Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has announced it will carry out a 12-week consultation into General Licences later this year.

A General Licence is a type of species licence that allows users to control wild birds or destroy their nests, for reasons such as preventing serious damage to crops, protecting public health, and guarding air safety when flocks of birds are liable to get in flight paths.

The issue recently caused controversy south of the border after Natural England revoked three general licences covering 16 species of birds with just 36 hours' notice. The decision was met with uproar from a range of rural groups.

Following the fiasco, Defra secretary Michael Gove announced he would take control of the issue.

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s head of National Operations, said: “We want to ensure that General Licences in Scotland are clear, proportionate and fit-for-purpose.

In light of the complicated situation in England with General Licences right now, we have decided to bring forward our consultation which had been scheduled for 2020.

“Our General Licences cover relatively common situations – such as preventing agricultural damage and protecting public health and safety – when there’s unlikely to be any conservation impact on a species.

"They avoid the need for people to apply for individual licences for these specific situations. As with any licence, we need to ensure that General Licences strike the appropriate balance between species conservation and a range of other legitimate interests.”

“We would like to reassure those who are currently operating under General Licences in Scotland that these remain in place, allowing those who comply with the conditions to continue to use them.”

The consultation will ask stakeholders for their views about how General Licences work in practice, what they should cover, and how they are worded.

Angus MacFadyen, a hill farmer from Argyll and chairman of NFU Scotland’s Environment and Land Use committee, said: “General licences are an extremely important regulated mechanism that allows farmers and crofters to protect their crops, livestock and local wildlife from particular species that can cause problems.

“We welcome the reassurances from SNH that, for those who are currently making use of general licences in Scotland, that these remain in place, allowing those who comply with the conditions to continue to use them.

NFU Scotland believes it is vital that these licences are retained in the future to allow an ongoing, pragmatic approach that allows farming and crofting to thrive alongside wildlife.

"I would urge our members who make use of the general licencing scheme to make their views known on how important the scheme is and how it can be improved.”