Farmers told to apply for temporary licence to control wild birds

Farmers can now apply for a licence to control certain wild bird species to protect public health, flora and fauna, or to prevent spread of disease
Farmers can now apply for a licence to control certain wild bird species to protect public health, flora and fauna, or to prevent spread of disease

Farmers and landowners who want to control wild birds must now apply online for individual control licences following the revocation of three general licences.

Natural England has temporarily withdrawn three general licences used to control wild birds. They cover 16 species, including several members of the crow family, Canada goose, some gulls and pigeons.

Following the unexpected announcement, organisations such as the NFU, Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and the Countryside Alliance came together to demand that the next set of licences are implemented quickly, and are 'simple to understand and use'.

According to Natural England, the decision to revoke these licences was 'not taken lightly'. However, it was 'left with no choice' but to revoke the licences in 'order to comply with the law'.

In the interim, before the next set of general licences are available, where there is no reasonable non-lethal alternative, there is an online application system to obtain individual licences to control wild birds.

These are accessible now. Natural England said it recognises that there may be instances of genuine emergency where immediate action may be required.

Natural England’s interim chief executive, Marian Spain said: “I recognise, as does my team at Natural England, that these interim measures will cause disruption for licence users.

“We are working hard to ensure it is kept to a minimum. This is not a ban on control, it is a change to the licences that allow control to take place.

“We have been very clear there will be new licences in place in the coming days that cover the vast majority of circumstances covered by the current licences. This will ensure landowners can continue to take necessary action, whilst also taking into account the needs of wildlife,” he said.

What to do if you use a general licence

It is expected that, over time, most situations currently covered by the three general licences will be covered by new licences.

Natural England is undertaking new licensing assessments to support lethal control of certain birds in defined situations, such as to prevent serious damage to livestock from carrion crow and to preserve public health and safety from the impacts of feral pigeons.

It intends to start issuing these licences online from 26 April. It will also publish a timetable then to show which licences will be available when.

If farmers, gamekeepers or landowners need to take action in the meantime they will need to apply for an individual licence.

General licences were introduced in the 1990s to allow the legal control of bird species of low conservation concern to protect public health and safety, prevent serious damage and disease, and protect plants and wildlife.