General licences in England – Wild Justice legal challenges bring about significant reform

Magpie. Photo: Tim Melling

Today DEFRA released new general licences which will apply in England from 1 January 2021 for the calendar year. This is the most recent move in a sequence which started with Wild Justice’s successful first legal challenge to the legality of these licences’ predecessors back in spring 2019.   Things have certainly moved on thanks to the pebble we threw into this particular pool and the ripples have probably not stopped spreading yet.   All should now stop talking about ‘pest species’ – the licensing system has partly caught up with the science and with the law.  All wild birds are protected by law and can only be killed under specific circumstances when non-lethal measures are ineffective. No native species is listed on all three of these licences any more.   Since spring 2019, and our legal challenge, the following major changes have been made:

  1. The general licences do not automatically authorise killing of species on SSSIs
  2. Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull are removed from these general licences and treated differently under a better (though imperfect) licensing system which has more controls built into it
  3. Rook and Jackdaw are removed from the conservation licence – it will be illegal to kill these two species in future and claim that it is for conservation purposes
  4. The conservation licence is only valid (for killing Carrion Crow, Magpie and Jay) for the purpose of conserving a list of species of conservation priority (not necessarily exactly the right species but certainly a step forward)
  5. There are more details to come on animal welfare aspects of killing these species.

Less than two years ago there were 156 species/purpose combinations under which you could possibly kill species but those combinations have now been reduced to 41. That represents a massive change brought about by our legal challenge.  

We have yet to talk to our lawyers in any detail about these licences and suspect they may identify remaining problems with them, but our judicial review of the Welsh general licences in mid December will possibly elucidate those legal issues (and DEFRA will have to react to the results of that legal case, whatever they might be).  

DEFRA carried out a consultation on these licences last year. We’d like to thank all of you who contributed to that consultation – your views made a difference, without a doubt.  

In all modesty, Wild Justice’s legal challenge has prompted the biggest and most far-reaching reform of general licences ever.  

The general licences for England from 1 January 2021 can be viewed here:

Conservation licence – click here

Serious damage to crops and livestock licence – click here

Public safety – click here