How farmers may use preventative measures to manage wild mammals' damaging effects on farmland.
Wild mammals are an important feature of our countryside, but they can sometimes cause significant damage to farmland. Where the population of a particular mammal species causes unacceptable damage, preventative measures - eg fencing - may be the best option. However, in some circumstances, where the law allows it, control may be necessary.
Some mammals have no specific legal protection and can be controlled by legal methods, but others are protected by law and cannot be trapped or killed without a licence from Natural England. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) also bans certain methods of killing or taking wild mammals except under licence.
Natural England has the power to grant licences in certain circumstances - to allow the killing, taking or disturbing of protected wild mammals, or to allow the use of prohibited methods of killing or taking. These circumstances include serious damage to livestock, crops or fisheries.
This guide outlines the management and control options for a number of wild mammals in relation to your farming activities.
Managing problems caused by badgers
Great Britain has one of the biggest badger populations in Europe. As a result, these animals can sometimes cause problems for farmers, including damage to land, crops and buildings. They are also occasionally reported to attack poultry or young lambs but evidence of such attacks is rare.
The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 protects badgers by making it illegal to:
- kill, injure or take badgers
- attempt to kill, injure or take badgers
- cruelly ill-treat badgers
- interfere with their setts
Offences can result in heavy fines or even a prison sentence.
However, if you need to deal with badger problems on your land, there are several options available - some that require a licence and some that do not.
Examples of actions that don’t require a licence include:
- attempts to reduce the animals’ food supply - eg earthworms, leatherjackets and chafer grubs - by rolling or pesticide treatment
- use of electric fencing to protect crops
- proofing of hen houses/poultry runs
Examples of actions that do require a licence include:
- any interference with a badger sett, including normal farming activities - eg ploughing - that may directly affect setts
- forestry practices like uprooting and felling trees over setts
- use of one-way badger gates on sett entrances, or otherwise blocking/obstructing setts
- trapping or killing badgers
If you are unsure whether a specific action requires a licence, you should seek advice from Natural England.
Managing rabbits, hares and grey squirrels
Rabbits can cause considerable damage on farm land. Rabbit control is best achieved by liaising with adjoining landowners to plan control and management action. Rabbits are considered pests under the Pests Act 1954, and all occupiers of land have a responsibility to take action to prevent them from causing damage. They are not given any specific protection, so it is legal to kill or take them by lawful methods at any time of year.
The brown hare is a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species. The goal of the BAP is to increase hare populations. However, hares only have limited legal protection, with no close season, and can be killed or taken by lawful means at any time of year.
The Hare Preservation Act 1892 gives limited protection by forbidding the sale of adults or leverets during the main breeding season - between 1 March and 31 July. If brown hares need to be controlled, the recommended and most widely used method is shooting. The use of self-locking snares, crossbows, explosives, bows and live decoys is illegal.
Download information about the brown hare from the Natural England website (PDF, 155KB).
Grey squirrels strip tree bark, damaging timber and specimen trees, and are largely responsible for the disappearance of the native red squirrel from most of England and Wales.
Grey squirrels are subject to specific legal restrictions to discourage their spread and prevent any additional threat to red squirrel populations. Licences for grey squirrel releases are either restricted or not allowed in many areas across the UK because of the ongoing threat to red squirrel populations.
Grey squirrels have no specific legal protection and can be controlled by lawful methods at any time of year. Certain spring traps are approved for the trapping of grey squirrels by the Spring Traps Approval Order 1995 and its subsequent variations. All approved traps must in addition be set within the artificial tunnel supplied by the manufacturer as part of the trap, and used according to any instructions the manufacturer provides.
Download information about grey squirrel policy from the Forestry Commission website (PDF, 805KB).
Download information about grey squirrel control in England from the Forestry Commission website (PDF, 1.7MB).
The native red squirrel has been in decline for decades. This is believed to be due to competition with, and disease spread from, grey squirrels.
Red squirrels and their places of shelter or protection receive full protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). This makes it an offence to intentionally capture, injure or kill them - or to intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy, disturb or obstruct any place they use for shelter or protection.
Managing mice, rats, moles and edible dormice
Rats and mice are attracted to farms and farm buildings because of the amounts of grain and other feedstuffs that are available. Spillage of such material and amount of cover available should be minimised to reduce the risk of rodent infestation. Both species are carriers of disease, so as well as the loss of feedstuffs, there is also a risk of contamination of feed and disease spread.
The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 made local authorities responsible for keeping their districts free, as far as is practical, of rodents, and requires occupiers of non-agricultural land to tell their local authority if substantial numbers of rats or mice are on their land.
As a farmer or agricultural land owner, you don’t need to notify your local authority if there are rodents on your land. However, the authority can demand that you control rodent infestations or, if you fail to do so, can carry out control themselves and charge you for the work.
Read information about the control and management of house mice on the Natural England website.
See information on the control and management of rats on the Natural England website.
The mole’s tunneling activities can cause damage to your property in several ways:
- contamination of grass by soil - leading to poor quality silage
- damage to grass-cutting machinery
- root disturbance - leading to poor plant growth
Moles do not have any specific legal protection. They only have basic protection from cruelty under the Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996 and Animal Welfare Act 2006.
If you have moles on your farm, you will need to decide if they are causing sufficient damage to justify taking action. If you do feel that you need to control them, then trapping or gassing with aluminium phosphide are the two methods usually used.
The edible dormouse can cause serious damage - for example, by stripping the bark from trees or gnawing electric cables in roof spaces. It is also known as the fat dormouse and is protected against certain methods of killing or taking by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).
Farmers and other land owners may kill or take edible dormice by any non-prohibited method - such as shooting - without the need for a licence. Natural England has issued a class licence to allow the use of cage traps or certain spring-traps to control edible dormice. Under this licence, these methods can be used for the purposes of preserving public health and safety or to prevent serious damage to crops, fruit, foodstuffs for livestock and growing timber. Anyone wishing to use this class licence must register first with Natural England. If action cannot be taken under the class licence an individual licence can be applied for.
Setting and using approved spring traps
Certain spring traps are approved for the trapping of rats, edible dormice and other small mammals by the Spring Traps Approval Order 1995 and its later variation Orders.
All approved traps must be set so as not to attract or kill other species, eg in a sewer, drainpipe, or similar structure, in the case of rats, and used in accordance with the instructions (if any) as provided by the manufacturer.
Managing wild deer
There are six species of deer present in the UK. These are:
- roe deer
- red deer
- fallow deer
- sika deer
- muntjac deer
- Chinese water deer
The Deer Act 1991 (as amended) deals with deer and deer management. It sets close seasons for all wild deer - except muntjac - and bans certain methods of taking or killing deer, including specifying what firearms can be legally used.
An adequate yearly cull is the best long-term solution to reduce the damage caused by local deer populations. This is best achieved through a co-ordinated cull undertaken in collaboration with a local Deer Management Group (DMG).
Download information about DMGs from the Deer Initiative website (PDF, 1.4MB).
The Deer Act provides a defence for the killing or taking of deer during the close season on cultivated land, pasture or enclosed woodland. That’s if the deer are causing serious damage to crops, vegetables, fruit or growing timber or any other property on the land, if further serious damage is likely and the action is necessary to prevent such damage.
Find guidance on shooting deer in the close season on the Deer Initiative website.
The Regulatory Reform (Deer) (England and Wales) Order 2007 amends the Deer Act to allow individuals to apply for licences for shooting deer during the close season. However, close season licences can only be issued if there is a serious risk of deer causing deterioration of the natural heritage or putting public health and safety at risk. There is no provision to issue licences for shooting during the close season for the prevention of damage to property, such as crops.
It is also an offence to kill or take deer at night. The Regulatory Reform (Deer) (England and Wales) Order 2007 amends the Deer Act to allow individuals to apply for licences for shooting deer at night. Licences can only be issued if there is a serious risk of deer:
- causing deterioration of the natural heritage
- putting public health and safety at risk
- causing serious damage to property - if serious damage occurred in the year preceding the application
There must also be no satisfactory alternative to resolve the problem.
Find best practice guidance on deer management on the Deer Initiative website.
Managing wild boar
Wild boar are a former native species. They became re-established in the UK as a result of escapes and unlawful, deliberate releases. While some welcome them as a reintroduced species, they can cause significant damage to agricultural and other environmental interests.
Defra’s Feral Wild Boar Action Plan, published in 2008, states that primary responsibility for wild boar management lies with local communities and individual landowners. However, advice and guidance is available from Natural England and the Deer Initiative.
There are no specific legal restrictions governing how wild boar can be controlled, but they are given general protection against cruelty in certain circumstances by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996.
The normal method used for controlling wild boar is by shooting them with a suitable and registered firearm. Police Firearms Licensing Branches normally require that the species is specifically listed on your firearms certificate before you may use a rifle to shoot the animals. Police guidance suggests a minimum calibre of .270 Winchester, its metric equivalent or larger for wild boar.
Wild boar can be dangerous and difficult to deal with at close quarters. Live trapping should only be done by someone who is trained and experienced. It is unlikely to be a practical control method in most circumstances.
In order to monitor the status of wild boar or feral pigs, any sightings should be reported to Natural England’s Wildlife Licensing Unit.
Managing problems caused by otters
Otters are increasing in numbers and distribution after a period of decline caused by the widespread use of pesticides. They receive protection under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and partial protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).
Otters and their breeding sites and resting places are fully protected. It is an offence to deliberately disturb, capture, injure or kill them - or damage, destroy or obstruct their breeding sites or resting places.
If you have otters on your farm, some of your regular activities may impact on the otters’ environment. You will have to follow good practice guidance on what farming methods you use.
The Environmental Stewardship programme can help you look after otter populations and their habitats. If you are involved in schemes such as this, you will need to take care during management activities, such as:
- ditch management
- bank side habitat management
- ploughing close to a breeding holt
- scrub removal from reed beds when enhancing it for other wildlife
- coppicing or thinning that may cause habitat damage around a holt or natal den
- removal of piled-up dead wood or rubble
- removal of dense vegetation that involves ground disturbance
- control of rhododendrons that may damage the habitat around a holt
Managing non-native mammal species
Non-native species are those that have established themselves outside their natural range with intentional or unintentional human assistance. Many have become valuable to Britain’s natural heritage, while others, eg grey squirrels, have become invasive and damaging to farmland and the environment.
Natural England is responsible for regulating non-native and former native species. This includes licensing under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932. These acts regulate the:
- release of non-native species
- release of former native species and native species listed in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
- control and keeping of certain non-native species
Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to release any non-native animal into the wild. Download a list of non-native animals as defined in Schedule 9 from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website (PDF, 304KB).
Preventing the establishment of new invasive non-native species in England is recognised as a high priority. You can contact the Natural England helpline on 0845 601 4523 for advice on non-native species that may be present on your land or damaging your land or crops.
Read advice related to the management and control of non-native mammals on the Natural England website.
Hunting with dogs
The Hunting Act 2004 bans all hare coursing and the hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales. The only time it is allowed is when it is in keeping with specific conditions involving pest control activities. These exemptions require the consent of the occupier or owner of the land and include:
- stalking and flushing out with up to two dogs, provided that the wild mammal is shot as soon as possible after it is flushed from cover
- using dogs to retrieve a hare that has been shot
- using up to two dogs to search for an injured animal, provided that appropriate action is taken to relieve the animal of its suffering as soon as possible after it is found and that it was not deliberately injured in order for it to be hunted under this exemption
All the specific conditions of each exemption must be complied with if the hunting is to be lawful.
Download information about the brown hare and the Hunting Act 2004 from the Natural England website (PDF, 144KB).
Organisations that can help
Further information on wild mammals is available from a number of organisations:
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) - One of the major roles of Defra is to help the farming industry operate as efficiently as possible. Defra administers European support policies that provide around £3 billion to UK agriculture. They also oversee a number of agencies that work with farmers, imports and exports of crops and implement pest and disease controls. You can call the Defra helpline on 08459 33 55 77.
Natural England is the statutory licensing authority which deals with licence applications under wildlife legislation in England. Under a range of wildlife laws, there are powers subject to certain conditions and depending on the particular species or law, to grant licences in order to protect public health and safety, to prevent the spread of disease, or to prevent damage to livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, or any other form of property or to fisheries.You can call the Natural England helpline on 0300 060 3900.
The Deer Initiative can be contacted on 0845 872 4956 for specific deer-related information. Also see the Deer Initiative website.
Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is responsible for licences and schemes for growers as well as for running the Single Payment Scheme (SPS). For more information about the SPS and how it can help your farming business, you can call the RPA helpline on 0845 603 7777. See also the guide on the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).
Farming Advice Service advises farmers about cross compliance. For further information, call the Cross Compliance helpline on 0845 345 1302. Also see the Cross Compliance website.
National Farmers Union (NFU) represents the farmers and growers of England and Wales. It aims to promote successful and socially responsible agriculture and horticulture, while ensuring the long-term viability of rural communities. Read about the work of the NFU on their website.
Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) - Their main purposes are to support and develop a sustainable food chain and a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks. Fera is also responsible for policy and regulations on food and drink, wildlife, plant, bee and seed health, and the environment. You can call the Fera helpline on 01904 462 000. Find out more on Fera’s website.
Natural England enquiry service
0300 060 3900
01904 462 000
Cross Compliance helpline
0845 345 1302
08459 33 55 77