Hannah Harrison is a senior legal adviser at the NFU. She explains the complexities of wildlife law and takes a closer look at how the NFU has influenced the law commission’s latest recommendations.
If I asked any number of farmers what initially springs to mind with the term ‘wildlife law’, I might receive dozens of different responses. Some might say the protection of badgers, others might think about poaching, or perhaps the control of deer, or the protection of bird species. The fact is that the wildlife law is a very complex regime, developed over many years, covering a huge variety of flora and fauna and scattered amongst an array of legislation.
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Some species are afforded a high level of protection at a European level; others are protected only at a domestic level.
Back in 2012 NFU responded to the Law Commission’s huge challenge of consulting on a proposal to streamline the law, for which it has just released its report and recommendations for reform. The report recommends one single statute covering the protection, control and exploitation of all wild flora and fauna incorporating EU and domestic protection.
We are broadly in favour of the new approach and we are pleased that the Law Commission has taken on board a number of significant arguments put forward by NFU.
This means that the new legislation will incorporate the requirements under the Habitats Directive, Wild Birds Directive and the Bern Convention as well as domestic law such as the Deer Act 1991 and the Pests Act 1954. Developing a single regulatory approach to cover plant, bird and animal species is no easy task.
The draft Wildlife Bill covers prohibited actions (killing and taking), prohibited means of killing or taking, licensing, close seasons for the management of certain species, poaching, dealing with non-native species, civil sanctions and criminal offences.
We are broadly in favour of the new approach and we are pleased that the Law Commission has taken on board a number of significant arguments put forward by the NFU. Back in 2012, we were concerned by some of the proposals put forward by the Law Commission, which included what we saw as the extension of potential criminal liability for wildlife crimes; the risk being that legitimate farming activities might be criminalised, or employers automatically deemed to be liable for the actions of their employees where a wildlife crime has occurred. The Law Commission has chosen to drop these proposals, which we welcome.
Whilst we broadly welcome the recommendations for a streamlined approach, we do have some concerns about the drafting of the Law Commission’s Wildlife Bill and we will be taking these forward in our on-going lobbying.