DEFRA publishes latest version of General Licences following Wild Justice legal challenge

In February 2019 a new conservation campaign group, Wild Justice, launched its first legal challenge against the casual killing of millions of birds, as authorised by statutory agency Natural England under the guise of General Licences.

These General Licences have been published at the start of each year and have permitted users to kill unlimited numbers of birds such as Carrion Crows, Rooks, Magpies, Woodpigeons, Jackdaws, Jays and Ring-necked Parakeets.

[Common Jay photo by Andy Rouse]

General Licence users don’t have to apply to use the licences, don’t have to justify why killing the birds is necessary, don’t have to explain why alternative non-lethal measures such as scaring or proofing are ineffective or impracticable, and don’t have to report on how many birds are killed. All a person needs to do to ‘qualify’ to kill unlimited numbers of these birds is to claim to have read and understood the relevant General Licence.

Wild Justice believed the system was unlawful and argued that, amongst other things, it was Natural England’s responsibility to satisfy itself that killing was an appropriate last resort. Natural England disagreed so Wild Justice applied for permission to seek a Judicial Review.

Shortly afterwards, Natural England finally acknowledged the General Licences were indeed unlawful and pulled them at ridiculously short notice. DEFRA then removed the licensing authority role from Natural England and took it on itself, issuing temporary General Licences last year and this year, whilst having to conduct a scientific review, survey and consultation of the entire system.

The new General Licences that have been published today will become enacted on 1 January 2021. On a first glance through, they are certainly different – some species have been removed from the kill list of some of the General Licences (e.g. as of 1 January 2021 it’ll be unlawful to kill rooks or jackdaws under the guise of conserving bird species) and other species have more restricted terms of how and when that species can be killed (e.g. as of 1 January 2021 General Licence users will be able to kill Jays to protect Honey Buzzards – yep, that’s what the new licence says).

Further licence conditions relating to trapping regulations and killing birds on protected sites are due to be published before 1 January 2021.

Of course, these new General Licences will be the subject of close scrutiny, certainly by Wild Justice and no doubt by the shooting organisations, and are still open to further legal challenge if necessary.

The new General Licences for England can be viewed here:

Conservation licence GL34/GL40: here

Public health & safety licence GL35/GL41: here

Serious damage licence GL36/GL42: here

Wild Justice is also currently challenging the General Licences issued in Wales by Natural Resources Wales and the court hearing is due in mid December 2020 (see here for background to that case).

19 thoughts on “DEFRA publishes latest version of General Licences following Wild Justice legal challenge”

  1. So on the General Licence there are Ring-necked Parakeets? Is that a serious inclusion? Could someone tell me where, in the UK and in areas where the rearing of Game, that these Parakeets live and presumably breed? Whilst we’re at it and assuming that I am living in a rarified atmosphere, can anyone explain to me what possible threat any of the Macaw family are, to game?

      1. My advice to the artist currently known as Perdix is to take some time filling the gaps in his/her knowledge of the UK avifauna, and the function of ecosystems in general, before posing again as an authority on related issues…

        About 25 years should suffice.

    1. Maybe teach to say “Don’t shoot”
      I’m really looking forward to the huge increase in the Honey Buzzard population now these pesky Jays can be reduced.
      What a load of bollocks.

    2. Hi Perdix,
      General licences are not there to protect game! They are to manage certain birds to protect the conservation of wild birds, the protection of livestock & crops and to prevent the spread of diseases.

  2. Well it’s about time they Stopped letting every Tom, Dick or Harry from shooting All Birds as they are All in Decline throughout this Country and How can they Guarantee that these people will Just kill those birds and not others claiming it was a Mistake or Accident if others get Shot!! A lot of these people probably can’t even shoot properly! They need to.go Further!!

    1. I hate to be picky but not exactly true.,the%20extent%20of%20suitable%20habitat. Yes most are declining but not all are. Most of the UK shooting fraternity are not interested in shooting Blue Tits or Spotted Fly Catchers rather than prefer something a little easier to satisfy their blood lust. Personal experience; I never see Green Finches and rarely Chaffinches, but I do see flocks of Magpies, Wood Pigeons and many Goldfinches. Further more my suspicions are many bird species populations are changing, mostly declining through the imbalances in environment caused urbanisation (e.g. House building in Lothians), global warming, intensive agriculture (I include industrial grain production and game bird rearing in that category), possibly predator imbalances (e.g. Magpie / Grey Squirrel activities? which maybe resolved by more Goshawks) and criminal acts (mostly raptor related). Let’s get the science to prove the causes of the horrendous declines and then put the legal protections in place to reverse them.

  3. The new licences still appear to be woeful in terms of verification checks for compliance.

    A couple of key statements in the licences:

    “You do not need to be registered to use this licence.”

    “It’s recommended that you make a written record of the actions you take under this licence, as soon as possible after taking the action. This will help you show that you have complied with the terms and conditions of this licence.”

    It seems very unlikely that without MANDATING a register and record keeping we: a) will largely not know who is using the GLs (with perhaps the exception of trapping?) and b) what species of and how many birds have been killed by persons unknown.

    I applaud WJ wholeheartedly but (aside from the welcome removal/exceptions regarding some species) has any meaningful ground – in all honesty – been gained? It seems that it will be pretty much business as usual for the casual killers of our wild birds.

  4. Excellent post thank you.
    So would I be right in assuming that corvids cannot be killed to protect Game birds reared or produced for commercial purposes….?

    Sent from Samsung Mobile on O2

    1. Hi Stephen,

      We’re still examining the text of the various licences but on the Conservation licence it looks like you can no longer kill crows and magpies for the alleged purpose of protecting commercially-reared pheasants and red-legged partridge, only for the protection of birds listed on the red and amber lists of birds of conservation concern.

      1. Hi RPUK,

        Can pheasants and red-legged partridges be classed as ‘livestock’ under the GL42 ‘…Prevent Serious Damage’ and therefore allowing crows etc. to still be killed on their behalf?

        1. We’ve asked for clarification from DEFRA as they weren’t able to provide an immediate response during a Zoom mtg this afternoon (and that’s no criticism of DEFRA staff – the people we were speaking with are relatively new to this issue, having inherited it from former staff). We expect a written response in due course, on this and other questions we raised.

  5. Slightly tongue-in-cheek, disappointed that pheasant isn’t listed on GL40 kill for the purpose of protecting fauna.

    Perhaps on the 2022 General licence.

  6. Well done Ruth, Mark & Chris, you are all legends in the modern world of conservation. Thank you for all your hard work. There is a long way to go but we are lucky to have you 3 and many others taking these challenges forward.

    Well done and thanks.

  7. If they are proposing to link jays to honey buzzards, then surely there should also be a requirement to record and report these incidences?
    Honey buzzards might be very rare…..but gamekeepers id skills? “Honest mistake Gov, I thought it was a honey buzzard….”

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