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I live in the city. Am I allowed to shoot pests in my garden with an air rifle?

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 in a city and town

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? 

Mike Morton, editor of Airgun Shooter advises: “You cannot shoot in public parks. (Read more on air rifle law here.)

“You have the legal right to shoot grey squirrels and rats on your property, or property where you have permission to shoot. For most urban and suburban homeowners, that means their garden, and the air rifle is the perfect tool to do the job. A sub-12 foot pound air rifle – one that can be bought in England and Wales without a licence – is capable of killing humanely, which is imperative. What’s also imperative is to take a shot that is both safe and legal. That means you ensure there is a safe backstop behind your quarry and the pellet is contained within your boundary. If it goes outside of that, you are committing a serious offence. What’s also essential is to practise shooting your rifle, learning the pellet’s trajectory and understanding where to aim in order to make a clean kill at various, known distances.” (Read more on garden airgunning here.)

Bill Harriman of BASC warns: “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.

“It is an offence to allow the air rifle 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. (Read our guide to the best air rifle pellets.)

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. (Read more on sound moderators here.)

You cannot shoot 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.

This piece was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.