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

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Wildlife

June 2nd 2020

In my previous update in April, I highlighted the high numbers of applications for bird control licences that Natural England has received, which would have previously been covered by the general licence. Processing such a volume of applications properly has taken time and I’d like to thank applicants for their patience. The purpose of this update is to provide specific advice to applicants who may be waiting for a response to their application to control lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls.

For those applicants who have applied to control these gull species for conservation purposes: 

When the changes to licensing were announced in January we stated that we would be restricting the lethal control of these gull species in rural areas this year due to sharp population declines in both species -herring gulls have declined by some 60 per cent , and lesser black-backed gulls by 48 per cent. We are following government policy and have been prioritising applications related to health and safety, public health and air safety .

We have now processed more than  a third of licence applications to control lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls.  We have issued some licences on high priority sites such as hospitals or power stations, and a small number where there is direct evidence of a high impact on protected species in other settings.  It is clear to us now that due to the high demand for lethal control through our class licences on airfields and for other public health priorities that issuing  further licences for conservation purposes would take us above the sustainable threshold for the two gull species.

It is therefore unlikely that many further licences for the control of gulls for conservation purposes will be granted this year. We may issue a small number of licences but they must have specific evidence of a significant impact on protected species and provide evidence that all non-lethal alternatives have been explored. For more information – including on non-lethal alternatives please see our Q&A.

For those applicants who have applied to control gulls for health and safety/public health/disease:

We are finding that significant numbers of applications do not include enough information for us to make a decision against the key licensing tests.

Natural England can only grant licences where the information provided with the application demonstrates that:

  • all other reasonable non-lethal solutions have been tried and/or shown to be ineffective;
  • there is a genuine problem/need;
  • there are no satisfactory alternatives; and
  • the licensed action will be effective at resolving the problem and the action is proportionate to the problem.

Where we identify applications with a clear justifiable purpose we are getting in touch to advise applicants on further information they may need to provide. However, because of the large numbers of applications, contacting people individually is taking time.

If you have received a notice that your application has been rejected I would advise you to re-apply with the evidence required as set out in the guidance.

In some circumstances, where there is an urgent need, Section 4 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act allows for lethal control where a licence has been applied for but not yet granted, although I must stress that this does not apply for conservation licences. If you choose to rely on this defence you may wish to seek independent legal advice.

I would like to thank applicants for bearing with us as we have resolved these complex issues. We understand you will have legitimate concerns about the management of your land or business. This has been a complex exercise and we are working very hard to issue licences correctly and legally. We are also capturing lessons learnt for next year and will be exploring a number of simplifications and improvements to this process with stakeholders over the coming months.

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  1. Comment by Barry Yates posted on

    In your account above you state " sharp population declines in both species - herring gulls have declined by some 60 per cent, and lesser black-backed gulls by 48 per cent".

    I would like to know the source of these figures, what years are you comparing, when was the last comprehensive count and if that included counts of roof nesting gulls on coastal AND inland towns and cities.