A ban on farmers shooting pest birds, including pigeons and crows, has been branded an “ill-founded assault” on the farming industry, by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor James Palmer.
He said Natural England had caved in the face of a legal challenge by TV naturalist Chris Packham's conservation group Wild Justice by revoking general licences to kill the birds which farmers say cause enormous damage by plundering crops.
Launching the legal challenge, Dr Mark Avery, director of Wild Justice, said: "Natural England and Defra are allowing the casual killing of millions of birds each year with no monitoring, no control and no justifiable reason. Natural England was set up to protect wildlife, not to turn a blind eye to such slaughter. Mass killing of wildlife under the general licences has been going on for nearly 40 years - it's time that this casual killing ended."
However, Mr Palmer said he would be raising the issue with the Secretary of State for Environment, food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove.
"The red tape farmers in Cambridgeshire will have to deal with following the revoking of the general licences to control certain bird species is completely unacceptable," he said.
"I have a background in farming and I know and understand the sheer frustration and anger at this being foisted upon them at a critical time for arable and livestock farmers."
He said the way Natural England had implemented the change at short notice was "dreadful".
Mr Palmer said: "I'm afraid this whole episode smacks of meddling by those who know nothing of the continuous pressures faced by farmers and who do not understand the heartbreak, stress and financial hardship caused by a field decimated by pests.
"The legal challenge fronted by Chris Packham's Wild Justice feels like yet another attack in what is a concerted war on the countryside and the way of life upon which so many livelihoods, and the continued food security of this country, depends."
He said: "Natural England appears to have simply caved in, putting Cambridgeshire farmers at risk of falling foul of the law simply by trying to earn a living."
Mr Palmer said: "As ever more chemicals are withdrawn from the farmers' defensive armoury this is a further unnecessary and ill-founded assault on our farming industry at every level, from small farmers clinging to a living to multi-national businesses keeping our shelves full and serving important export markets."
He added: "Brexit has highlighted the critical national importance of our continued food security. The control of pigeons and other recognised pest bird species is an essential part of protection for peas, beans, oilseed rape, lettuces and a whole range of other essential crops that go to keeping this nation fed."