Is your wild bird control lawful or are you committing an offence?

29 April 2019

On 25th April 2019 Natural England revoked three general licences for controlling 16 species of wild bird.

This decision comes following a legal challenge from the non-governmental organisation, Wild Justice, with Natural England accepting that these licences did not meet the requirements set out in the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.

Despite this, Natural England has assured previous licence-holders that bird control can still be carried out lawfully. No criminal offence will be committed for lethal control of the 16 species of wild bird if certain actions are taken.

Which licences have been revoked?

GL04: General licence to kill or take certain species of wild birds to prevent serious damage or disease.

GL05: General licence to kill or take certain species of wild birds to preserve public health or public safety.

GL06: General licence to kill or take certain species of wild birds to conserve flora and fauna.


So what are you required to do next?

  • Wait for Natural England to introduce new general licences.

A number of new general licences will be made available on gov.uk within the next few days and these are said to cover the majority of circumstances previously covered by the revoked licences.

The first of these new licences was released on 26th April 2019 for controlling carrion crows (GL26), a priority species for landowners looking to protect against damage to livestock.
If the licence that you require is not yet available and you have no urgent need to carry out lethal control then there is no action for you take at this present time.


  • Apply to Natural England for “individual licences”.

If you find that you need to carry out lethal control before the licence that you require has been made available then you can apply for an individual licence as an interim remedy. This is an online application process through gov.uk.


  • If urgent action is required before you receive a new licence, you can still carry out lethal control in certain circumstances.

You must be able to demonstrate your action is necessary for the purpose of:

  • “preserving public health or public safety or air safety”;
  • “preventing the spread of disease”; or
  • “preventing serious damage to livestock, their foodstuffs, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters”.

This is mentioned in section 4 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, with some saying this may give authorised persons a legal defence in the event of a challenge, especially where a licence has not been obtained or even applied for.


However, the procedure being recommended by Natural England in these circumstances is as follows:

  • exhaust all non-lethal control measures first;
  • apply for a licence for the relevant purpose;
  • conduct the lethal control of the wild bird; and
  • notify Natural England as soon as possible about what you have done and why (birds2019@naturalengland.org.uk).


The 16 species of wild bird to which this relates are:

  • Canadian geese;
  • collared doves;
  • crows;
  • Egyptian geese;
  • feral pigeons;
  • herring gulls;
  • Indian house crows
  • jackdaws;
  • jays;
  • lesser black-backed gulls;
  • magpies;
  • monk parakeets;
  • ring-necked parakeets;
  • rooks;
  • sacred ibis; and
  • woodpigeons.


It will be interesting to see how Natural England handles the high demand for new and individual licences in the coming weeks and how long people will have to eventually wait to receive the requisite documentation.

Natural England’s position statement on this topic can be found at gov.uk.

If you are one of the many people or organisations who have been disrupted by this decision and would like some advice, please do not hesitate to contact Gino Ballestracci on 01472 265997. He is a Regulatory Executive within our Public & Regulatory department and is based at our Grimsby office.


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