By Dr. Roger Draycott, GWCT Head of Advisory
The withdrawal of the General Licences on the 25th April by Natural England (see here) caused significant concern and confusion within the farming and game and wildlife management sectors. We are in the middle of the breeding season for many ground nesting birds including wild gamebirds but also a whole suite of species of conservation concern like lapwing and curlew. There is good scientific evidence of the beneficial impact of corvid control on gamebirds, ground nesting birds and more recently on farmland hedgerow nesting birds (see here, here and here).
Control of corvids, especially crows and magpies, is a key aspect of game and wildlife conservation on farmland and moorland but also on nature reserves too.
New General Licences have been issued for wood pigeon control to prevent serious damage to crops (GL 31), Canada goose (GL 28) to preserve public health and safety and for crow control (GL 26) to prevent serious damage to livestock including poultry and reared gamebirds. The approach NE has taken to issuing new licences has caused major problems for farmers and game and wildlife managers and we are concerned about the functionality of the new licences.
Licences for the control of crows, magpies and other corvids to protect the nests and chicks of ground nesting birds have not yet been published. Defra have now taken over responsibility from Natural England for the issuing of further licences and are undertaking an urgent evidence review (you can have your say here) and it is very unlikely that further General Licences will be published within the next couple of weeks.
So, what can farmers, gamekeepers and reserve wardens do now to protect ground nesting birds?
Until new General Licences are issued, we urge all farmers, game managers and reserve wardens who need to control crows, magpies and/or other corvids to protect the nests and chicks of ground nesting birds, to apply for an individual licence. The forms can be downloaded here. GWCT Advisory have applied for and have received licences for crow and magpie control to protect ground nesting birds and hedgerow nesting species on two demonstration wild game and farmland wildlife recovery projects and can confirm it is a straightforward application process.
Natural England have clarified that only one of these applications needs to be submitted per site. Individuals can then be authorised by the licence holder to undertake the activities listed on the licence provided the licence conditions are met. In order to ensure the efficient and timely processing of these applications, we recommend that applications for control are restricted to the minimum number of species possible.
On the application form, in section 4, there is a requirement to describe ‘non-lethal methods that have been tried and tested’. While many of these are important strategies to deter pigeons from crops (e.g. visual and auditory deterrents, human disturbance etc.) some of these may be inappropriate, or even counter-productive when controlling corvids in areas where there are vulnerable ground nesting birds. We have pointed this out to Natural England and they advise that applicants highlight this on the licence applications where appropriate.
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