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Update on licences for control of lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls and of birds on or close to protected sites

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By Dave Slater, Natural England’s Director for wildlife licensing.

Updated 1 May 2020.

Natural England has now started issuing decisions in relation to applications for individual bird control licences for those circumstances which are not covered by the General Licences issued by Defra in January. The purpose of this blog is to update applicants on the progress of applications to control gulls on their land or for control of birds on or close to protected sites.

In January, we announced changes to licensing for lethal control of herring gull and lesser black-backed gulls, introducing individual licences for this purpose and a new application process for obtaining a licence. This is because of strong evidence of serious population decline in these two species. Our research indicates that the breeding population of herring gull, a red listed species, has fallen by 60 per cent since the 1980s, with amber listed lesser black-backed gulls declining by an estimated 48 per cent.

Since opening the new application process, we have received very high numbers of applications for control of the two gull species and for control of wild birds on protected sites. The scale of lethal control of these gulls that has been applied for is considerably greater than the levels of lethal control which Natural England has concluded are ecologically acceptable for these species.

Natural England must ensure that the licences it issues will not be detrimental for the conservation status of protected species. It must also ensure that the licences it issues do not adversely affect the conservation objectives of statutory protected sites.

We understand that some applicants will be disappointed if they do not receive licences. However, Natural England must comply with the legal requirements outlined above and applications will be rejected if they do not meet the required criteria.

Natural England will issue licences where there is enough evidence and information in applications for us to conclude that:

  • there is a genuine problem to resolve or need to satisfy for which a statutory licensing purpose applies;
  • there are no satisfactory alternatives, including that non-lethal solutions have been tried and/or shown to be ineffective;
  • the licensed action will contribute to resolving the problem or meeting the need; and,
  • the action to be licensed is proportionate to the problem or need.

Many applicants will want to urgently act upon their licences, especially now that the bird breeding season is upon us, and I want to thank them for their patience. This work has taken longer than we originally anticipated, for the reasons explained below.

We have to date received almost 1000 applications, around three quarters of which arrived with us in March, many of these after the gull application deadline of 15 March. A significant number of these applications did not include all the required information and have taken additional time to go back to applicants to ask for this necessary information. We have brought more people into the licensing team to increase our capacity to address this unexpected additional workload. We have also been working with stakeholder groups to test that the conditions in the licences, for example on avoiding disturbance to other protect species such as raptors, will be clear and workable for users.

For the named gull species in particular, we need to ensure there is adequate information on large numbers of applications, and then assess them together. This is because we must undertake an assessment of cumulative impacts on conservation status before we issue these licences. In addition, where any applications are on protected sites, such as Special Protection Areas (SPAs), we need to ensure that we have the information we need in order to be certain there will be no adverse effects on those sites.

We continue to work hard on completing the technical assessments for these licence applications and have started issuing decisions to applicants. I will provide updates on this blog as the process of decision-making progresses. I recognise it will be challenging for those who want to carry out control measures that were previously covered by the general licence, but we must abide by the law that is in place to protect bird populations. I sincerely appreciate your patience as the issuing of decisions as this new licensing process gets under way.

Further information on our gull licences can be found here.


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