DEFRA has been forced to admit that its regulations governing the import of captive-bred European bird species for the bird trade may not comply with European law.
Des Prior, owner of Priors Pets in Cardinal's Green, Cambridgeshire, has petitioned the European Commission (EC) to clarify the issue with DEFRA, and DEFRA's response to the EC has conceded that a restriction of trade may exist.
The DEFRA statement said: "We recognise that the current regulatory regime has introduced additional requirements for the legitimisation of the trade in captive-bred birds where those birds can otherwise be traded in other Member States, and that these restrictions may constitute a measure having equivalent effect to a quantitative restriction on trade between Member States."
Mr Prior said: "It is undoubtedly a restriction on trade because if a UK breeder wants a licence to bring in birds, Natural England – DEFRA's agency – is asking for breeding documentation that isn't kept or needed in Europe.
"Natural England knows these details are not routinely kept in Europe and yet they insist on having them in order for me to bring in birds and sell them in the UK. My point is – how can you ask for something that you know doesn't exist?"
In an email last week to Laura Stockute, a legal officer at the EC, DEFRA confirmed this: "Authorities in England acknowledge that, in order for such a licence to be granted, the licensing authority (Natural England) would be likely to request documentary evidence of captive-bred status before granting such a licence. Authorities in England acknowledge that such documentary evidence is not required in other Member States from which birds are commonly imported into the UK, and that therefore such records are not routinely kept."
This admission may have huge implications for British birdkeepers prosecuted under UK law for not having sufficient breeding documentation, since these birdkeepers would not be committing a crime in Europe.
The DEFRA statement goes on to say that there will be a public consultation on this issue this year. We contacted DEFRA and they confirmed the consultation would happen, probably in late summer, but had no further details at this time.
Chris Smith, chairman of the National Council for Aviculture, commented: "There's nothing under British law stating that breeders need to provide such breeding history documentation. It's not on the statute.
"We've been pressing for years for the clarification of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. We'd be very keen to participate in any consultation set up by Natural England."