Wild bird general shooting licences to be revoked in England

Natural England has come under fire after giving just 36 hours notice of its decision to revoke three general licences to control some of Britain’s most damaging wild birds.

As of Thursday, April 25, 2019, 16 species of birds – including several members of the crow family, Canada goose, some gulls and pigeons – will no longer be allowed to be shot without a new, individual licence.

It follows a legal challenge to the way the licences have been issued, which could mean users who rely on them are not acting lawfully.

A spokesman for Natural England said the agency was working to put alternative measures in place.

In the meantime, once the licences have been revoked and until new licences are issued, anyone needing to control one of these 16 bird species will need to apply for an individual licence.

The action is the first stage of a planned review of general and class licences, which will be completed this year.

Natural England’s interim chief executive Marian Spain said: “We recognise this change will cause disruption for some people, but we are working hard to ensure it is kept to a minimum.

We will bring forward interim measures as quickly as possible as the first stage of our planned review of the licences.

“We want to make sure our licensing system is robust and proportionate, taking into account the needs of wildlife and people.”

‘Impractical and irresponsible’

The decision came under fire from several rural groups. National Farmers’ Union deputy president Guy Smith said the NFU had “significant concerns” about the withdrawal of general licenses.

“They are absolutely necessary at this time of year when crops are particularly vulnerable to pests. For example, a flock of pigeons could decimate a farmer’s field of crops,” he said.

“We understand Natural England will be reissuing the licenses from April 29, and for the NFU it is a matter of priority that they do that.

It is incredibly disappointing that farmers and growers find themselves in this position – particularly at this time of year.

Tim Bonner, Countryside Alliance chief executive, said the decision was “completely impractical and irresponsible”.

“It will result in thousands of people unknowingly breaking the law,” he said.

“Pigeons, corvids and other species that damage crops, livestock and biodiversity have always been regularly and lawfully controlled without bureaucratic restrictions.

“To withdraw the historic ability to manage these species without individual licences at 36 hours’ notice is a recipe for disaster.

Many of those involved in pest control will be unaware of the changes, and this decision will only serve to bring the law into disrepute.

“The decision to bring in a new set of licences without consulting stakeholders or the public is even more bizarre. We have already contacted Natural England for an urgent meeting and will be keeping our members in England up to date with this evolving issue.”


As part of the changes, the Government will also consult those using the licences as well as wildlife protection groups. It’s expected the findings will be published by the end of the year.

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.

The law currently allows for certain species of wild birds to be shot to prevent serious damage or disease; to preserve public health or public safety; or to conserve wild birds or flora or fauna.