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Update: General licences and the next steps

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I would like to further update people who are affected by our changes to the general licensing system and reassure them that they will still be able to take necessary action in a range of important situations.

This is particularly key after further media coverage of the withdrawal of three general licences that allow for bird control reported the replacement licences will make it much harder for gamekeepers to operate.

As a result of a legal challenge by the group Wild Justice Natural England took the difficult (but unavoidable) decision to revoke the licences (GL 04/05/06) which allow lethal controls in defined circumstances of 16 species of birds, including several members of the crow family, Canada geese, some gulls, feral and wood pigeons. This was necessary to ensure compliance with the law for the people that use them.

Natural England is working as quickly as possible to minimise disruption, and has now begun to issue new licences, starting with those species and circumstances most likely to require urgent control, to enable users to continue to operate within the law. The new licences will not have unnecessary burdens or restrictions and users who have operated within the scope of the previous licences will be able to continue to control birds.

A feral pigeon on a rooftop

The law provides protection for all wild birds in Britain. But it also recognises that there are circumstances when they need to be controlled to protect people’s health, safety and livelihoods and to enable the conservation of other wildlife. The general licensing system is a long-standing mechanism to allow this to happen without unnecessary bureaucracy or delay for users. So, as we have made clear before, this is categorically not a ban on the legal shooting of birds where strictly necessary, but a change to the licensing system, ensuring farmers, pest controllers, gamekeepers and others who need to control birds can continue to do so. By no means will these new licences stop the future shooting of pigeons, crows or other named species.

On Friday (26 April) we published the first of these new general licences for controlling carrion crows which may cause harm to livestock, a priority for farmers. Those who need to control wild birds in the circumstances described in this licence, for example where there is a risk to new lambs, can do so immediately and without further steps: there is no need for them to apply for an individual licence.

Other licences will follow in the coming days, for example to control pigeons which may damage crops, and an indicative timetable is contained in this document.

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, for example to control pigeons which may damage crops, and an indicative timetable is contained in this document.

In the interim, people who need to act before these general licences are available, can rely on a simple online application system to obtain an individual licence to control wild birds. These are accessible now (after some initial IT problems for which we apologise): a number have already been received by Natural England and are being processed over the weekend.

I recognise 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: the application system also allows for that and sets outs the steps that need to be taken.

Our priority at the moment is getting the new licensing regime up and running as soon as possible. We are talking to stakeholders as we do so and will take on board points raised where these are within the law. We remain committed to a full and open process, including consultation, in a wider review of general licensing that will take place later this year.

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  1. Comment by Craig Jones. posted on

    Clear your desks. Not fit for purpose.

    • Replies to Craig Jones.>

      Comment by A Mitcheson posted on

      A new gen’ licence for pigeons was promised “w/c 29th April or sooner”. We are now approaching the last few working hours of that period - and still no licence. What is going on?

      • Replies to A Mitcheson>

        Comment by A Mitcheson posted on

        I have just studied the new wood pigeon licence - issued at the 11th hour. It is not fit for purpose. Gove has met with Packham - an irrational extremest - and has rewritten the licence per Packham’s preferences. It is astonishing that Gove has not listened to the rural community and its experts, which Defra was established to serve. Is it Gove also then, who is not fit for purpose. Defra need to recognise that the wood pigeon population is unnaturally extreme, relative to other species, as it benefits disproportionately from current land use models. It therefore needs to be controlled generally throughout England, and not in specific situations, after overburdening scaring and ‘hoop jumping’ exercises. The general approach has always worked well and the wood pigeon numbers have remained stable or slightly increasing, with a current estimate of 10.8 million individuals. There is only one solution to this whole fiasco - Gove must go.

  2. Comment by Gary Bowes posted on

    What a terrible terrible waste of public money.The general licence is there for a very important reason and for N.E. to bend over backwards for a bunch of animal activists is an awful indictment on a government office.Then cobble together a new licence that is not fit for purpose.

  3. Comment by Phil posted on

    It seems to me that anyone can set up a group and complain when something happens that only they disagree with. That is fine. Just explain why stupid politicians jump and act when snowflakes make complaints BEFORE consulting those who know the situation. It does make them look extremely idiotic. The same way stabbing a colleague in the back and hoping for brownie points!!

  4. Comment by Peter posted on

    the general licence issued late on Friday evening is not fit for purpose... to many legal ambiguities and likely many law abiding people could face prosecution which is the licence had been worded properly was not the intention!
    A bit like saying 'we will let you onto the platform 1 minute before the train departs however the train doors will be locked 1 minute before departure'! who working at NE knows anything about the countryside?

    Pest species need controlling when they become near extinction the whole thing will be too late as their prey will have been eaten... BONKERS.

  5. Comment by Roger posted on

    Ne need there funding cut I will never give a penny towards anything to do with ne RSPB ever

  6. Comment by Kris posted on

    My thoughts at this time are, why would a group of high profile so called naturalists prevent protection of our most endangered species of birds from a false population of corvid dependent on human refuse at the most critical time of the year, the system may not have been perfect but it has served us well so far, with a little luck common sense will prevail. Also Canada geese are only on the general license because these people bred the survival instinct migration out of them, having done a noble thing which was to create and preserve wetland habitat then making the mistake of feeding the animals, so in short under general license we were managing their mismanagement.

  7. Comment by Ross posted on

    I'd like to propose the replacement of the existing open general licences with a single open licence authorising users to kill proscribed species for the purposes of preventing damage to livestock, crops and property, for conservation of wildlife and habitat, for reasons of public safety, and with the addition of the provision of food. The inclusion and exclusion of proscribed species should be transparent, evidence-based and efficiently reactive to users' needs, as should be the administration of individual licences.

  8. Comment by S Smith posted on

    Having seen the interview with Chris Packham on Good Morning Britain this morning , he claims his challenge was never about stopping farmers from undertaking pest control , and this was all 'fake news' if that is the case , then why did Natural England find it necessary to revoke all the licences which dealt with pest control ? Given how long ago this challenge was mounted , why is it that NE did not act sooner to rewrite the licences so there was a seamless change to the new one , which would have stopped the ridiculous debacle of individuals having to apply en masse to lawfully shoot pest species . Me thinks this is a spectacular failure by a government department , and I can only hope it is through commission , even as bad as that is , rather than any cosy relationship members of Natural England have /have had with those bringing the legal challenge .

    • Replies to S Smith>

      Comment by Heather Duncan posted on

      Hello thanks for your comments. You'll find quite a lot of the answers to your questions in the latest position statement

      • Replies to Heather Duncan>

        Comment by S Smith posted on

        Thank you - this is the same pre written response that has been online for days .
        It does not answer the questions raised , in fact , having just watched the interview with Chris Packham on the Victoria Derbyshire programme , it raises more
        He claims that his intention was to raise awareness of the likelihood that the GL's were unlawful and needed reviewing , and that Wild Justice having raised the issue were content that NE could do this in the fullness of time certainly up to nine months later when the licences were due to be renewed, yet you claim that it was necessary to revoke them now ? One party is not being honest here .

      • Replies to Heather Duncan>

        Comment by A Mitcheson posted on

        ‘THE’ answer we all need is not there: where is our pigeon licence????

  9. Comment by Peter Branthwaite posted on

    According the Mr Packham (BBC Victoria Derbyshire), wild justice suggested the existing licences be kept in place until a workable solution could be found and put in place for next year by Natural England. Is this true and if so why did you revoke them in a such a short period

  10. Comment by Chris posted on

    There was no need for woodpigeons to be on the general licence in the first place, they are a agricultural pest that continue to grow in numbers despite years of controll. There was also no need to revoke the licences either as the vast majority of pest controllers followed the conditions and got on with what needed to be done to protect crops and livestock, and public health. no doubt we can look forward to a load of new restrictions on the new ones When they arrive. but what can you expect when the man in charge is buddies with the people determined to put a end to what we do.

  11. Comment by Andrew posted on

    This is what appeared in the Telegraph, on 27th April, quote:

    "Natural England’s sudden revocation of the general shooting licences was announced on the day its new chair, Tony Juniper, took over. Natural England have said that the decision was taken earlier.

    Mr Juniper has faced criticism he did not declare his links with Mr Avery before he was appointed to the post.

    A veteran environmental campaigner and wildlife activist who was the Green Party's candidate for Cambridge in the 2010 general election..."

    Avery is a colleague of Packham in 'Wild Justice'.

    What on earth is a taxpayer funded organisation doing appointing a man with extreme prejudices as its Chair? He should resign or be removed and replaced. I cannot see how he can demonstrate neutrality on these issues. As for Natural England, it will lack public confidence so long as Juniper remains in Chairman.

    • Replies to Andrew>

      Comment by phoebebrown posted on

      Hi Andrew, thanks for your comments. We recently published a post about this on our Defra in the Media blog. I have included the link below in case you want to take a look

      • Replies to phoebebrown>

        Comment by Andrew posted on

        Thank you but your reply does not in any way cause me to alter my opinions. Whether or not Juniper bore any responsibility for the disgraceful action taken by Natural England (you had plenty of time to organise your affairs to meet this challenge, incidentally, and failed to do so, which in turn reflects very badly on Lord whomsoever, your Deputy Chair), the fact is that he stood as a Green candidate in the General Election, is associated closely with Avery (and therefore has close links to Packham, who uses the BBC as a mouthpiece for his propaganda) and Wild Justice. According to the press report, he did not disclose his links with Avery. Why not?
        The Green Party is so hard to the left that its members are known as 'water-mellons' - ie green on the outside and hard red in the centre. How can responsible landowners - and others - hold any respect, leave alone confidence in your organisation so long as this person remains as Chair? Have you any idea what their taxation policies would do to those who are custodians of the land and, therefore, its wild life?
        Will you now sack Juniper and, if not, why not?
        What is an extremist doing chairing a government department with public funds and how can such a person obtain any confidence from the public? Civil servants are meant to be neutral in their politics - which is quite impossible here.
        This entire matter and the backdrop is no less than outrageous and it also denotes a general failing on the part of the panel that selected Juniper for the role.
        Kindly convey these comments to your Directors, in whom - as a taxpayer who funds their salaries - I have no confidence, given their appointment and their handling of this controversy relating to vermin.
        I doubt there has existed a time when Natural England and its Directors have faced such a dire absence of confidence from the taxpayer.

  12. Comment by S.J, THomas posted on

    Michael Gove is too busy stabbing other ministers in the back to make sure he gets the key to No 10 to worry about farmers

  13. Comment by Nataliya posted on

    The old general licences did not work and wildlife was shot uncontrollably by pest control companies, landowners and everyone who wished to do so for some fun. I reported some wildlife crimes to police when landowners were allowed their town mates to shoot the wood pigeons on their land for fun (not depending if there were crops or not). The landowners always used an excuse that wood pigeons damage their crops and got away with the crimes without ever showing any proof or evidence that other methods of non lethal control have been applied and used before resorting to shooting. I also witnessed many unlawful actions by pest control companies who killed feral pigeons without any compliance with the terms of the general licence. As a solicitor I fail to understand as to why Natural England left it to the user to decide if their comply with the terms of the general licences leading to complete abuse and unlawful extermination of wildlife. How will Natural England decide that there are no satisfactory alternative solutions to lethal control before issuing new licences? Shooting wildlife is a big business in the UK and I fear that the new licencing may fail to give the necessary protection.

    • Replies to Nataliya>

      Comment by A mitcheson posted on

      Nataliya’s reply serves to highlight the worrying disconnect between those who control our wood pigeon population (currently 10.8 million and rising) and those who often don’t understand why or how it is done. Claiming that ‘wildlife’ was shot uncontrollably wrongly strikes up an impression of multiple species being indiscriminately shot, or that the shotgunners themselves were some how out of control. These aren’t rare wild giant pandas being killed. They are a tiny fraction of an unnaturally abundant single species (10.8 million in UK and increasing). They are shot to prevent crop damage - and yes because we enjoy the sporting challenge too. I am not surprised the police didn’t take the complaint seriously, they were distracted from pursuing real crime. It’s strange for a solicitor not to research the necessary legal ‘context. In trying to be a little more sympathetic, perhaps land management is a long way from the legal specialism this person is familiar with.

    • Replies to Nataliya>

      Comment by john posted on

      Hi nat.You may be a smart solicitor but when it comes to countryside issues I think you may be lacking in that area.

  14. Comment by Chris posted on

    "He should resign or be removed and replaced. I cannot see how he can demonstrate neutrality on these issues"

    Exactly this. Hopefully we will be proved wrong when the new licences are out, time will tell.

  15. Comment by Jake posted on

    I still haven't received my license. Was told to leave a comment on here...

    • Replies to Jake>

      Comment by jhoward posted on

      Hi Jake. Sorry to hear you haven't received your license yet. We recommend that you contact our general enquiries line on 0300 060 3900 or and our staff will do all they can to assist you.

      • Replies to jhoward>

        Comment by Jake posted on

        will try, thanks

        • Replies to Jake>

          Comment by Jake posted on

          You’re joking. Phoned the number given and it was just a script of the email you sent. So basically there is nobody to deal with requests. I’m fed up with being messed about with this.

          • Replies to Jake>

            Comment by jhoward posted on

            Hi Jake, I’m sorry you couldn’t get through to speak to someone directly – we’re experiencing a high volume of calls at the moment and that message is there to give immediate advice ahead of someone returning your call. I’ve contacted our customer services team and they want to help. If you give me permission to share your email address then I can pass your details on to them and they will contact you directly. Alternatively, if you email and put my name in the subject then the team will be ready to respond.

    • Replies to Jake>

      Comment by Andy posted on

      How much do the new licenses cost as a keen shooter I only take certain species for food and corvids as they are a pest are dealt with whenever the opportunity arises. I would like to know, thank you.

  16. Comment by P g crowson posted on

    Tony juniper should resign ! Along with who ever appointed him ! Feel natural is not fit for purpose not only as a result of the issues with the general licence

  17. Comment by Bob Greenwood posted on

    You have no idea of the misery, heartache and uncertainty you have caused by listening to these uninformed people. Peoples livelihoods will be directly affected by this measure, did you think about that for one moment? Their argument is flawed on so many levels it is absurd. All you have succeeded in doing is potentially turning law abiding citizens into lawbreakers by carrying out pest control, which if unchecked with eventually decimate the Farmers of this country. How do you intend to manage this new method of Licencing anyway? The logistics alone defy belief

  18. Comment by S Smith posted on

    Hopefully Natural England will be in receipt of and have read the excellent briefing document both on the general situation , and the specifics of damage by and control of WoodPigeon . Estimates are that 115 million pounds worth of damage to food crops is done by Woodpigeon annually . Since the sudden , unexpected and apparently necessary revocation of the General Licence to control the problem was announced it would be reasonable to calculate that having still not resolved the General Licence in the region of 2.2 million pounds worth of damage has been caused rising by £315000 per day . Do you not consider this is a matter of some urgency both to the economy of farmers and to our total food production

    • Replies to S Smith>

      Comment by A Mitcheson posted on

      S Smith, you make an excellent point, thank you. I think the production losses are much higher though. The most recent wood pigeon population survey gave us an estimate of 10.8 million individuals. However most survey contributions were urban based - where each respondent typically reported a couple of pigeons in their garden. In the open countryside numbers are far higher. For example during February this year, I witnessed over 2,000 pigeons on oilseed rape near my house, and this is fairly typical. It is likely that the population, and therefore the tonnage of produce converted to droppings, is much greater than previously assessed.

      • Replies to A Mitcheson>

        Comment by S Smith posted on

        Thank you for your comment . 5.4 million breeding pairs are the number from the RSPB's own web page , and its is not known when that figure was obtained . It is known there has been an explosion in numbers . With 1-3 eggs in a clutch and birds being able to reproduce any number but potentially 6 times a a year , those numbers will only grow and grow . Clearly even with shooting under general licences those number have not dropped , so what will happen the longer this debacle goes on ?
        Last year a farm I help with crop protection called us in after losing a third of his OSR rape crop to pigeon damage . This year on the very day the licences were revoked another farm called to say pigeons were both damaging an OSR crop , which had been replanted due to earlier damage , and also flocking onto needle drilled peas .Those peas are sprouting and we cannot do a thing . The problem is the people who know best are not being listened to in favour of a minority pressure group , who's true avowed intent is to gradually chip away at all forms of shooting . I made the mistake of trusting NE's own published schedule of revised licences which said that the Gl to control damage to crops by Wood Pigeon would be published w/c 29th April or sooner , so didnt want to cause additional work by applying for an individual licence .Even now realising what a mistake that was , any application that I make wont even be looked at until NE have enjoyed a nice long BH weekend . The costs to already burdened farmers just keeps on going up and up .

        • Replies to S Smith>

          Comment by A Mitcheson posted on

          Yes 5.4 million pairs seems to be the most often quoted figure. It originates from the last BTO census. I completely agree re the massive increase in numbers post census. Last year’s long dry summer produced a huge pigeon increase in my area - and I suspect this will be a national trend. As in your example there has been serious unchecked crop damage by big pigeon numbers in my area. This represents a catastrophic policy failure and a gross insult to all those engaged in the ‘real countryside’.

  19. Comment by Jake posted on

    This at a time when the country will be relying on its national food production even more heavily come Brexit and nobody can defend their crops or livestock. Either people will go bankrupt and won’t be able to produce next year or they will be producing less because their insurance company won’t pay out for damages this season because their IPM plan relied on the general license, so their claims will be void. So short sighted.

  20. Comment by Jake posted on

    jhoward - I can't reply to your comment for some reason. I give you permission.

    • Replies to Jake>

      Comment by jhoward posted on

      Thanks, Jake - I’ve passed your details on to the team.

  21. Comment by Chris posted on

    I wonder if mr Cameron followed the rules of the general licence when he went to a local woods to shoot pigeons ? It also doesn't mention any crops he was protecting either ?

    Or is it one rule for politician's and another one for the rest of us ?. Please just understand that this is a essential part of what we do to help our farmers and protect crops, and over restrictive general licences don't help.

  22. Comment by Michael posted on

    Absolute joke he needs to go.has for wild justice well who's killing our wildlife now ??

  23. Comment by Mike posted on

    All farmers need to put a claim in to wild justice ?

  24. Comment by Des Roberts. posted on

    Why Not Take The 4 Most Pests, IE Feral Pigeons, Crows, Wood pigeons, Magpies Off The List Of 16.