Across all four countries of the UK every wild bird is protected by law, it is illegal to intentionally kill or injury a wild bird, damage eggs or disturb an active nest. In most areas the law is black and white, however there are circumstances where a license can be issued to grant an exemption from this law.

Which brings up the question, is it ever justified to kill? A big question, but an important one for conservation.

For some the answer is always no, and although most will disagree with this position, we should respect that. No one takes an interest in conservation to kill. For many of us our love of nature and urge to protect it comes from experiencing it at a young age when the idea of harming this wonderful and precious thing seems abhorrent.

However, for most the answer is likely to be “no, but…”. Self-defence, protecting human health, saving crops and ensuring the survival of rare and endangered species and the habitats they depend on are among the reasons that people may offer following that ‘but…’.

As you will have seen in my annual ‘Making tough decisions’ blog, the RSPB does use lethal control methods on occasion, and only when we are convinced there is both a valid reason and no viable alternative.  You can see our rationale and what we believe, and (unlike any other major landowner) the number of times we use lethal methods.

So why are we talking about this now?

Ben Andrew's fine picture of a jay (

Earlier this year following a legal challenge by Wild Justice, Natural England (NE) revoked the General Licences. Later, after a short call for evidence, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) issued three new general licences in order to replace those which were revoked by NE. However, Defra promised to hold a full review later in the year in order to make future licences as good and fit for purpose as they can possibly be. That review is now upon us and can be found here.*  

The RSPB will of course be responding to this survey. Broadly speaking we’ll be asking for similar things as we did in the previous call for evidence.

The RSPB believes:

  1. Wild birds should only be killed or taken as a last resort. Lethal control can only be justified when...
  • a genuine and serious problem exists;
  • non-lethal measures are demonstrably impracticable or ineffective;
  • it will be successful in resolving the problem, and it will not adversely affect the conservation status of the species concerned.
  1. Should these criteria not be met, killing or taking should only be permitted through individual licences being granted following the relevant authority’s scrutiny of each application. In granting of licences, account should always be taken of the population status of the bird concerned
  2. The inclusion of magpie, jackdaw, rook and jay on a General Licence should only be considered if there is sufficient evidence to support such a decision. It is our recommendation that instead these species are controlled under individual licence only.

A call to action

It is crucial that as many people as possible complete Defra's survey in order to ensure that future licences are fit for purpose and feature appropriate species.

Your contributions can help give Defra the information they need to improve this system. This is your opportunity to have your say.

Take the survey

Please note: It is not the most user-friendly of surveys (!) so here are our top tips for completing it.

  • Take the survey as an individual as RSPB will be submitting their own response
  • Feel free to use our key points, but remember it is you they want to hear from
  • You do NOT need to answer all the questions. Many will not be relevant. Just scrolls past them

For further guidance and information please see the Frequently Asked Questions right at the bottom of this post. 

Thank you!


*A similar consultation in Scotland has recently concluded with results expected to be announced later this year, whilst new General Licences have recently been issued in Wales. You can read our thoughts on them here.

DEFRA survey FAQ .pdf