Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has undertaken a thorough review of its policies on killing birds under licence. We contributed evidence and our experience to this review, and we also encouraged supporters to provide their views. This blog summarises our thoughts and highlights some complex issues that remain unresolved.

The law

All birds, their eggs and nests have full legal protection - a status hard-won by conservationists over several generations in the 20th century. Allowing birds to be killed lawfully should not be undertaken lightly. But, we recognise that there are occasions when that’s necessary - very much as a last resort. That’s why it’s important that NRW has a robust and transparent system to regulate these permissions.

To be allowed to catch or kill most bird species, you need to apply for a licence from NRW, which will decide whether to allow it based on the evidence provided. General Licences are different: NRW makes an assessment that the evidence tests are met for a small number of species in particular circumstances, and so anyone is permitted to kill these birds providing they can meet the conditions.

RSPB Cymru believes that, as they are currently structured, General Licences are not fit for purpose, but NRW has decided to persist with them.

The new Licences

These will come into force on 1 July 2022 and will include some major improvements in the terms and the circumstances in which these can be used. Much of this is technical, and you can read about the detail in the documents published on the NRW website. The main headlines are:

  • Licences are clearer about the need to address a problem with non-lethal alternatives before, and in parallel with, killing birds.

  • Birds killed under a General Licence must not be species of conservation concern.

  • Tighter conditions on the design and use of traps to catch crows, some of which should reduce the risk of birds of prey being caught.

  • Clarity about the use of the General Licence to kill named species of birds causing serious damage to agriculture (GL001). For example, NRW has determined that jackdaws do not cause serious damage to livestock at a scale to justify their inclusion.

  • The removal of jay, jackdaw and magpie from licences designed to protect the eggs and chicks of wild birds.

  • Carrion crows can be killed for the purpose of conserving wild birds only between 1 February and 31 August, and only to protect for Red and Amber-listed birds of conservation concern that have been assessed as vulnerable to such predation.

  • A commitment to review the General Licences regularly, supported by an independent advisory panel.

The reaction from some has suggested that these changes will be disastrous for nature conservation, but we don’t agree. Where a problem occurs that cannot be resolved by non-lethal means, NRW can grant a specific licence to tackle that.

It requires someone to reach for the pen before the gun, but since this involves killing protected birds, that seems fair enough to us. In the few instances where we control carrion crows on Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as part of our species recovery work, it has not proven a problem for us to apply for licences to do this.

We’re pleased that changes made in 2019 were kept, which included the removal of rook from General Licences and excluded their use in many protected areas designated for birds. We were disappointed that NRW did not consider using class licences instead of general licences or require users to report the numbers of birds killed, in order to inform future policy. We also believe that NRW missed an opportunity to aid enforcement by requiring registration of crow cage traps, as already necessary in Scotland, although it has said it will keep this under review.

We don’t, by any means, agree with everything about the new General Licences, but we believe that governments in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England would do well to look at the same evidence on which NRW has made its decisions.