Everything you need to know about general licenses

In the wake of the news three of the general licenses in England, which permit the taking of pest bird species including pigeons, crows and magpies, will be revoked as soon as Thursday, here is everything you need to know about general licenses.

Natural England says it 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 on gov.uk from the week commencing 29 April when more details will be available.”

These licences (GL 04/05/06) cover 16 species of birds including several members of the crow family, Canada goose, some gulls and pigeons.

GL04 is outlined as “to prevent damage or disease to livestock or crops”, GL05 is “to preserve public health or public safety” and GL06 is “to protect wildlife and plants for conservation purposes”.

Natural England have said that they are working on licensing assessments that would enable the lethal control of pest birds under specific circumstances, such as to prevent serious damage to livestock from carrion crows, and to preserve public health and safety from the impacts of feral pigeons.

According to direct.gov: “It intends to start issuing these licences on http://gov.ukfrom the week commencing 29 April when more details will be available.

“If people need to take action in the meantime they will need to apply for an individual licence, using a simplified process which will be available on gov.uk from 25 April.

“In limited circumstances, people may be allowed to undertake urgent action in accordance with the existing requirements of section 4 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

“Anyone exercising lethal control of birds after Thursday 25 April 2019 without taking the above steps will not be covered by a general licence and could be committing an offence.”

Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “Whatever Natural England’s legal advice, the withdrawal of Open General Licences at incredibly short notice is completely impractical and irresponsible, and will result in thousands of people unknowingly breaking the law.

“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.”

A spokesperson for the National Gamekeepers Organisation said: “The science on this is completely clear. Without spring corvid control, wild gamebird production and the breeding of red-listed waders like the curlew and lapwing will be insufficient to maintain their English populations.

“Stopping the use of all corvid traps and the shooting of crows and magpies at this time of year will be a disaster for wildlife, to say nothing of the livelihoods of those dependent on well-run grouse moors and farms where wild gamebirds such as the declining grey partridge are being managed.”

General licenses were introduced in the 1980s by the government as a means of circumventing the banning of all bird shooting when it signed up to 1979 EC Birds Directive.

Though the ban remained in place, the government introduced the licenses to enable the legal control of pest bird species of low conservation concern.

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