General licences, which have been administered by Natural England and governed by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, are used by landowners to control a variety of bird species including crows, jackdaws, feral pigeons and wood pigeons.

The licences helped prevent and control the spread of disease as well as serious damage to crops and / or livestock.

In March a judicial review was issued against Natural England in respect of the general licences and the decision was announced on 23 April 2019.

The decision reached means that from today, 25 April 2019, the general licences are revoked. The consequence of this is that continuing to shoot the specified bird species could be an offence.

Regardless of the background to the judicial review and your opinion of the decision, there are two key messages to take away:

Firstly, any landowners and individuals who have utilised the general licences need to be aware of this change and the transition period. Anyone who controls (which includes but is not limited to shooting and trapping) the identified species without a licence could be committing an offence which carries a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and / or up to six months in prison, for the most serious offences.

If landowners are due to carry out any wild bird control activity, or are considering doing so, they must consider the need to apply for an individual licence; they can no longer rely on the general licence. Individual licences can be obtained, and Natural England have confirmed that they are working on an alternative measure.

Natural England’s press release from 23 April 2019 contains further detail of this.

Secondly, whether you agree with the reason for the judicial review or the decision that has been made or not, this decision shows just how powerful bringing, or even threatening to bring, a judicial review of a public body decision, can be, particularly when there is sound basis for the challenge.

When considering the timescales for this decision, the judicial review was issued on 22 March 2019 and the decision to revoke the licence announced on 23 April 2019. With the revocation of the licences commencing from today (25 April 2019) this is a swift decision that is to be implemented immediately, with potentially significant consequences for impacted individuals.

Natural England has stated that this action is the “first stage of a planned review of general and class licences which will be completed this year”. Therefore, anyone who utilised the general licences should be aware of this immediate change and the consequences of this decision. It would appear that Natural England’s intention is for other licences, which are assessed for defined situations, will start to be issued from next week (29 April 2019) and more details should be made available from this time.

We will keep a watching brief as to the planned reviews of the other licences during the course of the year as well as revealing more detail about the new regime as and when it becomes available.

About the author

Keri Harwood Solicitor

Keri is a solicitor in our agricultural sector. Having converted to law, after first completing a Masters in Environmental Sciences she has a particular interest in specialising in agricultural and environmental disputes.