New two year general licences have been issued for England, which cover the same range of species as the previous licences, however there are other changes.

The general licences allow the control of a range of bird species which would otherwise be protected; these include species such as wood pigeons and carrion crows. They were widely seen as uncontroversial and effective and were used by farmers, shoots and conservation bodies. However their legality was challenged by Wild Justice whose legal action in the spring of 2019 placed the chicks and eggs of threatened species at needless risk.

New changes to general licences

A series of temporary and short duration licences followed and countryside organisations have welcomed the news that the current licences will last for two years. Part time pest controller Alan Scholes told Shooting Times: “The situation has been ridiculous with no-one knowing what the law was or what it will be in a few months’ time. As long as DEFRA stick by these licences and don’t allow them to be repealed or changed this will be really helpful.”

Livestock classification

Extra guidance published by DEFRA on the use of the licences has included what may be an important legal change to the status of gamebirds. Released pheasants and partridges which are still being fed will now be classed as ‘livestock’ and can be protected under the ‘prevention of serious damage licence’. Previously they had only been livestock when they were in pens.

While this clarification was broadly welcomed by the shooting community, it was described as an “outrage” by rewilding advocate George Monbiot. Predictably, Wild Justice said: “We will take legal advice.” Another change has been introduced to the ‘flora and fauna’ which can be protected under the licenses. GL40, the licence which allows the control of birds such as rooks and jays to protect plants and wildlife, can now only be used to protect flora and fauna ‘of conservation concern’.

The significance of this change was debated, with some suggesting it made the licenses difficult to use and other claiming it was not important. BASC played down the changes. Glynn Evans, BASC Head of Game and Gamekeeping, told Shooting Times: “The English general licences contain minor changes in relation to wording and phraseology but of particular note is the change to two year licences which BASC and others have called for.

“It is important that anyone carrying out control under the authority of general licences complies fully with the relevant terms and conditions. There is further information on all general licences issued across the UK on the BASC website.”