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General licences and the next steps

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There has been a large amount of media coverage and interest in the decision to revoke the three general licences (GL 04/05/06). These cover 16 species of birds, including several members of the crow family, Canada geese, some gulls, feral and wood pigeons.

Natural England announced on Tuesday (23 April) that the general licences would be revoked at 11.59pm on Thursday 25 April, as a result of a legal challenge. The decision to revoke the general licences is not a decision we took lightly and we recognise the disruption it has caused. We explored all options available and were left with no choice but to revoke licences. This was disappointing but we fully accept the need to comply with the law.

Natural England has been working urgently to identify alternative solutions for all those affected, and to convey as clearly as possible the action individuals can take to mitigate disruption. We are committed to working closely with farmers, pest controllers, gamekeepers and other professionals working in the countryside to ensure everyone who needs to control these birds can.

General licences will be restored as quickly as possible, starting with those species that are most likely to require urgent control. This will mean landowners can continue to take necessary action as they do now, whilst also taking into account the needs of wildlife.

On Friday (26 April) we published the first of these new general licences for controlling carrion crows, a priority species for farmers looking to protect against damage to livestock.

Those who need to control wildbirds in the circumstances described in this licence, for example where crows cause harm to new lambs, can do so without further steps: there is no need to apply for an individual licence. This should give peace of mind to landowners who need to shoot to control certain birds that they can do so within the law.

Other licences will follow in the coming days, with updates to follow.

In the interim, before these general licences are available, where there is no reasonable non-lethal alternative, you can rely on a simple and quick online application system to obtain individual licences to control wild birds. These are accessible now. I regret that at some times of the day yesterday people were unable to submit applications. Further changes to make it easier from all devices are underway.

I recognise, as does my team at Natural England, that these interim measures will cause disruption for licence users. We are working hard to ensure it is kept to a minimum. We also recognise that there may be instances of genuine emergency where immediate action may be taken.

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

Our priority at the moment is getting the new licensing regime up and running, so users are acting within the law. We will consult with stakeholders in advance of the wider review of general licensing that will take place later this year.

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  1. Comment by Roger Custance posted on

    I understand the problem that Natural England has unexpectedly (and unnecessarily) had to deal with in the matter of the general licence and I am grateful for its efforts to come up with solutions.

    I hope very much that any new general licence will still permit the control of avian predators that take the eggs or young of song birds, as well as those birds that damage crops and livestock. Corvids, including magpies and jays, are a menace to the balance of nature in the garden as well as corvids in the fields and, regrettably, shooting is usually the only effective means of control.

  2. Comment by Robert Oakley posted on

    The chief executive / senior executives should be dismissed immediately, or maybe with two and a half days notice. They have had decades to consider the legality of the general licences.

  3. Comment by Colin Jones posted on

    I am curious about Natural Englands legal knowledge. In the statement references have been made to section 4 of the Wildlife Countryside Act, yet no references to section 2 subsection 2. All the species listed “A” on the General Licenses are listed in schedule 2 part 2 of the act. The way I read it, the Act says these birds can be killed at anytime without a specific reason.

  4. Comment by Chris Bradshaw posted on

    It is recognised in law that to hunt certain birds and animals is legitimate and can be carried out by permitted methods, usually within seasons but other than that, few other conditions.
    Would it not make sense in the case of certain species of the controversial 16 to re classify them as known pests/threats or invasive species sustainably able to be harvested.
    To challenge this would require the opposition to prove that they aren't as classfied and that thier numbers are at threat, which they most definitely aren't.
    We all know that corvid numbers have sky rocket in recent years, they are under no threat and are highly adaptable, urban and populated areas where control is limited are acting as hubs for them.
    Many of our very highly vulnerable bird species simply can't sustain an increased pressure of corvid predation.
    Pigeons in general but especially wood pigeons are certainly the most sustainably harvestable of all our species... With the ability to breed year round and warm winters, the population is ever increasing, even with all the shooting that takes place.
    Surely the control of these species is not only of benefit but actually very necessary and becoming more so.
    People with landowners permission or land owners should be permitted to control these species without impractical conditions... Most of which do not have any lasting effect and only serves to move the problem on or return swiftly.
    Conditions, whatever they may be can and will be challenged.
    Concise classification leaves little room for successful challenge.

  5. Comment by HAROLD GARSIDE posted on

    How convenient that you have a picture of a very pretty feral pigeon, quite obviously taken in a town or city, and not of a hundred or so wood pigeons in a field of crops......Hmmmmm ?

  6. Comment by Les Davey posted on

    Absolutely Robert, WHY such short notice and not even have alternatives in place BEFORE suspending the general licences? Totally incompetent.

    • Replies to Les Davey>

      Comment by Adrian posted on

      I feel that Natural England is being influenced by Chris Packham and the close working relationship with Tony Juniper.
      A complete shambles of an organisation!

      • Replies to Adrian>

        Comment by stephen lamerton posted on

        why did wild justice pay 32000 pounds to natural england for this to be brought about ? smacks of Judas and 30 pieces of silver Ah well thats inflation

        • Replies to stephen lamerton>

          Comment by Heather Duncan posted on

          Hi Stephen
          Wild Justice did not pay £32,000 to Natural England. You may be referring to the amount of money raised to help pay for the legal challenge. This money does not get paid to Natural England

  7. Comment by Carl Edwards posted on

    Are the new general licences limited to single farms ? Will I need to apply for separate licences for every farm that I do pest control on or would the initial application cover me for all 11 farms ?

  8. Comment by Ed Dixon posted on

    Can't help thinking that perhaps Natural England's new head honcho Mr Juniper didn't want to go against his old chum Mark Avery in court so took the decision to back down fast?

  9. Comment by Jill James posted on

    Ban the General Licence permanently! I am sick of hunting and shotgun fire in Derbyshire where I live.

    Last year my mum was dying at home and all I could hear were blasts nearly every day of the week. When I complained, the gamekeeper fired right behind my head to scare me. I struggled to hear all everything. You're all a bunch of thugs!

    We have juvenile Turtle Doves most years and these have declined since the shoots increased.

    Roadkill keeps numbers down so no need for any General Licences.

  10. Comment by Tom Mansell posted on

    Hi what next why are you Natural England
    letting Wild Justice 3 People I might add dictate to you about licensing & controlling
    Vermin that devastate crops/ livestock & carry disease’s all work farmers do for farm assurance schemes nobody thinks of this !
    It would do this country world of good to have ration books again & just maybe farmers would be appreciated & just not walked over!

  11. Comment by Adrian posted on

    Im sorry but you Natural England have failed the countryside, to remove the general licences without having a thought out plan in place is one thing but to replace them with next to useless licences is another!
    The new general licence for Crows is ridiculous, there are that many rules and regulations that if you shoot one then there's a great chance your going to be prosecuted unless you can prove you explored all other avenues first of non lethal methods.
    Between Natural England and Chris Packham you will destroy the countryside, such species such as the curlew will be extinct because of a lack of predation control due to unfair rules set out in your general licences!

  12. Comment by Doug Richards posted on

    I was involved in pest control back in the 70's and 80's and have seen how much grain can be in the crop of one wood pigeon.
    Which got me thinking, after trolling the internet for info I have come up with an approx figure for 4,000,000 pigeon's eating their fill of Wheat for ONE day works out at 119 Ton's.

  13. Comment by P Hannant posted on

    I am a gun owner, just a thought a farm near me planted over winter wild bird seed for birds paid for by hls, let pidgeon shooting constantly over this area. Obviously there has to be control over the brainless amongst us.

  14. Comment by Gary Reeve posted on

    Interesting alternative method listed in the Carrion Crow license:

    "This method seeks to attract corvids away from release pens by providing food in another area. This is most successful when used in combination with scaring techniques where pens are located."

    Suggest feeding outside Natural Englands Office and scaring technique could be a shotgun ?

  15. Comment by Stephen donson posted on

    Unfortunately by removing the general licenses and causing utter mayhem in the countryside which must be costing considerable amounts of money.Then the leadership of Natural England who peratrated this complete and utter mess must be removed from office as completely and utterly incompetent.

  16. Comment by John Milne posted on

    Natural England issued licences to shoot at least 40 species of birds between 2015 and 2018. The list of species makes for shocking reading and includes such treasured birds as the Skylark, Blackbird, Great Tit, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Kestrel, Bullfinch, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Plover, Robin and Wren.
    Now out of the blue NE wants to preserve known avian predators/pests.
    Like the Government they seem to have lost the plot.
    The time has come for Scientific Organizations such as The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Songbird Survival to take control.

  17. Comment by John Milne posted on

    Sorry I have stated the facts.

    If you don't want to publish my comment I will be even more determined to get it published elsewhere like The Telegraph !

    Otherwise please advise how I can 'moderate' ?

    Thank you---John Milne

    • Replies to John Milne>

      Comment by Heather Duncan posted on

      Hi John I was away from my desk when your comment was posted to the blog, I've published it now. No intention to censor, hopefully you can see it online now? Best wishes Heather

  18. Comment by John Milne posted on

    See comments above

  19. Comment by John Milne posted on

    Thank you Heather

  20. Comment by Alex Buller posted on

    I have already contacted my MP who is in contact with yourselves and the Minister for Farming but this does not help with the situation on the ground - licenses need to be issued or General License reinstated until the correct wording is sorted for new licenses . Individual license is still not accessible ! This is a complete shambles , if private industry behaved in this way people would be losing their jobs !

  21. Comment by Garry Catchpole posted on

    With special thanks to Chris Packham, Wild Justice and Natural England. There is now no protection in place for our nesting birds at this critical time when their eggs and young are most vulnerable from predation by corvids. What a massive own goal they’ve scored, total hypocrisy!!!

  22. Comment by Pail Eaton posted on

    Unbelievable that your going to let rear birds and song birds slip away bye making it so hard to control crows magpies etc so so sad and stopping pigeon control is unbelievable to they bread all year round so no shortage of them at all there will be no crops left soon as they will destroy the yeald of the crop we’ll done well done ?????

  23. Comment by wilf morgan posted on

    i have known for a long time English nature /natural England are incompetent change the name but it's the same.
    wilf morgan

  24. Comment by Farmer James posted on

    I cannot believe that it has become so complex that one needs a computer to apply for a licence to stop (kill) a magpie that is eating other birds eggs/chicks... and you can only apply on your computer to do this when you have exhausted ALL other ways of frightening the birds away...
    what do THEY think we all do in the countryside????

  25. Comment by Farmer James posted on

    no more complaints then?

  26. Comment by Sam Thompson posted on

    Why are you not replying to all posts?

  27. Comment by dean fisher posted on

    i must have missed the point but as someone that shoots corvids on one of my shoots as there are pheasant rearing pens there do i need to apply for a licence now

  28. Comment by Dave Whitfield posted on

    I now need 30 individual licenses to shoot wood pigeons. Bearing in mind its 11 pages of drivel. How is this good practise, or is the idea to fell a few forests for the paper to print these licenses and the resultant de-forestation enough to eradicate the wood pigeon?

  29. Comment by Robert Ross posted on

    If you were left with no choice but to revoke the General Licences why did the same criteria not apply in Wales and Scotland?

  30. Comment by kevin Binnington posted on

    John Milne lists 11 bird species out of a potential 40 is this common knowledge and why would Natural England issue said licensing to shoot those birds ?

    Kevin Binnington
    Ex moorland keeper

  31. Comment by Steve Parker posted on

    Still waiting for the general licence to be reissued for controlling woodpigeons hopefully before this bank holiday weekend.Had a drive around the pea fields I cover last night, bangers in every hedge, a hawk kite and still covered in woodies.When will idiots like Mr Packam leave country people to manage their own resources, your Disney effect Spring watch programmes never tell the full story as I know from controlling foxes on RSPB reserves for many years, predator and pest control are an essential part of land management there is no natural balance humans have made sure of that. You stick to what you do and we will look after the countryside!
    Natural England should hang their heads in shame.

  32. Comment by Vicky Harper posted on

    If people stopped killing birds of prey and other predators that naturally control corvids, woodpigeon,etc there wouldn't be such an influx in these species. I went on a walk this morning and a man was shooting aimlessly at woodpigeon a good distance away from livestock, crops, etc. I saw two families turn around and go back home because there children were frightened by the loud gun shots. A newly arrived cuckoo called close by to where the shots were being fired and I feared for its safety. A little bit further cage traps could be seen containing a crow and dead hare. Again a good distance from any livestock or crops. A few hundred yards later I reached the recently burnt moorland that was totally void of any wildlife. It will soon be called nature less England certainly not natural england. What started off as an exciting walk in the country side finished off a very sad sight indeed.

  33. Comment by Mark burrows posted on

    What no one has mentioned is many years back before winter rape and other crops the wood pigeon would take heavy winter casualties up to 40%could die of hunger.many years back they layed 2 eggs once a year.rarely with winter crop they lay 3 times on a regular basis .2million pigeons are shot every year approx.and we don’t even dent the population.corvids have a better life now than food outlets everywhere and rubbish bins and waste dumps a plenty that’s there winter food sorted ,a nation of food waste .now what about our hedge row birds finch’s tits and groundnesters too.they haven’t seen any change in years no extra food for them and now told insects are on a massive decline Looks like the cards are stacked against the hedgerow birds..corvids are so abundant now more than ever.and then there’s cats who kill as many birds as corvids. .chris Packham and the rest of the idiots why are you not campaigning to ban cats .because you won’t .lets hit the farmer and shooters .i this year have lost 4 wild mallard clutches total 41 chicks.3 robins nests ripped apart praying my long tailed tits are ok and I have a pair of king fishers on my lake .and many many other birds .which I feed from my own pocket and used to guard.i have 2 boot sales close by and the best part of 500 corvids descend on the field when everyone has gone home.there are many people like me who love our wildlife but sometimes we have to control it or we will pay a terrible price Mr Packham.sorry for the story but we are all effected by this miss guided man