the face of TV naturalist Chris Packham's call to ban shooting

Natural England was accused by MPs yesterday of ‘rolling over’ in the face of pressure by wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham to ban the shooting of pest birds.

The countryside was thrown into chaos last month when the Government’s conservation quango scrapped a 25-year-old system which allowed farmers and gamekeepers to cull crows, pigeons and other birds to protect livestock and crops.

The decision on general shooting licences was made without consultation and was issued with just 36 hours’ notice in the middle of the lambing season without a new system in place.

Chris Packham called for a ban of shooting pest birds. The decision on general shooting licences was made without consultation and was issued with just 36 hours’ notice in the middle of the lambing season without a new system in place

The move came after a legal challenge by Wild Justice, a pressure group led by Packham and two other eco lobbyists. Yesterday at the Commons, Natural England’s bosses – Marian Spain, acting chief executive at the time of the ban, and Lord Blencathra, acting chairman – faced questions from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

The panel’s chairman, former sheep farmer Neil Parish, told them he would have defied the law to shoot a crow if it had been ‘pecking a lamb to death’ on the grounds of ‘animal welfare’. The Somerset MP told the bosses: ‘Most of my constituents and country people in particular think you just got rolled over, and you didn’t fight the corner hard enough.’

A lamb that had its tongue removed and was disembowelled by a carrion crow.  The panel’s chairman, former sheep farmer Neil Parish, told them he would have defied the law to shoot a crow if it had been ‘pecking a lamb to death’ on the grounds of ‘animal welfare’

Lord Blencathra replied that Natural England had been ‘left with no other legal option as a public body’ after receiving legal advice that the general licences were unlawful.

Defending the decision to bring in the ban with just 36 hours’ notice, he insisted: ‘If we got advice that what we were doing was unlawful we could not go to court and defend that case.’

Mr Parish told the one-off evidence session that a delay to bring in a new system was ‘driving everybody crazy’. 

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