Blog from Natural England Director of Operations James Diamond
There has recently been a great deal of speculation on social media about the licensed killing of wild birds in England. I’d like to take this opportunity to give some context to Natural England’s licensing work so that people can understand our decisions.
All wild birds in England are fully protected in law by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). Whilst the Act offers all species general protection, it also provides exemptions for licences to be issued by Natural England on behalf of the government.
These purposes include preserving air safety and public health, and preventing damage to livestock. These licences, which have been issued for nearly 40 years, can only be granted once all other avenues have been explored.
In determining any licence application our expert staff take account of the requirements of the legislation and the five policy tests set out by Defra. A successful applicant must clearly demonstrate – with supporting evidence – that:
- actual damage or a problem is occurring;
- the species is actually causing the damage or problem;
- other reasonable and practical non-lethal alternatives have been considered and tried (such as scaring, trapping or proofing);
- the action is proportionate;
- and the conservation status of the species will not be negatively affected.
Amongst the licences we have issued are permissions to despatch individual birds, such as robins and house sparrows, which have found their way into food preparation premises.
We have also authorised: the removal of individual birds (or their nests) where they are a risk to transport or power supply infrastructure; the shooting of cormorants alongside scaring to protect inland fisheries; and the removal of birds, such as buzzards, that are presenting a risk to aircraft safety at an airport.
None of these actions presents any risk to the conservation status of the species involved. Further information about the reasons for issuing a licence for the control of birds can be found on gov.uk.
Although the focus of the recent interest blog has been licences for the lethal control of birds, it’s worth pointing out that Natural England’s licensing work also enables important conservation work to take place. This includes the tracking and ringing of birds, research into their behaviour and the reintroduction of species such as corncrakes in Cambridgeshire and cirl buntings in Cornwall.
In the interests of transparency we have published a summary of the licences for the control of birds issued between 2013 and 2018, with the reason for approval stated:
|Bird Species||Licensing Purpose|
|Brent goose||Preventing serious damage to agriculture|
|Greylag goose||Preserving public safety and/or preventing serious damage to agriculture|
|Black-headed gull||Conserving fauna (including wild birds) or preserving public health or safety|
|Herring gull||Conserving fauna (including wild birds) or preserving public health or safety|
|Great black-backed gull||Conserving fauna (including wild birds) or preserving public health or safety|
|Lesser black-backed gull||Conserving fauna (including wild birds) and/or preserving public health or safety|
|Curlew||Preserving air safety|
|Oystercatcher||Preserving air safety|
|Buzzard||Preserving air safety and/or preventing serious damage to agriculture|
|Raven||Preventing serious damage to agriculture|
|Kestrel||Preserving air safety|
|Peregrine falcon||Preserving air safety|
|Robin||Preserving public health or safety|
|Grey heron||Preserving air safety and/or preventing damage to fisheries or inland waters|
|Red kite||Preserving air safety|
|Stock dove||Preserving air safety|
|House sparrow||Preserving air safety and/or preserving public health or safety|
|Wren||Preserving public health or safety|
|Blackbird||Preserving public health or safety|
|Great tit||Preserving public health or safety|
|Starling||Kill, injure or take for the purpose of preventing serious damage to agriculture|
|Golden plover||Preserving air safety|
|Cormorant||Preventing damage to fisheries or inland waters|
|Goosander||Preventing damage to fisheries or inland waters|
|Egyptian goose||Preserving public health or safety and/or preserving air safety|
|Moorhen||Preventing serious damage to agriculture|
|Mallard||Preserving public health or safety and/or preserving air safety|
|Pink-footed goose||Preserving public health or safety and/or preserving air safety|
|Canada goose||Preserving public health or safety and/or preserving air safety
|Wigeon||Preserving public health or safety and/or preserving air safety
|Mute swan||Preserving public health or safety and/or preserving air safety
|Ruddy duck||Conserving fauna (including wild birds)|
|Bullfinch||Preventing serious damage to agriculture|
|Ringed plover||Preserving public health or safety and/or preserving air safety|
|Fantail/white dove||Preserving public health and safety and/or preserving air safety|
|Barnacle goose||Preserving public health or safety and/or preserving air safety|
|Coot||Preserving public health or safety|
|Skylark||Preserving air safety|