New general licence for controlling carrion crows comes into force

Natural England has published the first of its new general licences for controlling birds.

It replaces the previous general licences for controlling carrion crows, a species which is known to attack lambs, eating their eyes and tongues, often while they are still alive.

A spokesman for Natural England said further general licences will be issued as soon as possible, starting with those species that are most likely to require urgent control.

The new licence is part of Natural England’s urgent work to identify alternative solutions for all those affected by the decision on Tuesday (April 23) to revoke three general licences for controlling certain wild birds.

This general licence can be used by farmers and stockmen or any person authorised by them.

It permits the killing or taking of carrion crows to prevent serious damage to specified types of livestock that are judged to be vulnerable to predation and also permits the destruction of carrion crow nests and eggs.

Can you shoot a crow?

Those who need to control wild birds in the circumstances described in the licence; for example, where crows cause harm to new lambs, can now do so without further steps. There is no need to apply for an individual licence.

For people in other circumstances who need to take urgent action before new general licences are issued, Natural England has also published a simple online application system for individual wild bird control licences.

The decision to revoke the licences has come under fire from farmers and rural lobby groups. Natural England said it had explored all other options but was left with “no choice” but to revoke the licences.

A spokesman added that this was done to protect people with legitimate reasons to control wildlife from committing offences by acting outside the law.

Natural England’s interim chief executive Marian Spain said: “This new licence should give peace of mind to landowners who need to shoot to control certain wildlife that they can do so within the law.

“I recognise, as does my team at Natural England, that the interim measures announced earlier this week will cause disruption for licence users.

This is not a ban on control, it is a change to the licences that allow control to take place.

“We will continue to work hard to ensure new licences are in place as soon as possible which cover other species and situations.

“I hope the fact that we have been able to provide this one earlier than first indicated is a sign of our commitment to resolve this problem as soon as we are able and ensure landowners can continue to take necessary action.

Natural England is committed to working with farmers, pest controllers, gamekeepers and other professionals who rely on these licences to ensure everyone who needs to control the 16 species of wild birds covered by the revoked general licences can.

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. The first of these new licences are now in place to prevent serious damage to livestock from carrion crow. We have also published a timetable to show which licences will be available when.

Those who need to take action in the meantime for the species which are still not covered by a general licence will need to apply for an individual licence. This can be done using the form on

General licences

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.

Further details of the wider review into the operation and provision of general licences will be shared shortly. We will seek feedback from those using them and from wildlife protection and other groups. We expect to complete this review by the end of the year.

Currently, the three licences subject to the legal challenge cover 16 bird species. It includes several members of the crow family (crows, magpies, rooks, jackdaws and jays), feral and wood pigeon and a number of invasive non-native species (such as Canada goose).

Natural England will consult with stakeholders in advance of the wider review of general licensing that will take place later this year.