All you need to know about Defra's new General Licences from the NGO

The English pest bird crisis was largely resolved at one minute past midnight on 14th June 2019, when Defra issued three new General Licences for the control of crows, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, woodpigeons, Canada geese and a number of other birds.

The three new licences, which are ‘General’ and therefore do not have to be applied for are:

GL34: Licence to Kill or Take for Conservation Purposes

The landowner, occupier or anyone authorised by them, can use this licence to kill or take certain wild birds for the purpose of conserving other wild birds, flora and fauna. The licence can be read and downloaded at:

GL36: Licence to Kill or Take to Prevent Serious Damage

The landowner, occupier or anyone authorised by them, can use this licence to kill or take certain wild birds to prevent serious damage to crops, feedstuffs or livestock (including kept gamebirds). The licence can be read and downloaded at:

GL35: Licence to Preserve Public Health and Safety

The landowner, occupier or anyone authorised by them, can use this licence to kill or take certain wild birds to preserve public health or safety. The licence can be read and downloaded at:

A full list of all current General Licences is available on the website at:

If your requirements are not covered by one of these, you will need to have an Individual Licence issued by Natural England (NE). There is more about these and about licensing in general at: 

Two Important Changes from the Old General Licences for England

Defra’s new General Licences are very similar to the old licences that were in place for many years until NE revoked them suddenly in April but there are some important differences.

  • You cannot use Defra’s new General Licences in ‘European protected sites’ such as Special Protection Areas (SPA’s), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) or RAMSAR wetland sites. To control pest birds in these sites you will need to hold an Individual Licence issued by Natural England. This is unsatisfactory but it may well be a temporary situation. Defra has pledged to work with the NGO and other bodies - and through a public consultation later this year – to find solutions but it is a complicated area of law and needs more time.
  • Collared Doves are no longer on the General Licences and are therefore fully protected. Defra say this is because insufficient evidence exists of problems caused by collared doves. The NGO disagrees and will be lobbying during the summer to try to get them reinstated.

In most other ways, the new Defra licences allow you to do everything you were allowed to do before April 2019 but they are detailed documents and you must read and follow their terms and conditions to remain within the law, so click the links above to do so. And although in law you do not have to carry a copy of the licence with you when shooting or trapping, the NGO advises printing off and keeping any General Licence on which you intend to rely.

Scotland and Wales

The General Licences in Scotland and Wales were not revoked and remain in place, but discussions about them are underway. The NGO is urging that nothing should be changed but we will continue to keep our website and our members up to date with any developments should they occur.

The 2019 Pest Bird Crisis in a Nutshell

The crisis came out of the blue because Natural England (NE) was threatened by a campaigning body, Wild Justice, over the legality of its old General Licences. Instead of fighting the case or buying time to make necessary changes, NE panicked and revoked three main General Licences on 25 April at just 36 hours notice. Attempted replacements were a dismal failure. An emergency online individual licensing scheme crashed and many applicants have still not been granted licences. New NE General Licences for crows, woodpigeons and Canada geese included huge numbers of new restrictions and were condemned by the NGO and others as being completely unfit for purpose and dangerous to rely on. Facing outrage, Defra took back control and carried out a quick consultation; 4000 people and organisations responded. Now Defra has issued workable licences that allow most people to carry on doing what they used to do before this all began. The remaining differences (see above) will be debated further during the summer and the NGO will lobby for the restoration of General Licensing in European protected sites and for the reinstatement of collared doves.

Further Information

The links in this short guide should provide all the further information you need.


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