Governments issue General Licences every year detailing which species may be controlled, for what purposes, how that may be done and by whom. In England this is through Natural England, and similar licences are issued by the relevant authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The licences are kept under regular review and were last reviewed on January 1st 2015.



General licences permit ‘authorised persons’ to carry out actions that would otherwise be illegal (eg under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981)), but which are justified in certain circumstances.

General Licences are used in situations that are regarded as relatively commonplace, that pose a low level of risk of harming the conservation of the protected species, and where it is justifiable to issue a licence without seeking detailed evidence on a case by case basis.

They are used in the control of ‘pest birds’ such as Carrion and Hooded Crows, Magpies and Woodpigeon to prevent damage to crops, aid conservation of wild birds, and preserve public health etc.

Control methods allowed under general licence may include shooting; destruction of eggs and nests; and the use of traps and multi-catch cage traps for the capture of Magpies, Carrion Cows, Rooks, Jackdaws and (except in Northern Ireland), Jays. They are also used in preserving public health or air safety, and preventing the spread of disease.

By definition there is no need to apply for a general licence but applicants are required by law to abide by their terms and conditions, and abuse of them or failure to comply with the conditions could constitute an offence.

  • The Scottish General Licence was renewed 1st January 2015. An amendment was made which allows Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to reserve the right to exclude the use of General Licence by “certain persons and/or on certain areas of land where there is evidence to suggest that a wild bird or birds have either been killed, injured or taken or where there has been an attempt to do so other than in accordance with a licence, or where General Licences are being misused”.


Species covered by General Licence:

There are currently (2014) 15 species listed under general licence in the UK.

  • Woodpigeon Columba palumbus
  • Feral Pigeon Columba livia
  • Collared dove (Except in NI) Streptopelia decaocto</li>
  • Herring Gull (Except NI) Larus argentatus
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
  • Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
  • (Carrion) Crow Corvus corone
  • Hooded Crow (Scotland only) Corvus cornix
  • Rook Corvus frugilegus
  • Jackdaw Corvus monedula
  • Magpie Pica pica
  • Jay (Except in NI) Garrulus glandarius
  • Canada Goose (England only) Branta canadensis
  • House Sparrow (except England) Passer domesticus
  • Starling (Except England) Sturnus vulgaris
  • In 2003 Ruddy Duck were added to the general licence in England to prevent them flying to southern Europe and hybridising with the closely-related White-headed Duck. This licence requires reports of numbers of Ruddy Ducks killed or taken to be filed with Defra.



For someone to act under the authority of a General Licence, a person must:

  • be satisfied that they are eligible to do so (eligibility is licence-specific and in most cases there is a condition preventing use of the licences by persons who are convicted of wildlife crimes after 01 January 2010)
  • act within the provisions of the relevant General Licence and therefore the law. This means that it is the holder’s responsibility to read the conditions of the licence to ensure that their situation is covered, and to comply with these conditions. However, there is no requirement to carry a paper copy of the relevant General Licence.
  • control can only be carried out by “authorised persons”: an authorised person is defined as the owner or occupier of land, or persons authorised by them to carry out pest control.
  • There is no power to grant licences for the purpose of preventing serious damage to property with respect to birds.

redmorearrowNote that it is not necessary to prove that one particular bird or flock was causing a problem, nor is it necessary for individuals to hold copies of the general licences, or apply for one. They are published by the Government and copies are available from the issuing authority or can be viewed on their website.

Consultation Sept 2014

A consultation was sent to interested parties asking about additions and changes to the General Licence. It was this consultation that triggered media stories about Pied Wagtails being killed if they get trapped in supermarkets etc: this proposal was rejected as outlined in the pdf linked to below:

General Licence Board summary: 2014


More Information




Page updated February 2015

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