General licences 2021: what you can and can’t shoot

Updated 25 November 2020

This page shows advice by country: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland

The current, shambolic general licences across the UK expire between 31 December 2020 and 10 September 2021. Tied in legal knots by the anti-shooting Wild Justice group, the environment departments of governments in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been trying to come up with regulations that please the EU framework for shooting wild birds, and allow land and wildlife managers to look after pest problems on their own ground. It looks like officials are more frightened of the EU rules than the wildlife managers they serve.

With the English general licence that comes into force on 1 January 2021, the government has effectively banned protect songbirds from jackdaws and rooks. DEFRA says its scientists can’t prove rooks and jackdaws steal eggs of other birds to a level at which those birds may become rare. You can still shoot jackdaws and rooks to protect crops, but the law now says that you have to prove you’re growing crops.


The full UK (muddled) picture

Here is the table of species you can shoot under different general licences:

Species

England

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

from 1 January 2021

Scotland

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

until 31 December 2020

Wales

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

until 31 December 2020

Northern Ireland

until 10 September 2021

Canada goose

Carrion crow

Collared dove

Egyptian goose

Feral pigeon

Greater black-backed gull

Greylag goose

Herring gull

Hooded crow

House sparrow

Indian house crow

Jackdaw

Jay

✅ *

Lesser black-backed gull

Magpie

Monk parakeet

Ring-necked parakeet

Rook

Ruddy duck

Sacred ibis

Starling

Woodpigeon

  • Yes but only to conserve endangered woodland birds.

England

Having created the mess in 2019, the UK’s environment agency DEFRA spent most of 2020 kicking the general licences can down the road. Farmers, conservationists and pest controllers believe that DEFRA officials are frozen in fear of Wild Justice on one side and the shooting community on the other. Read Wildlife Licencing in England: Chaos, Crises and Cure [PDF] that the Countryside Alliance, National Gamekeepers Organisation and Moorland Association sent to DEFRA secretary of state George Eustice in June 2020.

The 2019/2020 licences for carrion crows, Canada geese and woodpigeons are significantly different to the old ones, were introduced without consultation, and the shooting organisations oppose them. In November 2020, the government announced that these licences would remain the same in 2021, but that you can no longer shoot rooks and jackdaws to protect songbirds. Full story here.

  • You can only shoot pigeons while crops are actually growing, not before you sow.
  • You have to scare crows off birds’ nests in a manner that doesn’t scare nesting birds.
  • You have to prove crop damage – if necessary, in front of a judge.
  • You have to move scarecrows every day – and prove you have done that.
  • You can’t shoot within 300 metres of ‘European protected sites’ (including SSSIs, SPAs and Ramsar sites)  – that’s a ban on around 15% of England’s land mass, turning most nature reserves into a songbird snackbar for crows and magpies.
  • You can shoot a pigeon, but you can’t shoot it to eat it
  • You are no longer allowed to decide for yourself whether there are too many birds on your ground, not enough birds, or about the right amount – and what to do about it. That’s up to judges in a court of law, advised by the RSPB.

Full story here

These are the pest birds you can shoot in England until 31 December 2020 under the main general licences:

Canada goose (GL28, GL34, GL35, GL36)
Carrion crow (GL26, GL34, GL35, GL36)
Woodpigeon (GL31, GL36)
Jackdaw (GL34, GL35, GL36)
Jay (GL34)
Magpie (GL34, GL35, GL36)
Rook (GL34, GL35, GL36)
Egyptian goose (GL34, GL36)
Monk parakeet (GL34, GL35, GL36)
Ring-necked parakeet (GL34, GL36)
Ruddy duck (GL21)
Sacred ibis (GL34)
Indian house-crow (GL34)
Feral pigeon (GL35, GL36)

GL21 = kill or take ruddy ducks for conservation purposes
GL26 = kill or take carrion crows to prevent serious damage to livestock
GL28 = kill or take Canada geese to preserve public health and safety
GL31 = kill or take woodpigeons to prevent serious damage to crops
GL34 = kill or take wild birds to conserve wild birds and to conserve flora and fauna
GL35 = kill or take wild birds to preserve public health or public safety
GL36 = kill or take wild birds to prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters

Click here for more. And click here for the Government website which shows where to apply for individual general licences.

The general licences debate has hardly moved on since June 2019. this was what was happening then:


Scotland

These are the pest birds you can shoot in Scotland from 1 April until 31 December 2020 under the three main general licences: GL01, GL02 and GL03

Canada goose (GL01, GL02, GL03)
Carrion crow (GL01, GL02)
Feral pigeon (GL02, GL03)
Greylag goose (GL02)
Hooded crow (GL01, GL02)
Jackdaw (GL01, GL02)
Jay (GL01)
Magpie (GL01, GL02)
Rook (GL02)
Ruddy duck (GL01)
Woodpigeon (GL02)

GL01 = for the conservation of wild birds
GL02 = for the prevention of serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables and fruit
GL03 = for the preservation of public health, public safety and preventing the spread of disease

On 1 April 2020, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon took collared doves, herring gulls, lesser black-backed gulls and greater black-backed gulls out of general licences, so you can no longer shoot them. She also tightened up the reasons you can shoot birds. As of 1 April, you can no longer shoot woodpigeons, jackdaws, magpies, rooks, carrion or hooded crows for reasons of public health. Nor can you shoot shoot rooks in order to conserve other birds. Nicola Sturgeon lifted the residents-only, July and August only, restriction for greylags, so you can now shoot any greylag at any time. Click here for details.

The Scottish government canvassed opinions on the general licences in a consultancy in 2019. On rooks, it says that ‘the vast majority of these responses were from practitioners and cited the damage rooks cause to crops, seed and standing crops – ‘massive flocks devouring crops’. BASC submitted that there would be impacts on agriculture if its members could not control rooks. The National Farmers Union for Scotland told the Scottish Government that the control of great black-backed gull is ‘very important, especially in relation to protecting newborn lambs’. Country sports advocacy group SACS also pointed to ‘personal experience’ of greater black-backed gulls attacking lambs. However, the Scottish government says there was no enough evidence that shooting either greater black-backed gulls or rooks helps wild birds.

When it took greater black-backed gulls and collared doves from the licence to prevent serious damage to agriculture, the Scottish government ignored the NFUS submission that collared doves damages crops at various stages from germination to harvest and that it spoils feed and raids grain stores.

In addition, you have to apply to the Scottish government for individual licences to shoot over Special Protected Areas and Special Areas of Conservation in Scotland. There are currently only a handful of SACs, but SPAs cover large areas of Scotland’s uplands, here marked in red.

There is a change to the trapping regulations. Scottish Natural Heritage has taken over trapping licensing from Pollice Scotland. You have to register with SNH if you use a range of cage traps. visit Licensing.Nature.scot/trap-registration

The Scottish Government has removed the general licence for protecting aeroplanes from bird strikes. Airports can no longer do that unless they apply for a licence.

For some of Scotland’s general licences, you will be required to submit a return, listing details of what you have shot, to licensing@nature.scot

The Scottish government ignores the damage that rooks do to agriculture and collared doves do to agricultural feed.

Collared doves don’t eat agricultura feed? Really? Here is collared dove shooting in Kent:


Wales

Wild Justice is unleashing its lawyers on the government in Wales. It has written to Natural Resources Wales to tell officials that Welsh general licences are unlawful.

On 7 October 2019, Natural Resources Wales reacted to Wild Justice by revoking four general licences and issuing new versions. Among its more extaordinary actions, it removed rooks from the licences due, it claims, to the rook’s population decline in Wales. Notably, it does not acknowledge that collared doves causes agricultural damage, or that gulls cause damage either to livestock or wildlife.

Lambs with eyes pecked out
In April 2020, Wild Justice reacted by starting a fundraiser to mount a legal challenge to NRW to get all corvids knocked off the general licences

These are the pest birds you can shoot in Wales until 31 December 2020 under the three main general licences:

Canada Goose (GL001)
Carrion Crow (GL001, GL004)
Feral Pigeon (GL001, GL002)
Jackdaw (GL001, GL004)
Jay (GL004)
Magpie (GL001, GL004)
Woodpigeon (GL001)

GL001 = licence to kill or take certain wild birds to prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit or to prevent the spread of disease to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit.
GL002 = licence to kill or take certain wild birds for the purpose of preserving public health and preventing the spread of disease to humans.
GL004 = licence to kill or take certain wild birds for the purpose of conserving wild birds.

Rooks don’t damage crops? Really? Here is rookshooting in Somerset:


Northern Ireland

To its credit, Northern Ireland has ignored Wild Justices lawyers and left pest control largely in the hands of pest controllers. It maintains the pest control framework that was in place before Wild Justice was formed. Northern Ireland’s general licences are issued by the NI Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs.

These are the pest birds you can shoot in Northern Ireland until 10 September 2020 under the three main general licences (no shooting on Sundays):

Crow (TPG1, TPG2, TPG3)
Feral pigeon (TPG1, TPG2, TPG3)
Greater black-backed gull (TPG1, TPG2, TPG3)
Herring gull (TPG1, TPG2)
House sparrow (TPG1, TPG2)
Lesser black-backed gull (TPG1, TPG2, TPG3)
Jackdaw (TPG1, TPG2, TPG3)
Magpie (TPG1, TPG2, TPG3)
Rook (TPG1, TPG2, TPG3)
Starling (TPG1, TPG2)
Woodpigeon (TPG1, TPG2, TPG3)

TPG1 = for the purpose of preserving public health or public safety
TPG2 = for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease and preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for li=vestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber and fisheries
TPG3 – for the purpose of conserving wild birds


What does the Fieldsports Nation think?

We surveyed our viewers in order to provide a submission to the various general licences concsultations in 2019. Thanks to the 1,000 people who took part. If that 1,000 is a representative sample, it may interest you to know what the average Fieldsports Channel viewer is like:

  • You were out once a week in the last 12 months on an average of 2,230 acres (900ha).
  • You and your friends together took 1,150 pigeons and corvids off your ground.

Your own average personal tally was

  • 633 woodpigeons
  • 159 corvids (including carrion crows, hooded crows, Indian house crows, rooks, jackdaws, jays and magpies)
  • 90 feral pigeons
  • 11 collared doves
  • 7 Canada geese
  • 1 herring or lesser-black backed gull
  • 1 monk or ring-necked parakeets
  • 0 Egyptian geese and sacred ibis.

How did the story unfold?

In February 2019, Chris Packham and two other animal rights activists launched a fundraiser called Wild Justice, a legal challenge to the way the licences are issued, arguing that all members of the fieldsports community should be criminalised. Government lawyers folded and let Packham have his way.

Wild Justice and lawyers outside Defra Nobel House on 11 March ahead of meeting Natural England. Left-right: lawyer Anita Davies from Cherie Blair’s former legal practice Matrix Chambers, Chris Packham and Ruth Tingay from Wild Justice, Carol Day from solicitors Leigh Day, and Mark Avery from Wild Justice

Her’s our report on how the government reacted on Tuesday 23 April 2019:

The Government announced a ban on most pigeon, crow, gull and Canada goose shooting in England from midnight on 25 April 2019. Natural England – the Government agency responsible – revoked “three general licences for controlling certain wild birds as of Thursday 25 April 2019,” says the Government in a statement. It adds: “These licences (GL 04/05/06) cover 16 species of birds including several members of the crow family, Canada goose, some gulls and pigeons.”

“If people need to take action in the meantime they will need to apply for an individual licence, using a simplified process which will be available on gov.uk from 25 April”.

These individual licences – available at available at Bit.ly/natengland – crashed Natural England’s website and email systems for a week. Natural England’s Marian Spain claimed that the department had a ‘small’ problem with its website. She said at the time: “We recognise this change will cause disruption for some people, but we are working hard to ensure it is kept to a minimum.

“We will bring forward interim measures as quickly as possible as the first stage of our planned review of the licences. We want to make sure our licensing system is robust and proportionate, taking into account the needs of wildlife and people.”

Her words did not reassure shooters across the UK, who reacted angrily.

Reaction from viewers on Fieldsports News’ Facebook page

Petitions to reverse the decision went up.

Even Wild Justice criticed Natural England. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme on 25 April, Packham’s Wild Justice colleague Mark Avery said he was as surprised as the shooters by Natural England’s action. He said Wild Justice had asked for the General Licences to end in January 2020. He said he accepted that farmers needed to shoot pigeons but questioned whether gamekeepers should carry out pest control to benefit Gamebirds. “We totally accept where landowners… and farmers… should be able to shoot birds that are causing them problems,” Avery told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the same morning. “We don’t have any problem with that happening in a regulated manner.”

As well as the hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of damage to British agriculture and the cost to the countryside at the height of the nesting season, nuclear power stations told pest controllers they were causing pest control. Here’s our story on that.

Angry MPs including Nicholas Soames met Natural England and DEFRA secretary Michael Gove on Wednesday morning, 24 April. Afterwards, one of them, Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, told GunsOnPegs.com: “In a nutshell, the three general licences that cover the control 16 wild bird species were not lawful as NE did not have an appropriate assessment of need to underpin them (even though they have been using them for years). A court case due to be heard today/tomorrow (brought by environmental campaigners) would have found against NE and NE felt it therefore had no choice but to revoke the licenses.

“It seems clear that there has been a failure at NE. They should have taken remedial steps far sooner so as not to end up in this situation now – there should be accountability for this at the appropriate time.”

This quickly grew into a call to sack Packham, Gove and Natural England acting head Marian Spain. Click here for that story.

Packham took to British television, where he tried to lie his way out of his troubles. Full story here.

Here is the link to the petition to get Chris Packham sacked from the BBC, which at the time of writing has more than 100,000 signatures.

Throughout the rest of that year, mistakes piled upon mistakes at the DEFRA department, which has had responsibility for general licences taken away from it. With sheep farming under pressure from pest birds on the Isle of Wight, for example, Natural England authorised the release 60 lamb-eating sea eagles there. Read the story here.

After this, then DEFRA secretary Michael Gove took back control of general licences from Natural England – though DEFRA has been asleep at the wheel since then.

Find out what went wrong with the general licences in this film on ParliamentLive.tv, where the EFRA Select Committe lays into Marian Spain, Tony Juniper and Lord Blencathra from Natural England.

Liam Bell, chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation said, “Natural England has made an absolute shambles of this and has put gamekeepers and others to huge inconvenience and concern, to say nothing of imperilling vulnerable nesting gamebirds and wildlife. We are united with other like-minded organisations in demanding a return to workable General Licensing within the shortest possible time. Once that has been secured, there must surely be consequences for those at NE who have made serious mistakes and miscalculations.”


What’s the solution?

The general licences are part of the UK’s ratification of the EC Wild Birds Directive which banned all wild bird shooting. At the time, the UK had good wildlife controls, evolved in laws over centuries. To get around the UK’s obligations to Europe, the UK government agreed to ban all wild bird shooting, except for a ‘general licence’ which allowed a derogation to everyone in the UK to shoot wild birds.

One solution is easy: revoke the general licences. Use the laws we already had, which were evolved for the UK, and allowed pest bird shooting. Another is to fall in behind the general licences and work with the government to keep them as simple-to-understand and use as possible. Here is what BASC and the GWCT think: