Six general licences for the control of wild birds have been reissued temporarily, ahead of the new licences coming into force in August, Defra has revealed.
Current licences – GL26, GL28, GL31, GL34, GL35 and GL36 – will be reissued from 1 March to 31 July. Defra says no action is required from licence users, aside from the ongoing requirement to abide by the licence conditions.
The licences allow users to kill or take carrion crows, Canada geese, woodpigeons and other wild bird species to cover various purposes including preventing serious damage to livestock, protecting public health and safety, preventing serious damage to crops, and conservation.
A longer-term review of general licensing, which started in June last year, has made significant progress, according to Defra. An online survey of stakeholders, which closed in December, received more than 4,400 responses from organisations, licence users and other stakeholders.
The move followed a legal challenge by Wild Justice in April last year, which resulted in Natural England (NE) revoking three licences and issuing GL26, GL28 and GL31 to cover some of the species and purposes covered by the original licences.
Defra subsequently issued three interim licences, which will expire on 29 February, while the longer-term licensing requirements are reviewed. NE’s licences have also remained in place as they allow for specified activity on European protected sites.
New licences will be published in early July, Defra says, to allow user groups to get used to the changes before they come into force the following month.
Speaking as the news broke on Wednesday, then environment secretary Theresa Villiers, said: “We are working intensively on delivering a robust licensing system for the future which balances the different interests at stake in a fair way. To do that, we need to ensure that we have carefully considered all of the relevant evidence, including the detailed responses to our online survey.
“This extensive consultation and review process will be completed in the coming months, with the new licences coming into force on 1 August.”
NFU deputy president Guy Smith added: “The NFU has been clear that the new general licences regime needs to be fit for purpose, more transparent and accessible for farmers. Defra has the power to grant general licences and we do not believe that individual licences should replace the current arrangements – this would result in an overly complex system which would not deliver the protection for farm animals and crops it intends.
“General licences are particularly vital at this time of year for many farmers who need to protect lambs and emerging crops. As the current licences are due to expire at the end of February, farmers need urgent clarity from Defra as to what the new licences will look like in order to avoid the same confusion many farmers experienced last year.”