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GWCT 7th May says...

What can farmers, gamekeepers and reserve wardens do now to protect ground nesting birds?

By Dr. Roger Draycott, GWCT Head of Advisory

The withdrawal of the General Licences on the 25th April by Natural England (see here) caused significant concern and confusion within the farming and game and wildlife management sectors. We are in the middle of the breeding season for many ground nesting birds including wild gamebirds but also a whole suite of species of conservation concern like lapwing and curlew. There is good scientific evidence of the beneficial impact of corvid control on gamebirds, ground nesting birds and more recently on farmland hedgerow nesting birds. 

Control of corvids, especially crows and magpies, is a key aspect of game and wildlife conservation on farmland and moorland but also on nature reserves too.

New General Licences have been issued for wood pigeon control to prevent serious damage to crops (GL 31), Canada goose (GL 28) to preserve public health and safety and for crow control (GL 26) to prevent serious damage to livestock including poultry and reared gamebirds. The approach NE has taken to issuing new licences has caused major problems for farmers and game and wildlife managers and we are concerned about the functionality of the new licences.

Licences for the control of crows, magpies and other corvids to protect the nests and chicks of ground nesting birds have not yet been published. Defra have now taken over responsibility from Natural England for the issuing of further licences and are undertaking an urgent evidence review (you can have your say here) and it is very unlikely that further General Licences will be published within the next couple of weeks.

So, what can farmers, gamekeepers and reserve wardens do now to protect ground nesting birds?

Until new General Licences are issued, we urge all farmers, game managers and reserve wardens who need to control crows, magpies and/or other corvids to protect the nests and chicks of ground nesting birds, to apply for an individual licence. The forms can be downloaded here. GWCT Advisory have applied for and have received licences for crow and magpie control to protect ground nesting birds and hedgerow nesting species on two demonstration wild game and farmland wildlife recovery projects and can confirm it is a straightforward application process.

Natural England have clarified that only one of these applications needs to be submitted per site. Individuals can then be authorised by the licence holder to undertake the activities listed on the licence provided the licence conditions are met. In order to ensure the efficient and timely processing of these applications, we recommend that applications for control are restricted to the minimum number of species possible.

On the application form, in section 4, there is a requirement to describe ‘non-lethal methods that have been tried and tested’. While many of these are important strategies to deter pigeons from crops (e.g. visual and auditory deterrents, human disturbance etc.) some of these may be inappropriate, or even counter-productive when controlling corvids in areas where there are vulnerable ground nesting birds. We have pointed this out to Natural England and they advise that applicants highlight this on the licence applications where appropriate.

BASC - General Licences – please act now!

We need your help in two ways. There is no time to waste.

We want general licences that are fit for purpose so that you can be confident that you are acting lawfully when you shoot and/or trap pest birds such as woodpigeons, crows and magpies.

1. Email your views to Defra

After intense lobbying by BASC and other rural organisations, Defra has taken over decision making on general licences from Natural England. Defra now wants evidence from those who have been affected by the withdrawal of the three main bird pest control general licences (GL04, GL05 and GL06) for England on 25 April. This personal experience is important to the outcome of the Defra review

Please email Defra to explain how the events of the last 2-3 weeks may have restricted your ability to shoot or trap pest birds in England and any impacts this has had on livestock, crops, wild birds etc. Any specific examples you can give on damage or losses would be most useful. Be polite, concise and to the point.

Remember that, under law, general licences allow shooting for the control of pest species and not for sport. It may help to use your own words to answer the following questions:

• How effective and practical as a means of control are the alternatives to shooting?

• What is your experience of the benefits and practicalities of the old general licences (withdrawn on 25 April 2019)?

• What problems did you and others experience due to your inability to shoot and/or trap when the three licences were revoked; what was the impact?

Email your views to by 5pm on Monday 13 May.

Click here for more information on the call for evidence.

2. Help us make our case to Defra: complete a 5-minute survey

BASC will be providing Defra with a detailed submission and we have launched a survey to gather the evidence that we think will help influence decision makers.

Click here to complete the survey:

Click here for the latest general licence news:

Please forward this email to your shooting contacts.

Thank you for your help in fighting for a common-sense approach to bird pest control in England.

Ian Bell, BASC chief executive


Natural England has today (Friday 03 May) published new general licences for controlling birds.

Their commitment to working with farmers, pest controllers, gamekeepers and other professionals who rely on these licences to ensure everyone who needs to control the 16 species of wild birds covered by the revoked general licences can.

If people need to take action for species which are still not covered by a general licence, they will need to apply for an individual licence, using our simple application form on GOV.UK.

The licences, which allows people to kill or take Canada geese to preserve public health and safety and wood pigeon for preventing serious damage to crops are part of a programme to replace the previous general licences for controlling 16 species of birds.

Natural England is working at full speed to ensure that those affected by the decision to revoke three general licences can continue to control certain wild birds where necessary.

Those who need to control Canada geese and wood pigeon in the circumstances described in this licence can now do so without further steps - there is no need to apply for an individual licence. For people in other circumstances who need to take action in other situations before new general licences are issued, Natural England has also published a simple online application system for individual control licences. During the application process users will be advised how to take urgent action if they cannot wait for their application to be determined.



It has been announced that decision making on general licences will be passed fromNatural England to the Secretary of State for the Environment ‘for a time’.

This change means that Natural England cannot issue any new general licences and all existing general licences including the new general licences for crows (GL26), wood pigeon (GL31) and Canada geese (GL28) remain valid.

This change does not affect Natural England’s function for issuing individual licences and Defra staff will provide extra resource to help them with this.

It is understood this move will be followed by a call for evidence into the short and long-term future of general licences. Details of the new arrangement are included in an exchange of letters between environment secretary Michael Gove and Natural England chairman Tony Juniper published today.

A covering letter from Defra said: “As part of his new responsibilities, the Secretary of State is now initiating a swift but formal call to evidence, in order to capture information from all concerned parties about the recent withdrawal of the three general licences (GL04, GL05 & GL06).

”In particular it will look at developing a better understanding of the implications for the protection of wild birds, and the impacts on crops, livestock, wildlife, disease, human health and safety and wider nature conservation efforts.

”All relevant evidence gathered from the exercise, alongside information that Defra and Natural England have already received since 25 April, will inform decisions and approach.”

In response, BASC chief executive Ian Bell said: “BASC hopes this is the first step to resolving the current chaos in the countryside.

“This shambles of the last week or so was created by Natural England’s ill-advised decision to withdraw all licences without consultation or notice and, in effect, remove pest control at a critical time of year.

“We hope that this intervention by the environment secretary, Michael Gove, represents that he is getting a grip of this problem and BASC will join the other leading organisations in providing evidence into the review to ensure we end up with a system of general licences that are fit for purpose.”

It has been announced that  Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove, has decided that the powers to make final decisions in relation to the granting of general licences for the management of certain wild birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 should be returned to him, with this transfer of responsibility having taken effect from 9am today, Saturday 4th May. Confidence in Natural England’s ability to deal with the growing General Licence crisis had been lost by countryside groups; a crisis that has left tens of thousands of farmers, conservationists and pest controllers unable to protect livestock and livelihoods, and enraged by Natural England’s ability to run an effective licensing system.

This decision follows the publication of the latest General Licence to control wood pigeons to prevent damage to crops. The licence was published late on Friday night (3rd April), with no prior warning, and has been deemed as completely unfit for purpose and impossible to act under in many situations. The other two new General Licenses previously issued by Natural England were also found to be totally unfit for purpose.

Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said; “This decision to take the growing crisis to the highest level of government is to be welcomed, but unfortunately it is already too late for those that require the use of the General Licence on a daily basis to protect their crops, livestock and wild birds.

“The publication of the wood pigeon General Licence is the latest licence to be printed that is completely unfit for purpose. It leaves the user unable to undertake necessary pigeon control throughout the year in the context of an increasing population in certain areas. Whilst Natural England have secured their position legally they have enforced new requirements and conditions on the user making the lethal control impossible in many circumstances without fear of prosecution. 

“This latest licence to be published showcases the requirement of Defra taking quick and urgent action to ensure the licences are effective and as easy to use as the last set. We will be working with Defra to ensure changes are made to this latest licence and the rest as quickly as possible.”

If you suspect a notifiable disease you must tell the Animal and Plant Health Agency immediately – failure to do this is an offence. 

APHA has one helpline number which covers the whole of England which is 03000 200 301 

The general email address for England is: 

In Scotland or Wales you should contact your local APHA Field Services Office. 

Scotland - View the list of Field Service Offices in Scotland

Wales -

We advise Deer Managers to identify and store the relevant numbers in their telephones in case they should be required.  APHA vets will investigate – they usually visit your premises and carry out an enquiry or may ask you to collect and submit tissue samples.

Further details on the work of the APHA, including information on the identification of some diseases, can be found via the link below:

We also recommend having a copy of the handy Field Guide to Diseases and Conditions of Wild Deer in the UK which is available from the British Deer Society.


The latest revision of the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland Wild Game Guide can be found using the link below.


Notifiable diseases are animal diseases that you’re legally obliged to report to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), even if you only suspect that an animal may be affected.
Notifiable diseases can be:
• endemic – already present in the UK, such as bovine TB
• exotic – not normally present in the UK, such as foot and mouth disease or Anthrax
Some endemic and exotic diseases are zoonotic which means they can pass between animals and humans, such as rabies. 

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