If you have an air rifle it can be tempting to carry out pest control in your own back yard. But would it be legal?

Shooting pests on the patio in the city

A reader wants to make short work of squirrels and rats. Can he?

Q:  The only wildlife I see in my city garden are grey squirrels and the odd visiting rat. There are a few parks nearby which are also home to vermin. I’m keen to get rid of the pests that visit my own garden and I could also do a service in the local park by getting rid of unwelcome rats and greys. But I wondered what the rules are around shooting pests in a city? What are the legal issues and what safety guidelines should I follow? 

A: Be very careful about shooting pests in your own back garden. You do not want armed police attending because some nosy neighbour has called to report that there is someone firing a gun out of the window. In most gardens, it is only safe to use an air rifle. However, larger gardens may be suitable for a .22 rifle using reduced-power cartridges such as the CB cap. Always shoot with a safe backstop to catch the projectile in case you miss or it passes through the target animal.

It is an offence if using an air rifle to allow the pellet to cross the boundary of your property. It is always a good idea to shoot from an elevated position so that the ground acts as your backstop. Use bait to feed targeted species into a killing zone that you know is secure.

Reduce noise with a sound moderator

It is common sense to fit a sound moderator which will eliminate most of the discharge noise. Quarry will be spooked less and neighbours are less likely to be alerted by the noise.

You cannot shot in public parks

Legally you are forbidden to shoot pests in public parks. It is an offence to shoot on land where you do not have permission to be. If you used a gun to shoot squirrels or rats in a public park, you would be in possession of a firearm in a public place without reasonable excuse contrary to Section 19 of the 1968 Firearms Act.

You would also be an armed trespasser for the purposes of Section 20, as the general permission that is afforded to the public to go into a park — normally subject to conditions such as opening times and so on — does not extend to it being used for shooting. On that basis you would be a trespasser — and an armed one at that. Both offences attract a prison sentence or a hefty fine or both on conviction. You would also run the risk of being shot dead by armed police.

So definitely don’t go there.