Are you aware of the General Licence requirements?

You would have needed to have been abroad at the end of April, or in the middle of London, not to have been aware of the furore surrounding Natural England’s decision to rescind the General Licences, which were in place to allow the legal control of certain pest species.

Natural England took the decision without consulting rural bodies and to make matters worse, it took the decision in the middle of the lambing and nesting seasons. I can’t recall witnessing greater anger or incredulity across the countryside.

The licences were issued under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and were reviewed on an annual basis so were hardly a new concept. Following the rescinding, Natural England began issuing a series of confusing and impractical licences, along with an Individual Licence. Fortunately, Defra responded to the complaints of the countryside and took control of the process. On June 14th, it issued three new General Licences.

These licences allow individuals to kill or take wild birds to conserve wild birds and to conserve flora and fauna (GL34); to preserve public health or public safety (GL35); to prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters (GL36). It is GL34 and GL36 which will cover most pest control activities in the countryside.

Given the media, and social media, coverage surrounding this issue, I would recommend that anybody planning to operate under these licences familiarises themselves with the contents beforehand. A slip of the tongue could create a wildlife crime! For example, Carrion Crows, Magpies, Jays and Rooks can be controlled under GL34 and GL36, so which licence are you utilising?

It is worth noting that the licences do require an individual to attempt non-lethal control before and during the control process being exercised under licence. The exact wording is: “before using this licence, reasonable endeavours must have been made to achieve the purpose in question using lawful methods not covered by this licence (unless their use would be impractical, without effect or disproportionate in the circumstances); and when using this licence, reasonable endeavours must continue to be made to achieve the purpose in question using lawful methods not covered by this licence (unless their use would be impractical, without effect or disproportionate in the circumstances).”

The licences do not apply to control on land covered by EU conservation designations, or within 300m of such land. Much of the text of the licences refers to the use of cage traps and the welfare of any decoy birds. The licences are only valid until February 29, 2020. A further review will be carried out in the interim.

For now, the situation is much as it has been since 1981, although the higher profile requires greater knowledge from licence users. So please do brush up on the rules.

Tom Wills, head of agriculture and estates at Sintons, is an agricultural and rural law specialist at the law firm, which offers a full set of legal services. Please do contact him about this or any other legal matter on 0191 226 3796 or

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