Pheasant shooting is to be scaled back across large swathes of the countryside, it emerged last night.
The Government was accused of 'caving in' to a campaign by BBC presenter Chris Packham after licensing to limit the release of popular game birds was announced.
Shooting organisations have been left outraged by the measures, which include a ban on most releases of pheasants and partridges within 500 metres of Britain's Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will license the release of gamebirds from next year.
This will affect around 10 per cent of land currently used for gamebird shooting, according to the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC).
The Government was accused of 'caving in' to a campaign by BBC presenter Chris Packham after licensing to limit the release of popular game birds was announced
Mr Packham, pictured, was due to present a legal challenge against Defra next week over its policy on the release of gamebirds. He has tried to ban the release of pheasants around SSSIs. But before the case could be heard, the Government agreed to demands.
While Mr Packham's group, Wild Justice, said they are 'delighted' by the 'historic environmental victory', shooting communities are up in arms at the decision.
The Countryside Alliance has accused the group of being a 'vehicle for pursuing the prejudice – and polishing the egos of – its principal members Chris Packham and Mark Avery'.
In a lambasting joint statement with BASC, the Alliance accused Defra of making the decision without prior consultation with themselves, the National Gamekeepers' Association or the Game Farmers' Association.
Shooting organisations have been left outraged by the measures, which include a ban on most releases of pheasants and partridges within 500 metres of Britain's Sites of Special Scientific Interest (file photo)
They said they believe a licensing system is 'not justified by the scientific evidence' and 'may be unlawful'.
'Defra's proposed red tape under the precautionary principle will do little but threaten rural jobs, con-servation efforts and a host of social benefits that shooting provides,' they said.
'If Defra is to secure cooperation from the shooting community, it must do better.
'There is a great deal of scepticism that an unknown licensing system run by an under-funded public body can fix something that is not known to be ecologically damaging.'
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Shooting and Conservation, with Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP as chairman, has already held a meeting with the Secretary of State for Defra, George Eustice MP, to express their concerns.
In a follow-up letter, the MPs called on Defra to work closely with the shooting organisations.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will license the release of gamebirds from next year (file photo)
Sir Geoffrey said: 'Many parliamentarians are concerned to ensure that shooting is not damaged by whatever Defra does. We will be fighting for a sensible evidence-based and proportionate outcome.'
The BASC say game shooting has both economic and environmental benefits. More than 280,000 people work on shoots each year, and the effort put into game management and pest control is equivalent to 7,800 full-time jobs.
Shooting as a sport contributes £2billion to the UK economy, according to industry estimates.
Meanwhile land managed for game shooting promotes diversity and helps maintain thousands of acres of woodland, they say.
However Duncan Orr-Ewing, from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: 'This is... an important step in recognising that releasing 57million non-native gamebirds into our countryside every year is not sustainable or in line with the urgent need to protect and restore the best spaces for our native wildlife.'