NE plans for licensing of bird-killing represent massive change of emphasis.

Where is NE heading with the licensing of bird-killing under General Licences? It’s difficult to tell, and we’ll have to see. However, the claim that it will all be business as usual already looks unlikely to be true.

Charlotte Smith: will it be harder to get a licence?

Marian Spain, Natural England: it shouldn’t be harder to get a licence.

Charlotte Smith: will it mean though that under some circumstances people won’t be able to get a licence to shoot birds?

Marian Spain, Natural England: I am struggling to envisage that situation.

Farming Today, Friday morning

The revoked General Licences, which were operating until midnight on Thursday can be viewed here; GL04, GL05 and GL06. The information on the website on timetables for replacement licences is as follows:

The new General Licence for Carrion Crows causing damage to livestock is already published.

The number of species covered has dropped in the last week from 16 to 13 species.

Collared Dove, Indian House-crow and Sacred Ibis have dropped off the lists altogether – perhaps they may reappear but they are gone at the moment. Collared Dove was previously listed on both GLO4 and GL05 – but now it’s gone. In the last few days the Collared Dove is no longer considered by Natural England to be a threat to public health, public safety, disease spread, serious damage to crops or serious damage to livestock – who’d have known?! The other two, non-native, species were listed on GL06 but have now disappeared.

Only the Priority 1 and Priority 2 lists have any sort of a timetable and they only cover 8 species – half the number on the General Licences withdrawn on Thursday. The Priority 2 list doesn’t look very contentious to me – but we’ll have to wait and see. The General Licences have been cut to the bone – quite rightly – and the reasons for killing species have been greatly reduced better (though not perfectly) to represent both ecological and economic realities. The Priority 3 list has many of the most contentious issues buried in it, and there is no timetable for its publication or implementation. Perhaps we’ll be waiting until after the promised ‘consultation’ in ‘the summer’ before we see any of it published at all. We’ll have to wait and see.

We’ll have to see how it all pans out, and Natural England have not been known for their straight-dealing in recent years, but it’s looking like a massive climb-down to me. And let’s be clear, the possibility of further legal action remains for any stakeholders on this issue.

Jay was listed on all three previous licences but is now only found as a Priority 3 species and only for conserving wild birds – I will look forward to seeing that licence (see here). All of a sudden the Jay is not a threat to public health, public safety, a serious threat to livestock, a serious threat to crops or a problem of disease transmission – that’s quite a rehabilitation for a bird species after decades of denigration and licensed killing. The Jay doesn’t belong on the Priority 3 list as a threat to wild birds, any more than the Blackbird would deserve to be there as a threat to wild earthworms, but we’ll wait and see what happens. Jays will be flocking to Wild Justice to give us acorns as presents!

Magpie was listed on all three previous licences but is now only going to be treated as a threat to wild birds (see here) and under the category of serious damage to foodstuffs.

Jackdaw was listed on all three previous licences but is now relegated to a Priority 3 species (conserving wild birds, damage to crops and spread of disease). Generally speaking, corvids will be thanking Natural England and Wild Justice for the change in regime.

‘Gamekeeping’ of Rooks, Jackdaws and Jays for the purpose of allegedly conserving wild birds look as though they are put off for quite a while (date to be confirmed) and killing of Feral Pigeon, Egyptian Geese and Lesser Black-backed Gulls for the purpose of conserving wild birds have dropped off the list entirely (please note in the Forest of Bowland).

Killing Rooks and Carrion Crows to prevent serious damage to foodstocks for livestock are so important that they both appear twice!

Whereas GL04 covered 13 species, those categories (as best as one can compare) only will include 8 species in future and only 6 of those are in the Priority 1 or 2 categories. This represents a considerble move of ‘getting real’ although we await the details.

Whereas GL05 covered 12 species, those categories (as best as one can compare) only will include 5 species in future and only 4 of those are in the Priority 1 or 2 categories. This, too, represents a considerable move of ‘getting real’ although we await the details.

Whereas GL06 covered 13 species, those categories (as best as one can compare) only will include 8 species in future and only 3 of those are in the Priority 1 or 2 categories. This, once more, represents a considerable move of ‘getting real’ although we await the details. This category deals with species which can be killed to conserve wild birds – the main excuse of the gamekeeper who really wants to increase the shootable surplus of Pheasants or partridges – not to increase their populations but in order to increase the number of birds to be shot for fun and profit in the autumn/winter.

If you are a farmer – you should be fairly pleased with how things look as though they will end up.

If you are a nature conservationist, then you will be pretty relaxed about all of this and see it as a move in the right direction which improves the licensing regime.

If your business depends on the sale of Woodpigeons which weren’t killed for the purposes of preventing serious damage to crops then you may want to start lobbying for a change in the law that will allow shooting of Woodpigeons for the sale of their meat.

If you are a gamekeeper, then you are potentially seeing large amounts of your day-to-day casual killing of bird species being taken away from you. The statutory wildlife agency for England is clamping down on the species which can be killed now that a bright light has been shone on the licensing system.

These plans, if accurate, already represent a massive change in the licensing regime. They are mostly aimed at continuing to allow farmers to prevent serious damage to crops or livestock rather than allowing any old person to operate a Larsen trap in their garden, or gamekeeping. Remember, the law has not changed – but the statutory agency responsible for administering wildlife protection has been made to introduce a lawful licensing regime.

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58 Replies to “NE plans for licensing of bird-killing represent massive change of emphasis.”

  1. In my experience Rooks have massively declined in our countryside. When I was young, a long time ago, you could find Rookeries everywhere, and the nearest one was a quarter of a mile from where I lived, and there were several others in easy walking distance. In fact it seemed as though every patch of woodland had one. Now I only know of a single Rookery in the whole of my local area and it's over 3 miles away.

    1. Rook declines are real enough. Less bad in England with, apparently, even a few local increases but still a statistically significant net long-term loss recorded. Much worse in Scotland with 35% of the rook population lost between 1996 and 2016 (BBS data - statistically significant trend). And yet the statutory nature conservation agencies have been content to allow unmonitored and unlimited killing of rooks to continue. That may now change for England but SNH - who have repeatedly been made aware of rook declines for several years (and should in any case have been keeping up with this without any reminder) - remain content so far to let unregulated killing continue.

      1. How will the new General Licences enable monitoring and limited killing to take place? The individuals wanting to use the new GL26 don't need to register with NE or submit an application. It looks pretty much like the same old same old to me with a few nice tweeks for the greenies. No one knows who has permission to kill birds nor the number of birds they can kill. Only when all licences to kill birds etc are made individual so individuals have to make written applications and provide feedback will it be possible to know the scale of killing, the species targeted, the purposes, the unforeseen consequences etc. And, if licences are put online for the public to view then we can monitor what is going on. Sadly there are still plenty of shooting sounds near me and they're not regular gas gun sounds.

        I'm glad for the changes but I had hoped to see a new accountable, monitored system.

  2. Thanks again Mark. it's actually quite handy to see the species plus rationale listed so concisely. As you say, this action seems to have forced NE to acknowledge that the old system was filled with anomalous and downright perverse permissions. Even so, that 'priority 3' list looks very ropey; it'll be interesting to see whether they persist in trying to justify killing Rooks "for the conservation of wild birds", for example!

    Now that Natural Resources Wales can see Big Brother testing the water, I'll be taking up the matter with NRW again later this week. It'd be great if any other Welsh readers of this blog could join in!

  3. I really fail to see any justification for killing rooks. You find them in crops because they are eating insects and larvae, plenty of which are pest species on arable farms.

    1. Simon, that’s very interesting. As something of a reformed shooter- I advocate shooting for the pot but absolutely detest the killing for fun industry which is the ‘driven’ side of shooting- this would be contrary to the idea promoted by a shooting pal of mine who used to annually culls many dozens of Rooks by shooting them at their nesting sites with a .22 rifle killing both adults and chicks as a control measure - so I was informed by the learned gentleman- to prevent “crop damage”. It was a sickening slaughter but one I was informed was a necessary and invaluable tool for the protection of very young crops which were apparently a favourite of Rooks. I’m pleased to hear that these Corvids are apparently not the villains they are purported to be....but I await a stream of contrary opinions from those who do deem them to be “pests” and enjoy flexing their trigger fingers when bored.

  4. Thanks Mark, this is a useful summary. Just one query: you state "other two non-native species" with the implication that Collared Dove is not a native species. However, the definition of a native species is one that got here itself, i.e., without the aid of humans. The Collared Dove certainly did that just as the egrets and other species have done recently. My concern is that I think it does Collared Dove a disservice to call it non-native since in many people's minds this is associated with being a 'pest'.

    1. Duncan - my intention was to differentiate the other two species as non-native in contrast to the Collared Dove - I agree it can be read either way. Sorry! actually, I'll stick a couple of commas in which will help.

  5. What fantastic news to start a Monday of with! A stunning victory and endorsement for Wild Justice. That the jay was ever on the general licence was a disgrace, apart from the hatred many keepers have for any predator the real reason this comparatively rare bird was on it as others have pointed out is that its blue wing feathers are prized for tying trout flies. Must have been a handy way for keepers to milk a few more quid out of their jobs. There'll be those foaming at the mouth that we are moving towards a real licencing system rather than the old carte blanche for slaughtering wildlife. Well done Mark, Ruth and Chris.

  6. Hi Mark. Just wanted to thank you for the tremendous work that you're doing, and for keeping us all informed.

    1. Katrina - thank you, but it's not just me. And Chris Packham gets 95% of the abuse and the flak. But thank you!

  7. FYI Mark, on a personal level, and no doubt for Many keepers, nothing to do with pheasants & Red legs, everything to do with Grey Partridge & other farmland birds!

    1. Ed - that'll be the party line I know. And will sometimes be true. Happy to see licences restricted geographically then? Science on songbirds is clear - no serious impact.

      1. But a research review from Saving Songbirds found that the only research showing "no serious impact" also had the correspondingly least strong scientific evidence base?

        1. Roy - that'll be a surprise to the BTO - whose study was funded by Songbird Survival...and the study had a GWCT author too.

          1. Which study are you referring to? I looked up songbird predation and their webpage seems to say something quite different? Albeit a summary and not the full report

          2. Roy - the link was given in this blog but here it is again

            'Clive Sherwood, Chairman of SongBird Survival said: “This is the first major project that we have funded and we are pleased to have worked on it with the BTO. It will take the debate forward and clarifies some priorities for future research.'

            'In the biggest ever analysis of songbirds and their predators, published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology, scientists look at the role of predators in the decline of species such as Bullfinch and Yellowhammer. Whilst a small number of associations may suggest significant negative effects between predator and prey species, for the majority of the songbird species examined there is no evidence that increases in common avian predators or Grey Squirrels are associated with large-scale population declines.'

          3. Just double checked and they state “The quality of evidence used in research which found no impact of predation on songbird abundance, was found to be low or very low, raising the issue of whether or not a null result is believable based on the evidence presented. This is particularly relevant to studies such as the SBS-funded research into avian and grey squirrel predation.”

            So they seem to be saying that they don’t even believe their own research that presented a bill effect result!

          4. Roy - it's up to you whether you believe the spin of SBS or the fact that the study they funded was published in a highly reputable journal and the analysis carried out by the BTO, a top academic from St Andrews Uni and one of the few GWCT staffers for whom I have a great deal of respect.

            It's not a difficult choice though ...

          5. The reason I looked into it is that I have lived in the countryside my whole life, have a zoology degree and take a deep interest in animal life. I find it really hard to believe that predation and Corvid predation has zero effect when I have witnessed so much of it with my own eyes. I have watched swallows nests destroyed by magpies and curlew and lapwing chicks carried away by crows. Farmers cut hedges before birds nest making a nice flat top, the birds nest in these shallower hedges and every trip I make I witness carrions walking along the top of the hedges dipping in and out for tidbits.
            It also greaves me that some of the best ground nesting habitat are the verges which are then cut in early summer. It would make so much sense if the set aside etc was obliged to be created away from roads,
            specifically the new headlands that have to exist. Songbirds nesting in the raodside hedges must suffer huge losses flitting in and out of the traffic
            Just some random thoughts

          6. Roy - death is a part of life. Thank the Lord for those Magpies otherwise Swallows would be blotting out the Sun with their numbers. Well, obviously that's an exagerration to make the point...

          7. wow random that’s some big statements. Research what a pigeon is worth to the farmer and the cost of cartridges. Factor in the time and they would lose money per bird. How can you justify your statements?

          8. Hi Mark. I find your reply somewhat glib. To my knowledge swallow numbers are a cause for concern so the prospect of them blotting out the sky’s seems somewhat remote. Death is in fact a part of life but it concerns me quite genuinely that mans activities change the natural balances of ecosystems and as such cause death in many unintended areas and benefits in others. If mans activities artificially promote the success of particular species should we simply ignore that and live with the consequences?

            As regards to me “choosing to believe the spin” I think I have read 2 pieces of research sponsored by the same organisation that have come to 2 separate conclusions.

            I came across an interesting expression a little while ago, “confirmation bias” . Our willingness to more believe something which supports our own view than something which does not. Since I became aware I try and fight it in myself. Hence me finding your blog.

            The way you answer questions and couch your phrases and allow wholly unsubstantiated statements to sit here suggests you are more than aware and seek to exploit it rather than counter it.

            The joy of modern media is that opinions all seem to carry equal weight and evidence and facts are not relevant. Throw in a touch of celebrity and you can be an expert in anything.

            It is so hard these days to find reasoned debate and I mourn its passing

        2. " I find it really hard to believe that predation and Corvid predation has zero effect when I have witnessed so much of it with my own eyes."


          Whenever you see a photo of a Puffin, with a gob full of sandeels, do you think that this is evidence of a negative effect as well?

          1. I don’t know enough about puffins nor sand eels to form an opinion.

            However in the week where the rspb is raising awareness about the 40million less songbirds I took some time to look at the issues. Magpies and crows are up 250% and 150% respectively since the 60s. So they seem to be doing fine general licences or not. Swallow numbers on the other hand have become a serious concern in the last few years.

            I am not anti any one species but mankind has totally screwed the balance and that won’t stop so do we just shrug our shoulders and wait to see what happens?

  8. Is that a bit like WJ party line?... not anti Shooting?
    So cynical Mark!
    3 words,..... Ground....nesting.....birds!

  9. Mark, would you be kind enough to update us on where we currently are on other supported initiatives:-

    1. The mass culling of ravens in Strathbraan
    2. Persecution of lesser black backed gulls in Bowland
    3. The likelihood, or otherwise, of brood meddling from driven grouse moors in England this year.



    1. Mike - not sure I can very easily, sorry:

      1. Not my case so I only know what I am tld
      2. General Licence case may have some relevance as mnetioned in this blog
      3. I am asking questions about that as i am quite interested in the subject!

  10. Very well done to Wild Justice! There are some seriously unhappy gamekeepers on social media today!
    I have just got home after an 80 mile drive for work. The vast majority of my drive was through rural Northants and Warwickshire.
    I passed literally thousands of arable fields. Not a single scarecrow or bird kite to be seen!
    I did sadly see a Raven that was flying awkwardly and had lots of wing feathers missing! I saw a few more that looked perfectly fine.
    I also saw lots of buzzards, a few red kites and even a circling Goshawk!
    Oh, and a Jay! 🙂

    1. Daniel, reason is scarecrow and bird kites do not work.2nd reason is crops are now past the vulnerable stage.
      Hope that car is a less polluting electric one or you are doing more damage with long journeys than the farmers you seem determined to hate.
      You really need to learn something about farming before being a smart arse.

      1. Smart arse? You are kidding!

        Not defending driving 80 miles for work, but that's what some people have to do. Other than that, it was simple observations.

        Here are my simple observations.

        Arable fields here have no serious avian pests that I note, nor scarecrows. What we do have are roadside edges and verges trashed by farm machinery way too big for the roads that we have, what's left of the so called soil over the road where it gets washed into the drains where it pollutes the watercourses and eutrophies the estuary as well as flushing what's left of the farm's own soil capital literally down the drain. Then there are the score marks on the tarmac where a roller or some other bit of kit has been taken along the public road rather than on a trailer or bogies or some such, but that's okay, the council tax payer will pick up the tab for that once the frost gets into the surface. The prilled nitrogen that is liberally scattered across country roads either by spillage or rather vigorous spreading I guess makes its own contribution to biodiversity, or ends up in the estuary too. But that's okay, because we all pick up the tab for that.

        Time that some involved in farming learned about externalities.

        Don't disappoint Dennis, ...I've always fancied being a smart arse!

        1. Bimbling,your moans are all irrelevant to my comment,stick to the point.
          Fact is Pigeons cause massive damage in some cases as Rape crops emerge from the seed.
          Fact is Crows peck out lambs eyes if they get a chance and also ewes eyes,rear end and worse if the poor ewe gets stuck on its back.

  11. Will Larsen trappers have to release their call birds, until they are re- licenced ??.
    This beats all that Brexit malarky hands down.

    1. Trapit - to be fair, I think that is covered by the published Carrion Crow licence but it isn't really my job to answer questions that are for NE to answer - although I might be quite good at it

  12. So, the British Game Alliance have said the farmers shoot half a million pigeons a week! How is that sustainable? There's only 5m in the UK so should they even be on a government kill list?

  13. Mark, the list is, as you say, very interesting not the least for the omissions but also for the sequence of the revised licences. Do you know if the public will be consulted about the new licences? GL26 was issued quickly but the others are to be issued over a longer timescale and there seems no reason not to consult. I would welcome the opportunity as the scientific basis for killing many of the species listed appears to be shaky, at best.

  14. Dennis, I don't dislike farmers at all. I have met hundreds of them and got to know a few of them very well through a previous job which I did for 10 years.
    My grandfather was a farmer, his father was a farmer and I can guarantee that every male relative of mine on that family tree was a farmer!
    So i probably know a little bit more than you think i do. However, im no farmer!
    It doesn't matter what time of year it is, still very few scarecrows or bird kites being used. I'm not blind either.
    I drive as little as possible and only do such a long trip every week or two.

  15. If your business depends on the sale of Woodpigeons which weren’t killed for the purposes of preventing serious damage to crops then you may want to start lobbying for a change in the law

    This is why so many farmers are still up in arms, but unable to articulate why-which just makes them angrier, because a sizable chunk of the farming industry has, or had, a nice little cash-in-hand sideline selling the right to shoot pigeons to various shooting clubs, groups, and shady teens with an air rifle who shoot for sport. Naturally this was strictly pocket money, as in the substantial amount of money went straight in their pocket and not into the farm accounts, which somehow never made its way to the eyes of the Treasury.

    The farmers are bare howling about losing this sideline, and many of these groups will be looking for their cashback (or other remuneration in lieu) and not the sort to take no for an answer, but because it was cash-in-hand they cannot come out and formally protest on those grounds or the taxman will be look for remuneration and not liable to take no for an answer either. Really, by being on the fiddle (and also worried that the taxman might find some other cash in hands or irregularities if they start looking too closely/that fortnight in Gran Canaria 4* all-inclusive is a business expense how?), they are the authors of their own misfortune on this one. Just, as so many entitled people are, they are angry that someone might dare to point out they are the authors of their own misfortune with their shady deals catching up with them.

  16. Hi Mark,

    Can you let us know Wild Justice's position on allowing the shooting of Woodpigeons for food by individuals and business? Would you oppose this? A straight answer would be appreciated.

    Also do let us know if any Jays stop by and say thank you, just like all the Disney films...awwww


    1. S - not yet but we surely will (let you know). What is your view on what the legal position is? That might be rather more important, don’t you think?

  17. Hi Mark,

    Sorry just to be sure I understand your less than straight response (im getting used to that) Wild Justice doesn't oppose the concept of allowing shooting of Woodpigeons for food at present but you surely will?

    If I am correct there isn't a current legal position on shooting Woodpigeons at all is there?? (thanks to Wild Justice...cue the talking Woodpigeons saying thank you to Mark next to Mickey Mouse) And no, I dont think that is more important as I am not the 'justice' campaigner here, the reason for my question is to (as usual) understand Wild Justice's position on issues that affect people as well as wildlife and its real motives for doing so.

    Thanks again


    1. S - ah, I see what you mean. I have added a few words to my earlier response to make it clearer. Thank you. But you’ll have to wait for the Wild Justice view.

      I think there is a legal position, but I am not a lawyer so you don’t have to take any notice of it. Woodpigeons are protected like all birds that aren’t gamebirds. They can be killed to prevent serious damage to crops etc (although we await the licence that says so from NE) but I don’t see ‘eating them’ as one of those conditions. Which is a shame for all lovers of pigeon pie or casserole. I’m just speculating on what the legal position might be on a personal basis. What do you think? This hs no bearing on the General Licence revocation, of course.

  18. Thanks Mark

    Well if the GL's are as before the only legal way to kill and eat pigeon would be under the rules of the GL's, so anyone wishing to venture out and shoot a pigeon with the sole reason as being for the pot is not able to do so. As you rightly point out, this has always been the case as with any other wild bird.

    As someone who kills and eats meat for my own and my family's consumption where possible (and legal) I think it would be great if Woodpigeon could be added to the game species list for persons wishing to kill them for food. This type of shooting has always and still is only available to those performing legal pest control.

    It has to be said though that opening up this species as a game bird would logically mean greater numbers of woodpigeons would be killed compared current levels (under the GL). Would that constitute an injustice to Woodpigeons?



    1. S - we seem to agree on the law, though neither of us is (I assume) a lawyer. Personally I have a lot of sympathy with your view.

        1. S - crikey! Long may it last but I won’t count on it. I’ll just say what I think and everyone out there can take it or leave it. In fact, what ought to happen is that they take some of it and leave some of it. None of us will agree on everything and there is no reason why we should expect to.

  19. Bimbling ; have you ever driven through Kent ; the Garden of England? Our main source is arable & we also have 500 ewes or “woolly maggots ’ as another blogger refers to them as.

    You appear to be quite knowledgeable on farming vehicles; perhaps you could design and patent electric propelled combine harvesters and tractors ...
    and make a lot of money for yourself

    1. Mine are just observations of practice around here Karen A. Some farmers like to paint themselves as the victim and it sticks in the craw. I love the 'Mud on the road' signs. What it really means is "My soil capital is down the drain and I only care enough to write a sign to offer me some protection against prosecution in the event of a skid"

      As to the electric machinery, I'm sure John Deere and the rest of them are working on this as we type so I suspect I'd be too late to make my fortune, which I would have shared with you as it was your idea. Its not the method of propulsion that's the problem.

      Its over twenty years since I've been in Kent and that was travelling at night to avoid the traffic but I expect its changed a bit. Even more traffic, and more houses I'd guess.

  20. Apologies moderator my replies seem to have gone a bit random, are you able to submit them in the correct places?


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