As a user of the General Licence, we took the decision some years ago to be open about the RSPB's occasional use of lethal control for some species and the reasons we sometimes find it necessary to carry this work out (for example see here).

I reported at the beginning of the month, that Defra had issued a call for evidence about how the General License should operate in the future. In the interests of continuing transparency, I wanted to outline a summary of what the RSPB has fed into the consultation to be clear on what we want to see from a new licensing system.

Ben Andrew's fine picture of a jay (

The RSPB believes...

...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. We acknowledge that this final criterion should not apply where invasive non-native species are concerned

...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.

...magpie, jackdaw, rook and jay should be removed as potential decoy birds for use in cage traps.

...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.

We recommend that the UK Government and the relevant Statutory body:

  1. Develops a means of monitoring the levels, justifications and methods by which wild birds are killed or taken under General Licences to ensure transparency and that the licences are fit for purpose;
  2. Undertakes a review of all cage traps, including an examination of their legality under the Birds Directive and the terms and conditions pertaining to their use under general (as distinct from any specific) licences, to help prevent illegal or bad practice;
  3. Undertakes a full review of the terms, conditions and guidance notes included on the general and class licences, to help prevent illegal or bad practice.
  4. That Natural England, or the future licensing body, must have the capacity and resource to communicate and administer any future licensing system.

On 21st May the EFRA Select Committee is holding a one-off evidence session on ‘General Licenses for controlling wild birds’ with Defra Ministers and the Natural England CEO giving evidence. I hope the Government use this opportunity to set out what it hopes to achieve from future licencing. Whatever people’s stance is on this emotive issue. It is now crucial that the review takes an approach based on the best science, knowledge and evidence, and leads to a new system that is transparent, accountable and robust. Only then will we be able to command the trust of the public and avoid the ill-feeling that this issue has generated so far.

  • I'm alarmed that I already have a substantial increase in the number of magpies and that they seem to be attacking everything. They're not just taking eggs and chicks, they're attacking adult birds and even our hedgehogs.  I guess this is more competitonm for food that that they're predating, but they're still wreaking havoc.  What's do do?

  • This extremely sensible response by a body which supports lethal control  is unfortunately unlikely to be replicated by those making most use of the general licences.  Even the licences reissued so far give farmers all the tools they need to protect crops. Many of those making responses will not be happy until shooting birds for fun becomes more possible. 

    Even the idea that an industry can restart based upon supplying lead contaminated Wood Pigeons for sale seems to me to be unnecessary, as well as dangerous to all those eating them.

  • Very interesring, and i do understand the problem, but I wish you would stop alternating between spelling 'licence' with two 'c's  and an 's'! For a noun, use of an 's' is *never* correct, that is only in the verbal form, to license, licensing, licensed, etc!

  • Interesting, but I do wish you would stop alternating between spelling 'licence' with two 'c's and an 's'!   For a noun it is never an 's,.