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General licences: Tuesday 30 April update

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Biodiversity, Farming, Wildlife

Natural England's interim chief executive Marian Spain provides a further update on general licences

a black carrion crow sat on a grassy lawn

I would like to give a further update to the 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.

Today, the first individual licences for those who need to take action to protect wildlife are being issued to people who have already applied through our simple online application form. We have also clarified and simplified the notification mechanism that allows people to take urgent action if they cannot wait for their application to be determined.

This is another important step and shows Natural England is working as quickly as possible to minimise disruption.

Many people who do not need to take action to control birds in the next few days may prefer to wait until more new general licences are available.

On Friday, we issued the first of the new general licences. This licence allows the control of carrion crows to prevent serious damage to livestock.

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. There have been criticisms that this licence is more restrictive than the previous general licence. I would like to assure users that we have kept the changes to the minimum needed to make the new licence legally robust. If anybody is concerned that the new licence does not cover their specific circumstances they can apply for an individual licence as above.

We plan to issue further licences this week and over the coming weeks, subject to assessment. We are prioritising those species and circumstances most likely to require urgent control at this time of year, so that users can continue to operate within the law. An indicative timetable for these licences is available on GOV.UK.

We are working, for example, on licences for the control of woodpigeons which may damage crops, and corvids predating on endangered wild birds. We are speaking to stakeholders and groups which represent the licences’ users this week to ensure the new licences are as clear as possible.

This should give peace of mind to landowners who need to control certain birds that they can continue to do so within the law.

In the interim, people who need to act before these general licences are available can use the online application system to obtain an individual licence to control certain wild birds.

We recognise that there may be situations where users need to take urgent action; the application system allows for that and sets outs the steps that need to be taken. To allow us to process applications as quickly as possible, it’s important all essential fields – including name, location and species involved - are completed before submitting the form.

We have been criticised for not leaving the old licences in place until new ones are ready. Although we considered this option it was just not possible: once we had accepted that the old licences were unlawful we could not allow users to be put at risk by operating unlawfully. The decision was difficult but unavoidable.

Clearly we would have liked to have had the new licences in place prior to the removal of the old ones. However, the urgency of the legal challenge, combined with the rigorous legal and technical work required to create robust new licences, made it impossible to provide a smooth transition from old licences to new despite our concerted efforts.

The need to move rapidly meant we could not provide the opportunity to consult interested parties as we would normally do.

It’s worth being aware that these new licences are an interim measure and any new conditions or restrictions they contain are solely for the purpose of addressing points raised by the recent legal challenge. Our aim is to avoid any unnecessary burdens on the user.

Over the summer NE will be conducting a wider review of the licensing system, in full consultation with everyone interested in wildlife licences, so that we can put in place a robust and proportionate licensing system which takes into account the needs of wildlife and people.

I recognise that these interim measures will cause disruption for licence users but we are working hard to ensure it is kept to a minimum. I would like to thank people for their patience. I will provide further updates soon and anyone requiring further assistance in the meantime should visit

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  1. Comment by Phiz posted on

    • Replies to Phiz>

      Comment by John Max posted on

      When considering the terms of any licence appertaining to the control of woodpigeon, the drafter must remember that decoying over stubble is an integral part of control of the numbers of woodpigeon. As prolific breeders their numbers would increase expedentialy if not limited by such a cull and adversely affect the crop predation in the following season. It is essential to control their numbers all year round.; there really is no practical option.

    • Replies to Phiz>

      Comment by A Mitcheson posted on

      I am concerned that there is a focus on responding to actual incidents of predation by corvids or crop damage by pigeons. In most situations both crows and pigeons are controlled simply to hold their populations in check. This general control - i.e. not incident specific - is highly necessary. There isn’t a conservation issue with these extremely common marauding vermin. For example, there is an estimated 10.8 million (BTO) wood pigeons in the UK. General control, such as decoying over autumn stubbles to reduce winter and spring crop losses, is and always has been extremely important. The new general licences, if they ever appear, must allow for this.

  2. Comment by Dean merriman posted on

    Unbelievable, first pair of nesting thrushes I have seen for 15 years in the nine acres of gardens I over see and a magpie have raided the nest. I can't do anything just stand there and watch as through out the day it removes all for chicks.
    Well done natural England.
    I'm paying my hard earned taxes for this!
    Many people like me who shoot these pest birds are working hard doing their little bit for conservation, we are not advertising it or shouting about it we just do it. I have worked in the country side all my life.
    Our orchards have been pruned not for apples but for our pair of little owls, this year only jackdaws are in the hollows we have carefully left, can I control them now, well done natural England.

  3. Comment by Anthony nastasi posted on

    And when can we shoot pigeons then and it not on we have to wait this long the farmers feed the nation so they need us to protect the crops so they can feed the protect there crops as it been done for 40 years or more

  4. Comment by Anthony nastasi posted on

    when can we shoot pigeons then? it not on! we shouldn’t have to wait this long the farmers feed the nation so they need us to protect the crops so they can feed us that. All of which has been going on for over 40yrs

  5. Comment by Mike posted on

    Your a disgrace

  6. Comment by John Harrigan posted on

    Being unlawful does not make a "thing" illegal it simply means there is not a law to permit a "thing" though it could be that Common Law permits the protection of crops and animals.

    Further your pages relating to the application for licences will not load on my 8 month old PC with the necessary software.

    The lack of consultation & involvement with relevant bodies was inexcusable.

  7. Comment by Julian Martin posted on

    There has been a significant number of debates over the past week as to whether it is legal to shoot quarry over stubble fields, as some query whether this is crop protection where there is no crop left.
    It would be beneficial to all party's to include clarification in the new GL's

  8. Comment by Andy posted on

    Don’t ask rspb !! Packham is Vice President!!
    He should do us all a favour and resign

  9. Comment by Glynne David posted on

    If a dog is off the lead and worrying sheep the farmer has
    the right to shoot it... that's someone's pet..
    If a magpie is eating the eyes out of his lambs , the farmer
    cannot do nothing.. what's the world coming to.. nightmare

  10. Comment by R J Hunt posted on

    What an absolute shambles. The first of these `new-style` licence`s to control Carrion Crows that threaten livestock is unworkable & unfit for purpose. A bit like the quango who produced it. Come on Mr Gove, step in and take the responsibility away from NE and get someone in DEFRA who knows a smidgeon about the country side to sort this fiasco out.

  11. Comment by trevor turner posted on

    will all those protesting vegans out there be satisfied when every cauliflower , cabbage,stalk of sprouts and kale has massive pile of pigeon pooh ! topping on it ...good luck with that one then!!!

  12. Comment by Mick Miller posted on

    Great, been watching nesting house sparrows all Spring. It seems so have the magpies. Came outside to a hell of a racket and chattering earlier today all three pulled form the nest, two dead, one as good as. Great work on protecting wildlife CP & WJ. Well done.

    Want a balanced view from a genuine naturalist? Look here:

    Defra, Natural England et al - you could do worse than ask this chap for some genuine, reasoned advice on biodiversity.

  13. Comment by Chris Skerratt posted on

    Step aside Natural England ... You have demonstrated you are not fit to administer the General Licences and you have too many close links to the founders of Wild Justice to be considered unbiased going forward.
    How much has this cost do you think?
    Hand this over to DEFRA and take a back seat please.

  14. Comment by Steve H. posted on

    Seems there's a lot of effort going into a PR effort to cover the backsides of the idiots at NE. This whole debacle demonstrates the complete incompetence and imperiousness of the organisation. If this was a business they would be dismissed, and rightly so. Perhaps a token gesture of the resignation of the shiny new top man would calm us all down a bit.

  15. Comment by John Lumbard posted on

    Whilst this withdrawal of General licences has come at a bad time for many farmers, or to nesting birds!
    It also hasn't in fact been helpful for those who instigated it, as it has polarised views on countryside management,
    We can't ignore that the current science, and environmental surveys have all indicated the poor state of natural wildlife across the UK.
    We should use this change in the way General Licences are issued to have a proper debate on how to manage our countryside, introduce necessary changes and manage "pest" species; so that we can move forward to the benefit of all concerned.
    To simply vent anger towards Natural England or Chris Packham, is not helpful and only serves to demonstrate to the wider public that many who manage our countryside have entrenched archaic views, and have been responsible for the decline in British wildlife, flora and fauna.
    Something that isn't true!

  16. Comment by Peter B posted on

    Priority 1: To be issued from w/c 29 April or sooner
    Prevent serious damage to livestock – Carrion crow
    Conserving wild bird – magpie
    Conserving wild bird – Carrion crow
    Prevent serious damage to crops – woodpigeon
    Prevent serious damage to crops – Rook
    Prevent serious damage to crops – Canada goose
    Preserving public health and public safety – Feral pigeon
    Preserving public health and public safety – Canada goose
    Preserving public health and public safety – Lesser Black Backed Gull
    Preserving public health and public safety – Herring gull

    Not seeing much progress on the above

  17. Comment by Stephen Smith posted on

    BASC estimate the damage done to Brassica , Peas and Oil Seed Rape per year by Wood Pigeon is 115 million pounds , the total including cereal crops being much higher . That means since your sudden decision to revoke the General Licence to control that species , the potential loss is 2.2 million pounds rising at a rate of £315000 per day .
    Your own WebSite has claimed that new licences would be issued from 29th April , thus far I am only aware of one licence , that being the Carrion Crow Licence has been issued . With the Bank Holiday on Monday , unless your new General Licence is issued today , there will be continued losses in the region of 1.26 million pounds . Why is Natural England moving at such a slow pace and are not complying with their own timeframes for issuing new licences

  18. Comment by Rufus Hunt posted on

    Well the week commencing 29th has come & virtually gone. No sign of the licences promised this weeks by interim CEO. Perhaps Natural England think that Pigeon, Rooks, Crows et al stop eating crops, eggs & nestlings while they get their pieces of paper in order.

    No wonder Brexit is a shambles when something like this cannot be resolved.

  19. Comment by Frank Corcoran posted on

    Responsibility for General licences should be taken out of the hands of Natural England,as they have proved they are unfit to deal with them,they are a complete shambles.

    • Replies to Frank Corcoran>

      Comment by Old codger posted on

      Every decision by any gov body now seems to cause the maximum
      Damage to anybody who just want to lead a normal life
      And not worry or rant and rave like lunatics about other people
      just glad I've had more than my 3 score and 10 year's

  20. Comment by Shirley posted on

    Unbelievable remarks by the new CEO (Mr Juniper), as reported by the Telegraph; "chaos what chaos" ? Its farmers who are confused !
    What an arrogant man. Should`nt be in charge of a sweet shop let alone a self serving quango. No wonder Brexit is such a mess if this is the sort of people the tax paying public are wasting their money on, with his very nice little financial package & mega pension contributions.
    A bit like Nero me-thinks, happily fiddling while Mr Gove has to step in to try to sort out a total shambles.

  21. Comment by John M posted on

    Its beyond believe that highly paid (I guess), supposedly well educated, intelligent people of NE can make such a terrible mess of a situation.
    The decision makers here should hang there head in shame, despite all the backtracking PR, the damage is done you have lost your credibility.
    The key people here should do the honorable thing and resign.
    Lets hope DEFRA can sort this mess out for you.