Natural England Criticised for Unreasonable Game Shooting Ban

Private business interests sometimes have to give way to the broader public interest in protecting wildlife habitats and the environment. However, in one case, Natural England was heavily criticised by the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) after it served a stop notice that effectively shut down a long-established sporting shoot.

The commercial shoot operated within a heathland site of special scientific interest (SSSI). Natural England took the view that the release of game birds and vehicle movements during shoots was having a detrimental impact on vegetation, invertebrates and other features of the protected heath and acid grasslands. The operator of the shoot was served with a stop notice which forbade any further commercial shooting or release of game birds on the site without Natural England’s prior consent.

In ruling on the operator’s challenge to the notice, the FTT found that its drafting was so imprecise that it failed to meet the basic requirements of fairness. The reasons given by Natural England for serving the notice were so lacking in clarity that the operator remained in the dark as to the case he had to meet. Natural England had not apparently obtained expert advice until after the stop notice was served and the evidence given by its witnesses was in many respects unsatisfactory.

The FTT accepted that the shoot did in some respects pose a serious risk of causing significant harm to the SSSI. However, in taking a proportionate approach, it varied the stop notice so as to permit the operator to release about 3,000 game birds per season and to organise shoots on 24 days a year. Further vehicle movements within the SSSI were also permitted for the purpose of caring for game birds.