Three new general licences mean that shooters can go about their business again, says Geoff Garrod

It’s great news that the general licence debacle is over — for the time being at least. The new general licence rules pretty much take us back to square one. It’s important, however, to read them carefully, understand them and comply with their terms and conditions.

  • It is legal to shoot pigeons for crop protection, and to shoot over stubble and roost shoot, which has been a concern for many shooters.
  • Defra has said that you can shoot woodies to prevent crop damage and you don’t have to wait for damage to occur.
  • Decoys can also be used in these situations.

A new review in the pipeline

There is, however, a (further) general licence review coming up, the results of which will be announced at the end of February next year. It would be crazy for any of us to give ammunition to the people on the other side of the debate and it is imperative that we all adhere to best practice when out shooting. I know that the general licence (GL) debacle hasn’t been as disruptive in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and the revocation didn’t come into force, but what I’m about to discuss will be sound advice for us all to follow to protect the future of pigeon shooting.

general licence rules

Carry a copy of the licence that applies to your shooting

Get your paperwork right

The first thing anybody who carries out crop protection should do is download the three general licences that apply — GL34, GL35 and GL36. Read them very carefully and make sure that you understand what you can and cannot shoot, and which of the licences is relevant to you. Some of the language sounds very legal and if you are in any doubt as to which situation or which licence applies to you, or you have any queries that may affect the day’s shooting, seek advice.

Print out the licences

I have printed all of the relevant licences and keep them with a copy of my shotgun certificate, which I always carry with me when shooting. GL36 covers most of the decoying I carry out.

Having hard copies with you means that if anybody does decide to challenge you when you’re shooting and even perhaps accuse you of shooting illegally, you can politely talk them through the new licences.

Many people will be aware of the withdrawal of the original licences from what they have seen, heard or read in the news, but they may not be aware of the latest changes.

new general licence rules

We know that non-lethal methods of pigeon control only work for a short time

Shooting pigeons to prevent crop damage is allowed

The most important line to take, and it was explained well to me when I discussed it with BASC, is that we’re allowed to shoot woodpigeons to prevent damage occurring to crops, and reducing the pigeon population in areas where you know damage is likely to occur before it has done so is permissible. That, and that alone, is the reason we’re allowed to shoot woodpigeons under the general licences.

If you’re challenged and you say you’re out shooting pigeons for the pot or sport, then you’ll be breaking the law. If questioned, be sure that you know what you’re talking about and under which licence you’re shooting. You are an ambassador for our sport, so be friendly and try to explain the reasons and benefits of what you’re doing.

Public perception

Occasionally, we the shooting community don’t do ourselves any favours, especially on social media. Facebook and other sites are great for keeping up with current trends, picking up information and creating a community, but you’d be mad to think that everybody in your group, even if it is a closed group, will be pro-shooting. It isn’t hard for people to gain access and monitor what’s being posted. We need to think very carefully about what we put into the public arena.

All too often I see posts about having a great day and having 200 on the clicker but only managing to pick 100. You shouldn’t be shooting birds that land in places where you stand little chance of picking them. Your reconnaissance for a day’s shooting should include planning where you can easily pick-up shot birds. The bag is what’s in the bag at the end of the day and no more. Every effort should be made to pick-up shot birds so they don’t go to waste. Remember, it is still legal to sell woodpigeons to eat.

Keep records

I also advise keeping records of your days’ shooting. It isn’t a requirement of the general licences, but noting where, when and what has been done to deter birds from feeding before your day out with the gun should suffice. As shooters, we all know that banger rope, gas guns and flags work for a short time and that reducing the pigeon population is the only sure way of reducing damage. Keeping a record means that you will be able to justify why your actions were necessary if called upon to do so.

We’re being watched now — everybody has a camera in their phone these days and any bad practice stands a fair chance of making the headlines. We have a strong case to make regarding shooting, so let’s keep making that case and don’t give anybody a chance to put us in a bad light.