Advice for members on revocation of bird control licences

Natural England has revoked three general licences for controlling certain wild birds as of Thursday 25 April 2019, which cover 16 species of birds including several members of the crow family, Canada goose, some gulls and pigeons.

This hub has been created to provide NFU members with access to the latest information and resources surrounding licences to control wild birds. 

NFU response:

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The NFU submitted evidence to Defra's consultation on the impact of Natural England’s decision to revoke general licences to control woodpigeons and crows.

The evidence was compiled from evidence submitted to the NFU by hundreds of its members who said the revocation meant they were struggling to protect lambs from being attacked and crops from being devastated.

The evidence also includes:

  • The lack of warning which caused significant confusion and legal uncertainty for farmers.
  • Continued exposure to legal uncertainty due to the rushed and unclear temporary mitigation processes, which included issues in applying for and the issuing of individual licences.
  • Inconsistencies in replacement licences resulting in a lack of clarity between what is a legal requirement and what is simply guidance.
  • The substantial economic impact on farmers costing businesses thousands of pounds, as well as unacceptable distress to livestock.

NFU Deputy President Guy Smith said:

“With the growing season and lambing underway, the sudden revocation of these general licences could not have occurred at a worse time in the farming calendar. It has left members without the necessary legal certainty as to how they can protect their livestock and crops from being attacked.

“The NFU has received hundreds of responses in the past few days to its own call for evidence which illustrates the strength of feeling across the breadth of our membership.

“We have heard directly from our members how the revocation has not only increased worry for the farmer, but is causing unnecessary stress to farm animals and has caused mortality in lambs.

“It is also clear from our members’ responses that lethal control methods are not used lightly. Yet, they remain absolutely necessary in increasing lamb survival, reducing crop damage and protecting food hygiene when other methods either need reinforcement or have failed completely.

“Defra must take immediate action to ensure that the replacement licences not only give clear legal direction for farmers, but meet the very real needs of farming businesses and allow farmers to effectively protect their livelihoods.”

NFU response to Defra consultation into removal of general licences

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Defra opened a consultation in May seeking views from all concerned parties about the impact of the withdrawal of the three general licences for controlling certain wild birds (GL04, GL05 and GL06) on 25 April 2019. The NFU coordinated a response to the consultation including evidence submitted by hundreds of NFU members about the impact the revocation of the general licences has had and the confusion this caused among farmers at such a sensitive time of year. 

Q&A: NFU member briefing on general licences

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The NFU has prepared a Q&A briefing on this situation which can be accessed by members here.

This guidance was last updated on 3 May and will be updated accordingly as more information becomes available from Natural England. 

Applying for wild bird control licences: Download the forms here

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The NFU is aware that some members are experiencing issues when trying to access the application forms for individual licences from Natural England’s website.

NFU members can download the forms here. 

NFU activity on NE decision to revoke general licences

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Recognising the importance of general licences that allow farmers and growers to control certain wild birds to protect livestock and crops, here is an update on the NFU's work on this issue to date.

Joint letter highlighting concerns to Secretary of State Michael Gove

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The NFU has written to Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove, along with other rural and farming organisations, highlighting concerns around the removal of general licences. Read the letter. 

How to log in: Use your membership number or the email address associated with your membership to log in. If you've forgotten your password, you can click here to reset it or contact NFU CallFirst on 0370 845 8458.​

Bird scarers

If you're using gas guns as a deterrent to help control and limit the damage caused by birds, here's a guide to using them responsibly to avoid noise complaints from neighbours.

Download the NFU Bird Scarers Code of Practice.

The NFU code is often used by local authorities as a source reference for their guides on the use of gas guns. By adhering to it, you can reduce complaints of nuisance from the public and limit avoid any enforcement action by local councils.

Some simple steps to help make gas guns more effective and to limit any disturbance include:

  • Thinking about location – place guns as far away as practicable from neighbours, point them away from neighbours and use baffles.
  • Thinking about timing – avoid using them before 7am or after 10pm – and alter timings to take account of seasonal changes. As a general rule never use before sunrise or after sunset.
  • Avoiding use on Sundays.
  • Checking timers work and are set correctly. If using a photoelectric cell check that it is clean and preferably have a mechanical timer as well as a backup.
  • Ensuring that your neighbours know who to contact if the gun develops a fault so that it can be put right.

More on this topic:

Last edited on: 07:05:2019

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NFU members: Have your say

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  • Posted by: Richard AndrewsPosted on: 24/04/2019 17:13:14

    Comment: Ridiculous. What is the world coming to. We grow peas and at this time of year pigeons can be a real pest.
  • Posted by: Henry CollinsPosted on: 25/04/2019 10:41:49

    Comment: Crazy that Wild Justice have managed to force NE to withdraw these general licences. Doesn't Chris Packham and co realise the harm that carrion crows et al do to ground nesting birds or how quickly a flock of pigeons can decimate emerging peas? I hope the large volume of licence applications from farmers can be processed speedily.
  • Posted by: Charles HardingPosted on: 25/04/2019 12:37:15

    Comment: Last year whilst looking round the sheep at lambing 3 carrion crows were pecking at a newborn lamb. After chasing them off I discovered they had pecked all around its navel and pulled its intestines out. I had to shoot the lamb. I will find it difficult not to kill a crow if I find the same happening again. We often find them with pecked eyes and a skinned tail. Should we tolerate this?
  • Posted by: Ian StewartPosted on: 25/04/2019 12:40:45

    Comment: More than ridiculous - totally absurd. Did pigeons become an Endangered Species when I wasn't looking? You can't spray, you can't use bangers (if too close to houses) and now you can't shoot this massively overabundant pest . What do they want us to do? Get kids to wave flags? (HSE Regs would kill that one.) And just remembered, this is the 21st Century and am fresh out of peasants. A Justifiably Grumpy Farmer.
  • Posted by: Anthony WooldridgePosted on: 25/04/2019 13:01:44

    Comment: Is the licence required per farm, per farmer or per shooter?
  • Posted by: Jeremy ChamberlaynePosted on: 25/04/2019 13:16:33

    Comment: I think Guy Smith missed an opportunity to say how concerned the NFU is about the damage that vermin and predators inflict on many endangered species of wildlife, which our members are always striving to conserve.
  • Posted by: VIVIAN STEERPosted on: 25/04/2019 13:23:41

    Comment: What I find amassing is the fact that none of these species are endangered but the small birds and mammals that they feed on are.Then there is the impact on food production and the safety of the food. Nature and the countryside is effected by man and this is another example of that influence being done by the wrong man in an office who does not see the results of their decision
  • Posted by: Ian GrantPosted on: 25/04/2019 14:00:22

    Comment: What is the point in countryside stewardship taking land out of production with the formation of scrapes for lapwing production for natural England to stop trapping corvids and magpies that will eat the chicks at this time of year.Packham and Avery want their heads testing.
  • Posted by: susan wardPosted on: 25/04/2019 14:28:39

    Comment: how come the NFU have allowed this to happen without anyone knowing? And more importantly what are the NFU doing about it?
  • Posted by: Gordon NechvatalPosted on: 25/04/2019 14:48:44

    Comment: In all this mess, what is the situation in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? I do not see any information on this topic in the Q&A the NFU has posted
  • Posted by: Robert LewisPosted on: 25/04/2019 16:15:08

    Comment: The NFU appear to be coming from behind on this issue.The organisation should have been aware of the proposed change to legislation,alerted the membership and lobbied more effectively.A disappointing result,very weak.
  • Posted by: Tom ManningPosted on: 25/04/2019 19:36:02

    Comment: This really shows how the future of farming is going to look. With the revocation of essential chemicals, the vegan lobby, and the focus on 'public goods' and the environmental vocal groups having priority in the media and government. Things are changing fast. The NFU run the risk of becoming irrelevant even if they think that anyone in Westminster listens to them.
  • Posted by: Georgina LeylandPosted on: 25/04/2019 22:10:43

    Comment: This is the most ridiculous thing ever thought up. Clearly those concocting these rules and regulations know nothing of farming, and probably live in the town with a park and a few sweet pigeons coo-ing about. I suggest Chris Packham and his tree huggers should go and look at a field of rape decimated by pigeons, lambs like ours with their eyes pecked out or navels pulled out by crows, or the carcasses of lambs left behind by badgers, for that matter. He clearly has no knowledge of real life on a farm. There will be many many people in total disbelief to read this, and no, it is not April 1st. This absurdity should be revoked immediately.
  • Posted by: Harold MartinPosted on: 26/04/2019 12:23:16

    Comment: How ridiculous, Chris Packham as no grip on reality, if we don't control the Magpies on my farm we will have no small birds left and the farmer will be blamed for their loss.
  • Posted by: NFU web teamPosted on: 26/04/2019 16:13:10

    Comment: The NFU was in immediate contact with Natural England as soon it became clear this week that licences were to be revoked. You can find the NFU's activity on this topic here:
  • Posted by: Andrew ChessonPosted on: 27/04/2019 10:47:23

    Comment: Hang on chaps - according to the briefing notes there will be new general licences issued but presumably they will include a requirement to investigate non-lethal options first, which is not unreasonable. I have emailed Wild Justice to establish exactly what their views are but we should be trying to engage rather than assuming they are out to get us, and whoever hung dead crows outside Chris Packham's house should be ashamed of themselves.
  • Posted by: Charles AveryPosted on: 30/04/2019 11:08:59

    Comment: In any other Industry there would be a consultation period before any changes are made. The Unions and those affected would be asked for their input? Scientific studies would have been carried out and taken into account. Does this reflect on how the Government, DEFRA and Natural England respect the farming industry and the NFU in particular? You would think that the NFU should have known about this?
  • Posted by: Charles AveryPosted on: 30/04/2019 12:48:25

    Comment: Further to my recent comment, it would appear that we should move our farms to Scotland. Then we might keep our licences, get free care for the elderly, free university tuition, free prescriptions, free hospital parking etc etc.
  • Posted by: Charles AveryPosted on: 02/05/2019 09:58:44

    Comment: No comments for two days? What is happening?
  • Posted by: victor trumanRPosted on: 07/05/2019 16:51:52

    Comment: Rooks Wood Pidgeons & Crows Magpies rare all vermin & cause serious damage to crops, young livestock and small Birds why would anyone with any sense wish to protect these species that will take out all what we have tried to protect all my life
  • Posted by: Peter GaddPosted on: 08/05/2019 08:57:56

    Comment: Please see below a copy of my response.
    Please encourage others to put their thoughts to Defra ASAP.
    Rt. Hon. Michael Gove,
    Secretary of State,

    Dear Michael Gove,
    I write in response to your call for evidence relating to the revocation by Natural England of general licences GL04, GL05, and GL06.
    I write as an individual and as a working farmer with the need to protect crops and vulnerable bird species from predator bird species.
    Initially I want to say that being aware of the potential legal challenge by Wild Justice myself, some 6 weeks or so prior to the revocation of the licenses at 36 hours notice, I feel that, notwithstanding the legal counsel opinion given to Natural England, the decision was flawed from the start.
    Natural England should have either gone direct, or via Defra; to the Government’s legal officials and explained the position and their concerns. Maybe then, licences could have been retained whilst advisory minor changes were made with thoughtful consideration.
    Given the situation, Natural England should have been given time to fully consult with stakeholders at length rather than have a knee-jerk revocation.
    As Natural England had known about the potential of a challenge some weeks prior, why had they not started consulting much earlier with key stakeholders to off-set some of the chaos that has recently ensued?
    It appears that there has been a complete lack of appreciation of the seriousness of the issue at the early stage inside Natural England, and a failure to address the need for being prepared in the eventuality of having to revoke licences at short notice. This has been proved in recent days obviously.
    I wonder if you consider the staff at Natural England sufficiently competent to deal with these issues, because it is becoming abundantly clear in my mind they are not!
    One only need to read the advice on scaring and deterrents in the new woodpigeon GL31 licence to get the impression that staff are wholly inept and lack understanding of the realities out in the field.
    To s
  • Posted by: Peter RivettPosted on: 09/05/2019 17:57:52

    Comment: Natural England have too much power, the licence application form is like a criminal interrogation and questions our integrity and judgement to act sensibly and effectively in protecting our crops and livestock, conscientious gamekeepers have had their jobs and tools of their trade neutered and outlawed by this Quango board of Muppets who cream off millions from our BPS payments every year

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