How to deal with wild birds causing a health or safety issue, or a problem on your farm or fishery and when you need a licence.
All wild birds in England are protected by law. You can’t kill or capture wild birds, or damage their eggs or nests to prevent or solve problems with them unless you have a licence from Natural England.
What you can do without a licence
You must first try to resolve your wild bird problem using standard bird management options before considering taking action against them with a licence.
You should try:
- scaring the birds away using visual (scarecrows, for example) or audible devices (including shooting to scare)
- restricting access to food sources
- stopping birds from roosting or nesting on your buildings or land by putting netting over vulnerable areas
- managing nearby habitat to make it less attractive to birds
- maintaining a human presence around the site to deter birds
- using physical barriers to keep birds away
You’ll need to get the land owner’s permission to carry out these activities on land that you don’t own or manage.
You or the land owner might need to get consent from Natural England for these activities if they’re to be carried out on or close to a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
Airport authorities and other public bodies might need to get approval (or ‘assent’) from Natural England to carry out these activities on or near a SSSI.
You need consent or assent from Natural England for general licences and class licences. For individual licences Natural England includes consent or assent as part of granting the licence.
Protect against fish-eating birds
To prevent fish-eating birds preying on fish stocks in fisheries, in addition to the standard bird management options, you should try:
- using wires or ropes above the water to deter birds from landing
- creating fish refuges under the water using cages with netting to protect fish against predators such as cormorants
- avoiding stocking fish when most fish-eating birds are present (generally between November and February)
- encouraging cover over the water by planting reeds or lily pads, or leaving fallen trees in the water
- installing nets to enclose the site so that birds aren’t able to get to the fish
You’ll need to get the land owner’s permission to carry out these activities.
Protect crops from damage
If wild birds are causing damage to crops, in addition to the standard bird management options, you should try using:
- high visibility barrier tape when crops are growing
- fences or hedges around fields to break sight lines and to stop birds like geese who prefer to walk from water to feeding sites
You’ll need to get the land owner’s permission to carry out these activities.
Licences to control problem wild birds
You might need to consider using either a general, class or individual licence to take further action if you can’t resolve your wild bird problem with non-lethal methods. These licences are free.
The wildlife licences guide explains the differences between these 3 types of licences and how you should use them.
You can use a general licence to kill or capture certain wild birds (including removing or destroying their eggs and nests) to:
- prevent the spread of disease
- stop serious damage to livestock, food, crops, growing timber, fisheries or inland water
- preserve public health and safety
- conserve other wild birds
A general licence is for killing or capturing these wild birds:
- feral pigeon
- collared dove
- lesser black-backed gull
- Canada goose
- monk parakeet
- ring-necked parakeet
- Egyptian goose
Wild birds must only be killed under certain circumstances by using certain methods, such as shooting, cage-trapping or controlling geese by egg oiling or rounding-up and culling. Each licence explains which methods are allowed.
If you are certain wild birds are no longer using a nest you can remove or destroy it without needing a licence.
Herring gulls: action under a general licence
You can’t kill herring gulls under a general licence. You can remove or destroy their nests and eggs under a general licence for the purposes of health and safety.
You might be able to use a class licence to take action against problem wild birds at food premises or near an aerodrome.
Class licences are similar to general licences but you must register to use class licences with Natural England and report what action you’ve taken.
Preserve air safety near airports or aerodromes
You can use a class licence to catch alive or kill wild birds near airports or aerodromes to preserve air safety. The licence page lists the species of wild birds that can be captured or killed under this licence.
Remove birds from food premises
You might need to apply for an individual licence if your wild bird problem is too complex to resolve using a general or a class licence.
Allow up to 30 working days for a licensing decision to be made. If you need to apply for planning permission, you should get it before applying for a licence.
Apply for an individual licence
You can apply to:
- register for a protected species licence
- protect fisheries from fish-eating birds
- disturb, kill or take for health and safety, or to prevent disease or agricultural damage
Licences to kill birds or destroy eggs to prevent serious damage
You need to show that you meet the criteria for individual licences before you can kill birds or destroy eggs to prevent serious damage to:
- livestock and their foodstuffs
- crops including fruit and vegetables
- inland waters
- growing timber
Natural England will assess your application against these criteria to check that your proposed solution is practical and suitable.
Show that you’ve tried all reasonable non-lethal solutions or have ruled them out if they’re known not to work in the circumstances.
Explain which methods you’ve tried, or the reasons why they wouldn’t work in your application. You can provide supporting evidence, such as photos, if you think this will help your application.
Show that birds are causing the damage
You need to show that there’s a genuine problem. The damage must be serious or likely to become serious and is being caused by birds. If damage has not yet occurred you’ll need to give evidence from past experience on the site or if appropriate, elsewhere.
Evidence of damage can include:
- records of the size and cost of the damage, such as the number of livestock lost or crops damaged
- records of behaviour of the birds, including the number of birds and frequency of damage (such as with diary entries)
No satisfactory alternatives
Show that you’ve considered other solutions that might have a lesser impact than killing birds, such as non-lethal methods that don’t require a licence..
Give details why other solutions wouldn’t work in your application.
You can’t reject alternative solutions just because they would be inconvenient.
Use an effective and proportionate method to resolve the problem
Show that your proposed method to solve the problem will be effective and is proportionate to the problem.
Explain in your application form how you’ll:
- target the species of bird (or birds) causing the damage
- resolve the problem or reduce the damage caused by the birds
- make sure the number of birds affected is proportionate to the problem
Natural England is more likely to accept applications that propose specific action to prevent damage. Applications that just propose to generally reduce the local population of the problem species of bird are less likely to be successful.
Restrictions on shooting game birds during the closed season
Natural England can’t issue a licence to shoot or control game birds during the closed season, even to resolve a problem caused by these wild birds.
Airport authorities should contact their local police wildlife crime officer if wild birds are causing an unacceptable risk to aircraft during the closed season.
Published: 7 October 2014
Updated: 27 September 2016
- Improved guidance in 'Licences to kill birds or destroy eggs to prevent serious damage' section.
- Page updated to include information about non-lethal methods of wild bird control.
- First published.