NATURAL England’s decision to rescind the General Licences, which were in place to allow the legal control of certain pest species, caused uproar in April.

It took the decision without consulting rural bodies and, to make matters worse, it took the decision in the middle of the lambing and nesting seasons.

The licences were issued under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and were reviewed on an annual basis, so were hardly a new concept.

Fortunately, Defra responded to the barrage of complaints and took control of the process. On June 14, it issued three new General Licences.

These licences allow individuals to kill or take wild birds to conserve wild birds and to conserve flora and fauna (GL34); to preserve public health or public safety (GL35); and to prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters (GL36).

It is GL34 and GL36 which will cover most pest control activities in the countryside, and I would recommend that anybody planning to operate under these licences familiarises themselves with them. A slip of the tongue could create a wildlife crime!

For example, carrion crows, magpies, jays and rooks can be controlled under GL34 and GL36, so which licence are you using?

It is worth noting that the licences do require an individual to attempt non-lethal control before and during the control process being exercised under licence. The exact wording ‘before using this licence, reasonable endeavours must have been made to achieve the purpose in question using lawful methods not covered by this licence, unless their use would be impractical, without effect or disproportionate in the circumstances.’

The licences do not apply to control on land covered by EU conservation designations, or within 300m of such land. Much of the text of the licences refers to the use of cage traps and the welfare of any decoy birds.

The licences are only valid until 29 February 2020 and a further review will be carried out in the interim, but for now, the situation is much as it has been since 1981.