Wild birds: remove them from food premises using nets or traps

Find out how to use nets or traps to catch birds in food premises and safely release them within the terms of your licence.

If you have birds that won’t leave premises where food is prepared, you’ll need a licence to remove them safely and lawfully.

You can only use these methods if you hold the relevant licence.

If you don’t have a licence, you can register to catch birds on food premises if you’re the owner or manager.

This licence doesn’t allow you to catch, relocate or disturb nesting adult birds, their eggs or their young. If you need to remove nesting birds as a health and safety emergency, contact Natural England for advice.

Before using traps or nets

Try to encourage the birds to leave your premises by:

  • scaring them
  • using trails of food
  • switching off the interior lights

If this doesn’t work, watch the movement and behaviour of the birds to plan where to place the nets or traps for best effect.


Cage-traps allow you to safely catch birds and release them back into the wild.

Where and when to put cage-traps

Only place cage-traps where it’s safe to do so. You should position cage-traps:

  • where birds feed and roost
  • on the birds’ flight path
  • where birds can easily enter the traps
  • away from food and packaging
  • out of sight of the public
  • in a safe and secure location within easy reach

The number of cage-traps you need will depend on the:

  • size of the premises
  • area affected by birds
  • number of birds present
  • number of safe and suitable places to put a cage-trap

You must avoid catching birds when they are nesting (normally March to September, although pigeons and blackbirds may nest indoors all year round).

How to use

To use cage-traps effectively you should:

  • remove or cover other sources of food
  • stop customers or staff feeding the birds
  • place traps out of sight of customers or staff
  • avoid disturbing birds that are in or near to the traps
  • encourage birds to fixed open traps with bait for 3 to 7 days to get them used to the cages
  • move traps to better locations if the birds are not taking the test bait

To avoid causing distress or injury to the birds you must check the traps a minimum of twice in a 24 hour period, with no longer than 12 hours between each inspection.

You can try to attract birds to cage-traps by using:

  • bait (food appropriate to the species and water)
  • recorded bird-song at dawn or dusk
  • artificial decoy birds
  • mirrors
  • paint the traps with drab colours to lure the most shy species

You should release birds caught in cage-traps safely and unharmed.

Under your licence you must provide suitable food and water in a cage-trap so that captive birds don’t suffer. If you use a trap that can catch multiple birds, you must provide enough food and water for the maximum number of birds that the trap is designed to catch. If you fail to do so, you may commit an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Suitable food and the species they attract include:

  • fresh fruit and madeira cake for house sparrows
  • mealworms that are contained or pinned down to prevent them spreading into premises for blackbird, robin and pied wagtail
  • bird seed for house sparrow
  • millet sprays for finches
  • water – static and dripping sources for warblers

You should bait cage-traps for up to 4 weeks to allow time for repositioning traps if the bait is not taken.

Permitted cage-traps

You can only use these cage-traps.

Type of trap Suitable for Species they attract
Split-perch trap, ‘Chardonneret’ trap small perching birds finches, robins, house sparrow
Funnel trap or sparrow trap birds that walk or hop at ground level house sparrow
Drop-door trap (‘stick and string’ operated trap) birds that walk or hop at ground level blackbirds, thrushes
Drop or fall trap birds that hop at ground level thrushes, dunnock, starling
Potter trap birds that walk or hop at ground level blackbirds, thrushes, robin, starling
Inwardly-hinged or bob-wire trap larger birds pigeons


You can catch birds in a fine black netting, known as a mist-net, and safely release them back into the wild.

They’re most effective in enclosed buildings with low ceilings, but can work well in larger buildings if the operation is well planned. Mist-nets can only be used under licence by people trained and experienced to use them.

How to use mist-nets

You must check and seal any doors or windows into the premises.

Only place mist-nets where it’s safe to do so. You may need to consider doing a risk assessment first.

You should only put up mist-nets when the premises are closed to the public (eg early morning or late evening). Only trained and experienced staff should be present when the nets are in operation. You need to have at least one other experienced person helping you.

Fix a mist-net across a frame or stretch it between 2 poles and position it:

  • across the birds’ flight path, particularly where they feed and roost
  • where the birds can be easily intercepted
  • where it’s unlit and can’t be seen by the birds
  • in a safe and secure location within easy reach of the operator of the nets
  • where there is no public access or public present

Mist-nets are less likely to be effective in:

  • buildings with ducts and pipework in the ceiling where birds can escape above the gaps
  • very large buildings with high ceilings
  • buildings with several entry and exit points

To avoid causing distress or injury to the birds you must:

  • check mist-nets every 10 minutes whilst in use
  • not cut free any trapped birds in case they fly off with netting attached to them
  • not hold birds by their head, leg, wing or tail

Safely release captured birds

Captured birds are protected under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. You must make sure the birds are removed and released unharmed.

Where to release the birds

You should release healthy birds:

  • in daylight, but not in late afternoon during winter
  • at a suitable site at least 4 miles from your premises to reduce the risk of return; migratory birds, or species which regularly fly long distances should be released further away

Birds that are nesting near to the premises should, however, be released immediately outside the buildings so that they’re not separated from their young.

You must take any unhealthy or injured birds which you can’t kill under your licence to a veterinary surgeon.

When to contact Natural England

Contact Natural England by email: or telephone: 0300 060 3900 for further advice, or to discuss your options if:

  • birds are nesting within your premises
  • you’ve failed to catch the birds after making every effort to do so
Published 2 June 2015