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Natural England wildlife licensing statistics for 2022

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Licensing, Protected sites and species, Wildlife

By Stephanie Bird-Halton, National Delivery Director

Many wild animals and plants are protected in law by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. As nature conservation adviser and regulator, one of Natural England’s roles is to licence certain activities that may disturb or harm wildlife, in line with the legal framework established by Parliament.

Each year, as part of our commitment to transparency, we publish a summary of the wildlife licences we have issued and the data for 2022 are now available here.

In any given year approximately half the licences we issue are for activities that support nature recovery, research and education. Last year this included the translocation of red kites from England to help restore Spanish populations.

Red kites in aviaries in Spain ahead of release
Red kites in aviaries in Spain ahead of release

The legislation sets out the limited purposes for which we may grant a licence to take, kill or disturb wildlife. These include preserving public health and public safety or air safety, preventing spread of disease, and preventing serious damage to crops, livestock and, in some instances, property. Licences are only issued if all relevant criteria are met following a review of the purpose of the application, alternatives and methods, and the scientific context relating to it.

One type of licence included in the report for the first time in a number of years, following improvements to our system that enable data extraction, permits the hunting of wild birds for falconry. Information relating to this has already appeared in the public domain following our recent response to a Freedom of Information request and has generated comment due to the fact that some species licensed are currently of conservation concern in England. These licences allow falconers to fly trained birds of prey to hunt and kill quarry species that they would naturally prey upon in the wild such as skylark, song thrush and meadow pipit. We understand concerns expressed about red list species being taken under these licences. Licences are only issued when there is deemed to be no effect on the conservation status of the birds involved. If the evidence points to the need for a change in policy, then we will provide appropriate advice to government.
Other information that is provided in our report for the first time in recent years are data for area-based licences issued to control cormorants to protect fisheries. Again this reflects improvements to reporting systems rather than a new area of licensing.

Species that may stand out in the data include osprey and goshawk. An osprey nest was removed under licence from an electricity pylon to protect the security of power supplies. This activity took place when the nest was not in use so no osprey were harmed. A captive goshawk which had escaped was licensed to be trapped and returned its owner.

I hope this provides useful context to our licensing work. For further information on any of the data we are releasing please contact us via:

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  1. Comment by John Garth posted on

    There is absolutely no reason on earth to allow hunting of our songbirds by any method. This is a disgusting decision. So many of our songbirds are in decline.

    • Replies to John Garth>

      Comment by Margaret Davies posted on

      I totally agree with your comments.

    • Replies to John Garth>

      Comment by Simon Kibble posted on

      Well if its falconry having an impact that you find disgusting when it comes to impact on song birds id say you need to more concerned with the massive impact domestic cats are having.
      That figure alone is absolutely massive in comparison to what is likely taken by any falconer.

  2. Comment by Sue Smith posted on

    Surely the simply the fact that these species are on the endangered list should be enough to stop them being killed for sport. This is NOT the same as them being hunted and killed by predators for natural reasons.

  3. Comment by David Thurlow posted on

    When I was young it was normal to hear skylarks when out in the country ( I lived about a mile from Needham Market in Suffolk). Now it is normal NOT to hear them.
    How sad that those entrusted to protect our wildlife are overseeing it's destruction!

  4. Comment by Kathleen Smith posted on

    It is natural for all wild animals to prey on other wild animals. OK! What is not natural, is for human beings to get satisfaction from deciding which creatures their "pet" gets to kill. These creatures are fed at their owners habitat. Nature, when left alone, gets everything right. Then we move in!!!

    • Replies to Kathleen Smith>

      Comment by Tony James posted on

      Kathleen, nothing could be more natural than, for example, a merlin in pursuit of a lark —- and the small number of falconers who engage in that particular specialism are privileged, like others through the centuries, to witness one of nature’s most dramatic sights in a way that nobody else could.
      Contrast that with something far less natural, utterly indiscriminate and unlicensed, and with infinitely more impact on wild populations of birds and mammals —- the domestic cat.
      It makes little difference to any bird whether their pursuit is observed by man, in awe or in horror —- nor does a natural drama, played out for millennia, become unnatural by being watched.
      But rest assured, the millions killed each year by domestic cats, a non-native predator, albeit un-watched, will impact wild populations in a way that the very few taken under very specific licensed conditions will not.

      • Replies to Tony James>

        Comment by Mark Lopez posted on

        It’s not natural when the falcon is not a wild bird though, is it? Otherwise your argument re cats completely falls on its face; cats are only doing what comes naturally to them. Your point about cats is correct but doesn’t in any way justify the licensed killing of red listed birds for sport, by domesticated falcons.

      • Replies to Tony James>

        Comment by Helen posted on

        This is ‘whataboutism’ at its worst. Just because cats take songbirds does not mean falconry should compound the problem. The decimation of the songbird population by cats should provide reasons not to add to the problem by hunting with hawks. Completely illogical.

        • Replies to Helen>

          Comment by mick frank posted on

          Whataboutism? I can't let this pass unremarked. If you have a problem to solve such as plummeting bird numbers you first look to change the biggest drivers. First is habitat loss and agricultural practice, second is cats. I personally find it very difficult to excuse the hypocrisy of 'animal lovers' who, by action despise nature.

          • Replies to mick frank>

            Comment by Margaret Davies posted on

            Habitat loss and climate change are admittedly some of the factors causing our wild bird population to crash, as are the many cats in the UK. We have a house cat and have numerous birds on our 24 bird feeders in our gardens overlooking the River Great Ouse. Allowing licenses for the sole reason of the indiscriminate killing of wild birds is only adding to the problem. Hunters and owners of raptors participate in this for their pure enjoyment.

          • Replies to mick frank>

            Comment by Mark Thomas posted on

            Have you seen how these birds are being kept and the type of people who are keeping them? It's almost like the "Terrier Bumpkins" from the hunting fraternity have found a new way to get their kicks! There is absolutely nothing natural about keeping a bird in a disgusting cage which is only allowed to do as it wants by its owners discretion. I've heard horrific stories about how these birds are being treated. It's absolutely vile!!!

      • Replies to Tony James>

        Comment by Severus posted on

        Shouldn't that read (Tory james) thanks for the bad science perhaps read s book or two before deciding to go out on a killing spree

      • Replies to Tony James>

        Comment by Rebecca posted on

        Domesticating a wild bird is hardly ‘natural’. Nor is enjoying domesticating a wild bird so you can watch it (encourage it) to kill something else. It’s 2023, not 1603, get a better hobby.

      • Replies to Tony James>

        Comment by Margaret Davies posted on

        The hunters are doing this for their own satisfaction, no other reason. At a time when all wild birds are on the decline this should never be happening. Extinction is Forever.

  5. Comment by Gareth Huw Lewis posted on

    Another absolutely disgusting decision by Natural England-to license the killing of a Red Listed Species by a PET raptor-as has already been pointed out by another contributor, there is nothing natural here-it's an appalling decision-what is it about Natural England-why do they lack courage-they should send anyone who tries to apply for a falconry license to kill our red listed birds packing!-I love raptors and a Merlin for example chasing down and killing a Skylark in the wild is behaving naturally and has to eat the prey to survive-quite different with a PET Merlin who gets fed by the falconer!

    • Replies to Gareth Huw Lewis>

      Comment by Margaret Davies posted on

      Very true comment. The owner of the raptor is the one getting pleasure from this so called sport. The name Natural England is a joke.

  6. Comment by Sharon Smithen posted on

    I've noticed more and more over the years that certain birds are getting less and less where I live especially blackbirds, any song birds. The towns are killing their habitats, so why are our wonderful birds being killed in the countryside and waterways. Let them be in their own habitat while there is some.
    Why the hell would anyone make a decision to kill these birds. The whole hunting license to kill is sickening. I predict a sad future as more and more licences are given out to 'crazy's' with a gun who actually enjoy killing!
    Let nature take it's course and stop using human intervention. Frankly I'm furious.

  7. Comment by Sandi Atherton posted on

    Natural England, are here to protect Englands nature, just as the many inhumane, cruel sports of hunting, have thankfully been banned, protecting our wildlife.... so please explain why isn't the sport of falconry allowed to hunt down such endangered wild birds, not banned? These birds so clearly need your protection...

  8. Comment by Dennis Lawson posted on

    In whose interest is it to deliberately kill songbirds or any other birds for that matter?Certainly not the birds. Certainly not the vast majority of people in England. This will benefit a handful of wrong-minded people who seem to enjoy watching small birds get killed.

  9. Comment by Iain Tidmarsh posted on

    Natural England:
    “We’re the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England. We help to protect and restore our natural world.”


  10. Comment by Chris Trickey posted on

    This is a copy of an email to my local MP which reflects my disgust at Natural England's stance on this matter. I sincerely hope that with the increasing publicity of this vile public body, that it's eventual demise is hastened
    Dear Mr Butler,
    I was distraught to hear that Licences were approved by Natural England allowing the destruction of multiple species of our wild bird population, some of which are "Red Listed" and in the name "sport".
    I am sure you would agree that this is insanely wrong and would urge you to enquire into how this can ever be justified. I find it abhorrent that a body whose name implies that it supports "Nature" does the exact opposite and call for it's replacement with one that truly reflects the sentiments of, I imagine , the public at large.
    I support the campaign started by Jason Enfield entitled
    Stop the killing of wild birds in England. A link to the Petition is:
    Please would you make your own enquiries into how it is possible that Natural England are able to make these appalling decisions in our name.
    Thank you

    • Replies to Chris Trickey>

      Comment by posted on

      Well done. I hope it reaches the right place and agree that Natural England seems to exist to quicken the demise of our wild birds. It is about time it is replaced by an organisation (such as the RSPB) who really know what they are talking about and decisions are based on scientific evidence. I also wonder just how much Natural England is costing us. Extinction is Forever.

  11. Comment by Renée Kern posted on

    Allowing people to kill wildlife, endangered or not, is not and should not be acceptable.

  12. Comment by rob yorke posted on

    Not an easy subject and well done Natural England for articulating your tough multiple roles in protecting wildlife, managing it, and enabling its sustainable use (without impact on conservation status of wildlife).
    My podcast with your Chair, Tony Juniper, touches on some of these aspects

    best wishes, Rob Yorke

  13. Comment by Margaret Davies posted on

    Your comments congratulating Natural England on their tough multiple roles of protecting wildlife, managing it and enabling its sustainable use (without impact on conservation status of wildlife) is quite surprising given the effect these Licenses will have on our fast disappearing wildlife. By using the words ‘managing it’ you mean allowing wild birds to be slaughtered. There is no justification whatsoever for Natural England giving permission to wipe out our dwindling song birds. The word ‘Conservation’ is so wrongly used by these ‘bodies’. The role of head of Natural England should be someone who is truly concerned about the conservation of wildlife, not the destruction. Admittedly some bird species need to be controlled but in a humane manner.

  14. Comment by Julian Swabey posted on

    Hi Rob Yorke, how can you say ' without impact on conservation status of wildlife ' when RED listed species can be hunted under licence from a bunch of idiots !!! I'm afraid that the distruction of the British countryside is gathering pace : Untreated sewage - river life destroyed. Pesticides on crops run off - river life destroyed. Pesticides on crops - insect life destroyed, and right now, today, the hidden chemicals in the soil and water supplies are now found inside our bodies!!!! We are posioning ourselves and all the environment around us !!! This and the disappearance of all birds are ' LINKED '

  15. Comment by Matt Anderson posted on

    What you are doing to OUR countryside is disgusting!! You're just giving way for idiots with a lust for blood to keep captive birds of prey to be used purely for "sport" at the expense of OUR native songbirds!! I have seen images of birds being kept in awful conditions by teenagers on council estates who take them out to let them chase anything that moves! These people are in the same mindset as the hunting and shooting fraternity who seem to have this evil mindset of watching animals being killed for fun! Leave OUR wildlife alone and stop ABUSING the wildlife in OUR country!!!!

  16. Comment by The Real Wildlife Observer posted on

    ....this is the problem when commentators receive their knowledge of wildlife from so called "nature programmes " from the likes of Packham and Co on the BBC...many of us country born people..although without a wildlife degree to our name..know pretty much why our songbirds hedgehogs etc are in decline...cats do play a significant role as do the overpopulation of grey squirrels corvids badgers etc..its a this world of the indiscriminate throwing down of food...corvids in particular thrive because of this ..suggesting the loss of a few larks..which i don't condone ..will make any dent in the errant nonsense..more action with the gun against dominant species will level the playing field a whole lot sooner

  17. Comment by Richard posted on

    Train the falconers birds of prey to take cats that would save thousands of our precious song birds.

  18. Comment by Gareth Huw Lewis posted on

    Always easy to blame Foxes and Badgers, etc for a decline in our song birds. The main reasons are clear and with evidence from research.Yes, changes in farming practice-such as intensification of farming , use of pesticides(read poisons), habitat loss and of course climate change. I do not disagree that certain so called mesopredators will take birds/eggs but again, the point is, this is nature

    By the way, there is ample evidence that the ludicrous number of so called game birds released into the countryside each year-namely around 50 million (yes, that is correct!) mainly pheasants but also red -legged partridges-to be shot for fun, that huge glut of these non native birds, many of their carcasses littering the countryside are a significant cause of the rise in mesopredator numbers-not to mention the very real risk of making the avian flu situation worse-many of these non native birds are imported from eg France and of course could carry bird flu

    Anyway I digress but it's important to put the record straight!

    Again, the point about the Red Listed Skylark is that it should not be hunted for fun-that is completely wrong and Natural England should know better!

    Also as has been mentioned above-Cats, yes cats are a major cause of predation of wild birds and their eggs. Science is important-living in the country does not give ANYONE authority to ignore scientific evidence

    • Replies to Gareth Huw Lewis>

      Comment by John Toland posted on

      Pheasants rake rake rake from Sun up to Sun down utterly destroying our native micro life, they gobble everything from emerging froglets to ants eggs ,
      They cause havoc in our local nature reserves and are just as destructive grays.
      Perhaps falcons could be trained to take pheasants?

  19. Comment by Richard Alder posted on

    I agree with those who say that this is an appalling failure by Natural England to do their job to protect the natural environment. The only interests they seem to be concerned with in this instance are those of the very small group of people who get pleasure from watching one animal kill another. I have a cat and keep it indoors so that it doesnt hunt rather than taking it outside to watch it hunt & kill for my pleasure.