NGO Responds to NE’s Decision to Revoke General Licences


The NGO has reacted angrily to the announcement yesterday by Natural England (NE) that they are to revoke the three main General Licences for pest bird control this Thursday.

From ‘sometime on Thursday 25 April’ (NE was unable to confirm to the NGO exactly when), General Licences GL04 (for the prevention of serious damage to crops and livestock), GL05 (for prevention of disease and ensuring public safety) and GL06 (for conservation purposes), will all cease to exist.

The use of Larsen traps, crow cages and the shooting of sixteen pest bird species such as crows, rooks, magpies, and woodpigeons will all become illegal.

The news will stun not just gamekeepers but also farmers, pest controllers, nature reserve managers and everyone else who relies on the General Licences for essential routine control of problem birds.

NE said its sudden decision was the result of a legal challenge and was taken on the advice of its lawyers. It intends to issue replacement licences for ‘certain circumstances’ over the next few weeks and promises that a new temporary system for individual licensing will be available on its website ‘by Thursday’. It remains to be seen whether this can possibly replace at such short notice the General Licensing system, which has been in existence since the 1990s and is used by thousands of people every single day of the year but especially in spring.

Liam Bell, Chairman of the NGO said, “The shock decision was already causing chaos and confusion and that it could also devastate wildlife and livelihoods.

“The science on this is completely clear. Without spring corvid control, wild gamebird production and the breeding of red-listed waders like the curlew and lapwing will be insufficient to maintain their English populations.”

Liam continues, “Stopping the use of all corvid traps and the shooting of crows and magpies at this time of year will be a disaster for wildlife, to say nothing of the livelihoods of those dependent on well-run grouse moors and farms where wild gamebirds such as the declining grey partridge are being managed.”

The NGO has already spoken with NE’s Director responsible, telling her just how much concern and chaos the decision will cause. The NGO is demanding comprehensive alternative licensing arrangements and proper communication from NE so that those who need to control pest birds know what is going on.

In the meantime, the NGO advises gamekeepers that need to continue trapping and shooting after Thursday to check out the England website, for any arrangements for individual licences that NE announces this Thursday.

Further Important Update on NE Licences from the NGO

After chasing of Natural England all morning, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) has finally been given some details of the temporary Individual Licensing Scheme which NE say will be available for applications via the website later today. NE have answered our questions as follows:

When will the scheme be available for online applications?

It will be available on from 5pm today (Thursday 25 April). In what NE publishes, they say it will be clear where people can take immediate action if they need to do so. This measure (under Section 4 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act) does not cover control for conservation purposes, but does cover livestock and crop protection situations. (See also below).

Applications for control for ‘conservation purposes’ (which are the licences most used by gamekeepers at this time of year; eg to protect red grouse or other wild gamebirds), will need to be made through the Individual licensing system from 5pm. NE says it will endeavour “to turn them around as quickly as we can”. NE also says that the new replacement General Licence for conservation purposes is “in production.”

Who will be able to apply? :

NE says that landowners and others authorised by them to control birds (eg gamekeepers) will all be able to apply for the Individual Licences if they need them.

Will they have to apply separately for each species they want to control?:

NE says not. Their reply to the NGO reads: “The Individual Licences are divided by purpose not by species. New General Licences will be for species/purpose (e.g. crow/conservation, wood pigeon/crops). We will start putting this in place from the 29th April and corvids/conservation are one of the first few.”

How long will it take NE to approve an Individual Licence application?:

NE told the NGO: “Individual Licence applications will go through a fast track process. We will prioritise processing those applications where there is no recourse to Section 4.” (ie they will prioritise the applications being made for ‘conservation purposes’, which will include most of those being made by gamekeepers at this time).

To clarify, the Section 4 clause that NE are saying will cover you for any bird control necessary to protect crops and livestock is not a licence. It is a defence that people who kill a protected bird can use to defend themselves in court if prosecuted. It is only valid if you can show there was no other satisfactory solution to killing the bird and if you tell the Agriculture Minister what you have done as soon as reasonably possible after killing the bird in question. The NGO has taken legal advice on Section 4 in the past and been told it is untested in the courts and that it would be most unwise to rely on it. The NGO’s advice, therefore, is that if you need to control birds for crop or livestock protection, the much safer route is to obtain an Individual Licence, or to wait until the relevant promised replacement General Licence comes into effect.

Will there be a fee for an Individual Licence?:

NE says not, at least in the short term but that this may be reviewed later in the year.

The NGO will continue to keep this website updated as the situation develops.

Members and others should be assured that we are doing all we possibly can to assist them at this very tricky time and that we have made our disgust at the way NE has handled this whole process abundantly clear.