Defra can confirm that the Secretary of State will make a statement shortly. In summary, in response to a pre-action protocol letter from Wild Justice (WJ) in July 2019, last September Defra accepted in its reply that in principle the release of non-native gamebirds on, or affecting, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) could constitute a “plan or project” requiring appropriate assessment under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. Whether they will actually do so in any given case will depend on whether they may have a significant effect on the specific SPA or SAC in question. This will depend in turn on the nature of the activities, the features and condition of the SPA or SAC, the distance from the SPA or SAC where the activities are carried out and the possible effects of the activities. While not accepting the argument that current laws do not provide for appropriate assessment in such cases, we proposed to undertake a review to consider the legislative arrangements around the relevant activities and whether there were ways in which their effectiveness could be improved.
WJ’s recent pre-action protocol letter of 20 January 2020 essentially demanded that the Secretary of State should provide the timetable and terms of reference for the legislative review and confirm that the Secretary of State will proscribe or regulate gamebird releases within 5km of any SPA or SAC before gamebird introductions commence in Summer 2020. Defra confirmed in its response to WJ that work on the review is underway and that we will announce further details in the coming weeks. Defra confirmed that the review will include, though will not be limited to, consideration of the section 28E Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 consenting process and the use of Special Nature Conservation Orders in relation to non-native gamebirds release, specifically common pheasant and red-legged partridge, as well as exploring other possible options that might be used so that such releases can be subject to appropriate assessment where appropriate.
Defra explained that the object of the review is to identify the most suitable approach, and that the Secretary of State will not take any steps that pre-empt the outcome. Given the scope of what is involved, Defra stated that it is not in its view reasonable nor realistic to expect measures to be implemented before summer/autumn 2020.