General licences issued under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 authorise, amongst other pest control measures, the control of certain bird pest species including crows, gulls and pigeons.
They are issued for the purposes of the conservation of wild birds, the protection of livestock and crops and the preventing of the spread of disease.
Scottish Natural Heritage issues General Licences in Scotland, while Natural England issues them in England and Wales.
Control activity, so long as it is carried out in accordance with a General Licence, does not require an application to be made to or specific permission obtained from either of the regulatory bodies before it is carried out.
There was controversy in England and Wales at the beginning of April of this year when Natural England, with little or no consultation, revoked existing General Licences and introduced new General Licences in their place.
In particular, the General Licence to control wood pigeons which was issued on the 3rd April, without prior warning, and which replaced and revoked the previously existing Licence, was deemed by industry bodies to be completely unfit for purpose and almost impossible to comply with.
The resulting row led to Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove becoming personally involved, leading to the revocation of the General Licence relating to wood pigeons and two other General Licences also found to be unfit for purpose, and the issue of amended general licences to take into account industry concerns.
Having watched, presumably with concern, the events south of the border, Scottish Natural Heritage has brought forward a Consultation on General Licences in Scotland to make sure that the Scottish Licences take into account the implications of the lessons learned as a result of the uproar surrounding the General Licensing system in England and Wales.
The consultation period runs to 6 September 2019, and all those who rely on General Licences in respect of pest control should take time to read the consultation paper and to respond in order to best protect their interests.