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Lethal and Non-Lethal Control of Wild Birds

Not only can untamed birds be annoying and fierce (e.g. geese, gulls, and pigeons), they can also cause health and safety issues for businesses and farm managers.

This guide explains the best methods for preventing problems caused by wild birds (e.g. to farms, fisheries, and land) and how to get a licence to capture or kill a wild bird.

Solving Wild Bird Issues Without a Licence

The law gives protection for wild birds in England. Even so, you do not need a licence for certain ‘non-lethal’ measures of bird control.

Hence, there are ways to try and resolve a wild bird problem before you apply for a licence to use lethal action.

But, even though birds get used to ‘habituation’ (repetition) you should still use non-lethal methods whenever practical and possible.

Important: You must follow the exact conditions of any licence to capture or kill wild birds, damage their eggs, or remove their nests.

Some of the most simple and effective methods of non-lethal bird control in the United Kingdom, include things like:

  • Audible and visual devices (e.g. scarecrows) to scare animals of flight away from the area (it can include shooting as scare tactics).
  • Maintaining a ‘human’ presence on open land tends to deter birds from most locations.
  • Restricting their access to easy sources of food.
  • Stopping birds from nesting or roosting on land and buildings (e.g. install open-mesh bird netting over and around any vulnerable areas).
  • Taking steps to make any nearby habitats less attractive and more difficult to access.
  • Use physical bird deterrents (e.g. spike systems) and other barriers (e.g. chemical foggers, mechanical spiders) to keep them away from the site.

In most cases, using a range of different methods – and changing them on a regular basis – will help to combat bird habituation and achieve the best outcome.

Unless you are the landowner, you would need their permission to carry out activities to prevent damage caused by wild birds on land or business premises.

Note: Natural England has a wildlife management advice notice that explains more about using legal measures to resolve conflict with wild birds (WML-GU01).

Controlling Birds on a Site of Special Scientific Interest

You (or the landowner) may need to get consent for a proposed operation or management change on land on or near to sites of special scientific interest (SSSI).

Natural England also issues an assent (advice and approval) to carry out works that are likely to damage a site of special scientific interest (e.g. airport authorities and other public bodies).

SSSI Enquiries
Farm and Conservation Service
Natural Englan
County Hall
Spetchley Road
Telephone: 03000603900
Mail: [email protected]

Note: The main section contains more advice and information about wildlife and conservation of animal habitats in the United Kingdom.

Protecting Fisheries from Birds that Eat Fish

Some of the non-lethal strategies help to protect fisheries from birds that prey on fish stocks. On top of standard bird management methods, you may have further success by:

  • Creating fish refuges below the surface (e.g. using cages and netting) to protect them against predator birds (e.g. cormorants, grey heron, sawbill ducks).
  • Enclosing the site by installing nets to stop birds getting to the fish stocks.
  • Fitting ropes or wires above the water surface to deter wild birds from landing on it.
  • Not increasing fish stocks during months when most fish-eating birds will be present (e.g. from November to February).
  • Planting lily pads or reeds on top of the water to produce extra cover (or not removing fallen trees).

Protecting Crops from Bird Damage

Preventing wild birds from damaging land and water in the United Kingdom.Landowners and managers can also use some of the non-lethal methods to protect crops from bird damage.

So, if wild birds are causing problems and damaging your crops, you could try:

  • Fitting high visibility barrier tape across the crops while they are in the growing stage.
  • Installing high fences or hedges around the field perimeters to break up the sight lines. It may also help to stop wild geese walking from watering holes to feeding sites.

Lethal Methods of Controlling Wild Birds

You do not need a wildlife licence to take or kill most quarry birds (species of game and wildfowl) during an open season.

But, if you are unable to resolve the wild bird problem using only non-lethal methods, you would need a wildlife licence (free of charge) to take further action.

Note: The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) website contains more information about quarry birds (those hunted as game or prey) and shooting seasons.

Licences to Capture or Kill Wild Birds

General licences allow for the killing or capturing of wild bird species ‘legally’. In some situations, it also means you can remove or destroy a bird’s eggs and nest.

Even though there is no requirement to apply for a general licence, you must follow the exact conditions of use as stated.

The general licences issued for the killing or taking of wild birds include:

  • (GL40) A general licence to kill or take certain species of wild birds to conserve endangered wild birds, or flora and fauna.
  • (GL41) A general licence to kill or take certain species of wild birds to preserve public health or public safety.
  • (GL42) A general licence to kill or take certain species of wild birds to prevent serious damage.

The information in the licence will state which species of wild birds can be killed or captured. You would need to register for a class licence or make an application for an individual licence if it doesn’t cover the species that is causing the problem.

Legalised Control Methods

You must use one of the allowed methods as stated in the relevant licence when killing wild birds, which are:

You must also…

  • Comply with the conditions set out in the licence when cage trapping and dispatching wild birds under Defra and Natural England licences (GL33).
  • Meet all the requirements according to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (WML-GU02).

You can remove or destroy a nest without needing a licence providing you are certain that birds are not going to re-use it.

Note: Schedule ZA1 birds are species that reuse their nests (e.g. the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), osprey (Pandion haliaetus), and white-tailed eagle (Haliaetus albicilla)).

Using a Class Licence to Control Wild Birds

You must follow the registration process, and then report any action taken, if you are using either of the two (2) class licences.

Class Licence for Air Safety Purposes

The (CL12) is a licence to catch alive or kill wild birds on or around an aerodrome (up to 13 kilometer radius) to preserve air safety (e.g. Canada geese, mallards, rooks, woodpigeons).

Licences to Remove Birds from Food Premises

The (CL03) is a licence to preserve public health or safety by taking birds that are trapped in food premises (e.g. blackbirds, house sparrows, robins, starlings) using mist-nets or cage-traps.

Individual Licences for Wild Bird Control

Natural England issues individual licences for wild bird problems not already covered in other permits. You would need to:

Note: You should make any related application for planning permission before applying for an individual licence and allow up to thirty (30) working days to receive the permit.

Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls

You cannot get a general licence to kill herring gulls or the lesser black-backed gull species. instead, you would need:

  • Application form for licence (A08) to control specific gulls and other wild birds (e.g. for preventing disease or agricultural damage).
  • Report form for actions taken under licence (A09) (for conserving plants and animals or protecting public health and safety).
To protect fisheries you would need…
  • (A06) to kill or take fish-eating birds (e.g. cormorants) that are causing significant damage to a fishery.
  • (A06a) to control cormorants that are causing serious damage within a defined area or catchment.
  • (A07) for controlling goosanders, herons, and mergansers.

Meeting the Criteria for Individual Licences

The criteria for using an individual licence for lethal bird control is strict in the United Kingdom. Thus, you would need to show that you followed the instructions set out below before killing birds or destroying eggs to prevent serious damage to:

  • Crops (includes fruit and vegetables)
  • Fisheries
  • Growing timber
  • Inland waters
  • Livestock (and foodstuffs used for feeding them)

Natural England assesses applications against the following criteria to ensure all proposed solutions are practical and suitable.

  1. Ruling Out Non-Lethal Solutions

    You must be able to show that you already tried all reasonable non-lethal solutions (or ruled them out) and explain which methods you tried. They will not accept a rejection of alternative solutions simply because doing so would be inconvenient. However, you will be able to provide any relevant supporting evidence (e.g. photographs).

  2. Proving Wild Birds are Causing Damage

    Natural England needs to see proof of wild birds causing ‘serious’ damage or being a problem. It can include evidence from diary entries of past experiences on the site if the damage is not yet evident (e.g. by sending photographs, records of bird behaviour, and the size and cost of livestock lost or crops damaged).

  3. Resolving the Problem ‘Effectively and Proportionately’

    They will expect you to show that the method you plan on using to solve the wild birds issues will not be disproportionate (e.g. propose specific action to solve the problem).

Shooting Gamebirds in Close Seasons

Natural England do not issue licences to shoot or control game birds during a close season, even if you can prove the birds are causing damage. Another section explains more about the rules for hunting and shooting wildlife in Britain and Northern Ireland.

Wild birds can create risks to aircraft during close seasons. In this case, the airport authority can get help from a police wildlife crime officer stationed in the local area.

Related Help Guides about Wildlife

Note: The main section has information about wildlife and biodiversity enforcement laws that highlight the protection of the natural environment in the United Kingdom.

Preventing Wild Birds from Damaging Land and Businesses in United Kingdom