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Open consultation Detail of call for evidence


This call for evidence seeks views on the use of general licences for the management of certain wild birds.

The closing date is 5pm Monday on 13 May 2019.

1. Background

On 25 April 2019 Natural England revoked three general licences, issued under s.16 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, for the management of certain wild birds. This decision followed a legal case brought against Natural England. The general licences (known as GL04, GL05, GL06) operated in England and enabled the use of lethal control against certain wild birds’ species for a number of purposes in relation to public health and safety, protection of crops and livestock and the conservation of wildlife.

The revocation of these licences has had consequences on individuals and organisations across England. There has been significant uncertainty and disruption and a range of views have been expressed publicly about the effects of the action Natural England has taken on businesses and wildlife.

On 4 May 2019 the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England agreed that the legal powers relating to these general licences would be exercised by the Secretary of State from that date. This means that all decisions relating to the future grant or revocation of these types of general licence for the time being are a matter for the Secretary of State to consider and determine. Natural England retains statutory responsibilities to advise the Secretary of State on these matters.

Read the exchange of letters explaining the reasons for this change:

  • letter from Natural England chair to Environment Secretary

  • letter from Environment Secretary to Natural England chair

2. The legal context

The general licences which now fall to the Secretary of State to consider are those issued under section 16(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

These provisions enable the Secretary of State to issue a licence for specified purposes enabling people lawfully to take certain actions in relation to wild birds (including killing them). The purposes are those set out in the following paragraphs of section 16(1):

  • (c) conserving wild birds

  • (cb) conserving flora and fauna

  • (i) preserving public health or public or air safety,

  • (j) preventing the spread of disease and

  • (k) preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters

Under section 16(1A) of the Act the Secretary of State may only issue a licence for one of the purposes listed in section 16(1) if he is satisfied that there is “no other satisfactory solution” as regards that purpose. There are also conditions around the scope and scale of the licences that can be issued.

3. Evidence sought

As part of his new responsibilities the Secretary of State is initiating this call for evidence to the public. At this stage the Secretary of State is considering what action he might take to resolve the immediate issues that have arisen. He considers that there is an urgent need for clarity. He therefore intends to make a decision within a short timeframe. He will take into account views and evidence already communicated to him and to Natural England; and the views and evidence generated by this process.

In these circumstances, the closing date for provision of views and evidence is Monday 13 May 2019. The Secretary of State then intends to take a further week to consider the evidence gathered and make a decision. It is important to note that there will be a separate review of general licences later in the year and there will be a further opportunity to submit evidence and views at that point. That is likely to provide an opportunity for a more detailed review of the issues.

For the purpose of resolving the immediate issues resulting from the withdrawal of GL04, GL05 and GL06 we are interested in receiving evidence about the following, in particular:

1) Your views on the alternatives to killing or taking a specific bird species for:

  • Conserving flora and fauna

  • Preserving public health or safety

  • Preventing serious damage or disease (serious damage relates to serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber fisheries or inland waters) In particular, what are these alternatives and to which bird species do they relate? In your experience or evidence, how effective and practicable are they?

2) Your experience or evidence of any benefits that were delivered by the three revoked general licences?

3) Your experience or evidence of any problems with or caused by the three revoked general licences. Are there any conditions, in your view, that could be attached to general licences to address these issues?

4) Your experience or evidence of any problems caused by the revocation of the three revoked general licences.

4. How to respond

To respond to this call for evidence please email including any supporting documents. The closing date for evidence is 5pm on Monday 13 May.

Postal submissions can be made to:

General Licence Evidence, Wildlife, 1st floor, Seacole, 2 Marsham St, London, SW1P 4DF

These must be received by the Department before the closing date.

Due to the time constraints of this call for evidence, if you are a membership organisation it would be of great assistance if responses could be collated on behalf of your members and provided as one submission.

5. About You

In your response please state whether you are replying on behalf of an organisation or as a member of the public.

If you are replying on behalf of an organisation or organisations:

  • Which organisation(s)?

  • What is your name and position?

  • What is your email address?

6. Confidentiality and data protection information

Information in responses to this call for evidence may be subject to release to the public or other parties in accordance with the access to information law (these are primarily the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs), the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA)).

Defra may publish the content of your response to this call for evidence to make it available to the public without your personal name and private contact details (for example name and email address).

If you want your response kept confidential, please clearly state what information you would like to be kept confidential and why. This is to help us balance these obligations for disclosure against any obligation of confidentiality. If we receive a request for the information that you have provided in your response to this call for evidence, we will take full account of your reasons for requesting confidentiality of your response, but we cannot guarantee that confidentiality can be maintained in all circumstances.

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