Natural England grants Tesco a special licence to kill a single wagtail — but the guns stand down following a public outcry

Natural England has granted the supermarket giant Tesco a special licence to kill a single wagtail trapped in one of its stores in Great Yarmouth — but, following an outcry, the supermarket chain has shelved its plan and instead turned to ornithologists for assistance in capturing the bird.

A number of local papers reported that the wagtail would be shot on Sunday, 14 September if it had not already left of its own accord or been removed alive. The reports quoted an RSPB spokesman as saying: “Pied wagtails are not a species of conservation concern, and the small number of licences granted for this purpose will not result in a significant population decline in the UK. We would always ask that an organisation take measures to ensure that, where they pose a risk, birds don’t enter their premises. It is essential that they make every effort to resolve the issue non-lethally before considering this type of action.”

Tesco had been granted a licence by Natural England (NE) to have the bird shot on the grounds of protecting public health. The same legal framework exists to control species such as buzzards and cormorants to protect livestock such as gamebirds or fish stocks. An NE spokesman said: “Licences are occasionally issued to remove birds to protect public health and safety, where those measures do not harm the conservation status of the species. Natural England must be satisfied all reasonable non-lethal methods — such as trapping and scaring — have been tried and proven ineffective before a licence is issued.”

A spokesman for Tesco said: “Our goal is always to release any birds that have found their way into our stores, while ensuring we maintain our high standards of hygiene. In spite of repeated efforts to free the bird, including laying down traps, deploying nets and opening windows, we have been unsuccessful.”

The reports of the store’s plans were met with surprise by many members of the public. Tesco told Shooting Times that, following the publicity, a number of specialists had come forward offering to assist with live removal of the bird.