To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what (a) guidance and (b) regulations his Department has issued to ensure that there is no detrimental effect caused by the release of non-native gamebirds on local ecology and biodiversity.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) notification provides a key mechanism for the management of terrestrial European sites, which include Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). This includes a consenting process for operations listed as requiring Natural England’s consent. General guidance on the consenting process is published on the GOV.UK website:
Additionally the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 include provisions to manage operations that may damage European sites.
In response to a pre-action protocol letter from Wild Justice in July 2019, last September the Government accepted that in principle the annual release of non-native gamebirds on, or affecting, SACs and SPAs is capable of constituting a “plan or project” requiring appropriate assessment within the meaning of the Habitats Directive.
Whether they will 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, Defra committed to undertake a review to consider the legislative arrangements around the relevant activities and whether there are ways in which their effectiveness could be improved, as announced on 11 September 2019 (www.gov.uk/government/news/defra-responds-to-wild-justice-challenge-releasing-gamebirds-on-protected-sites).
The review is looking at the following areas: