New General Licences for bird control in England

By Mike Swan, GWCT Head of Education

Defra has at last published all the details of the three new general licences for the control of certain bird species effective from 1st January 2021, plus its “standard licence conditions for trapping wild birds” under these licences.

New general licences for the control of wild birds - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) >

The new general licences provide the legal framework for the control of birds including various crow species, woodpigeon and Canada goose for the purposes of conservation of wild birds, flora and fauna, protecting public health and safety and to prevent serious damage to crops and livestock.

The publication of the new licences follows an eighteen month consultation by Defra that the GWCT has been actively engaged in throughout. This has included the preparation and submission of three scientific and practitioner evidence-based reports on the impacts of certain predatory bird species on the conservation of wild birds.

There are some improvements in the new licences, and they are certainly simpler than what went before. They also allow for control on internationally protected sites (ie sites with SPA and SAC designation), and in buffer zones around. The licences also give specific details of restrictions for some individual sites, where Defra feels these are needed. It is also important to remember that over many SSSIs, there is already a requirement for Natural England consent to use the open general licences. This situation has not changed, and most SSSI owners or occupiers will already have an agreement in place.

All the bird species on the current licences remain on at least one or more of the new general licences. However, there are two very important changes which game keepers need to be aware of. The first of these is that the Conservation of Wild Birds and Conservation of Flora and Fauna licence no longer covers green listed birds, although it is still valid for protection of birds of conservation concern (i.e. red or amber listed). We don’t agree with this change – the science shows that green listed species benefit from control of certain pest species too. Secondly, Rook and jackdaw have been removed from this licence, although they are still on the licence to prevent serious damage to crops and livestock.

Most shoots will have several species of conservation concern (e.g. lapwing, yellowhammer, dunnock and grey partridge) on their ground so will be justified in using the conservation licence. But we are very concerned that the approach Defra and Natural England have taken in removing green listed species like pheasants, red-legged partridges, blackbirds and chaffinches from the list that can benefit is a conservation ‘own goal’ and could remove the incentive for shoots to undertake this important form of privately funded wildlife management that is widely recognised by conservation organisations and Defra themselves.

Given the changes, it will be essential that users familiarise themselves and comply fully with the terms and conditions to ensure that the licence is applicable to the circumstances within which they are operating. As well as reading the licences, all trap users need to carefully study the “standard conditions for trapping wild birds” - Trapping wild birds: standard licence conditions (GL33) - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

Having final versions of these licences published only a few days before they become operational also poses serious issues over making sure that we are familiar with the new rules in time. GWCT would strongly advise all who control pest birds in England, for whatever reason, to read and digest the appropriate licences. Please make sure that you operate within the terms of the licences, and if you are not covered, please apply for an individual licence. GWCT will be running courses on the new licensing system in the New Year. Please get in touch with Lizzie Herring lherring@gwct.org.uk for further details. We are told that Individual Licence application forms for this will go live on about 18th January, 18 days after the current open general licences lapse.

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