HL Deb 21 February 1994 vol 552 cc43-4WA
Lord Lyell

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the current position on the Department of the Environment's review of wildlife sales controls.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Arran)

My honourable friend the then Minister for the Environment and Countryside announced on 1 December 1992 that we would be reviewing the operation of wildlife sales controls in Great Britain to see how they could be more effective.

During the course of the review, we have consulted a wide range of interested individuals and organisations, and have received a substantial volume of comments and suggestions. Some of these are still being considered, and we will announce our conclusions in full later in the spring. As a first stage, we have concluded that the existing bird ringing and registration system should be modified to reduce unnecessary regulation and to ensure that the controls are targeted and implemented more effectively. We have decided to announce our proposals now, with a view to completing the changes in time for the main breeding season for birds.

Since the introduction of registration in 1982, there have been significant changes affecting the position of British birds of prey, which have always been the main focus of the registration scheme. The wild populations of many species are back to the levels of the mid 1950s, following the introduction of strict controls on the use of pesticides. Captive breeding has proved more successful than expected. As a result, some 16,000 individual birds are now registered, as compared with an estimate of 1,500 when the scheme was set up. We do not believe it is justified to require captive birds to be registered unless there is evidence to suggest that removal of specimens from the wild for aviculture or falconry is adversely affecting wild populations to a significant degree or is likely to do so in the foreseeable future. In the light of these considerations, we propose to reduce substantially the scope of the existing scheme by removing the requirement to register the Common Buzzard, the Sparrowhawk and the Kestrel, all non-native birds of prey (except the Barbary Falcon), certain birds of prey which occur very infrequently in Britain, and certain birds which are unlikely to be kept in captivity in significant numbers.

We see no need to continue registering birds which have been temporarily imported for falconry purposes, and which pose no threat to native species. Accordingly, we propose to issue a general licence to exempt them from the registration requirements.

At the same time, we propose to tighten up inspection and monitoring of the species which will continue to be subject to the ringing and registration requirements. We are also considering carrying out a small number of DNA tests to check captive-breeding claims.

We also propose to improve the monitoring of the existing scheme by inviting our scientific advisers, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, to develop criteria for reviewing the species subject to registration, and to undertake such a review in 1995 and at five-yearly intervals thereafter. This will bring the arrangements for bird registration into line with those which already exist for other animals and plants.

We are consulting widely on these proposals in accordance with Section 26 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. A copy of the Department's letter setting out the details has been placed in the Library.