Recently we have seen a number of discussions and reactions relating to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Natural England (NE) for the species of birds and numbers of individuals covered by licences which allow them to be taken or killed. It has been revealed by that FOI that 170,000 wild birds have been lethally controlled in a 5-year period and this included licences for several bird of prey species: Peregrine, Barn Owl, Buzzard, Kestrel and Red Kite.
Avian predators are a natural and essential part of a balanced ecosystem and the Hawk and Owl Trust believes they should be cherished and encouraged. Achieving this is our primary concern. However, the Trust also acknowledges the reality that, on rare occasions, control of individual birds may be necessary; large birds may be posing a threat of airstrike at an airport, individual predators may be targeting a colony of rare birds or birds may be nesting in a tree or structure that is in imminent danger of collapse with risk to the public, for instance.
All wild birds in England are fully protected in law by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, but there is also an option under that Act that allows application for a licence to lethally control birds in situations where they are posing a threat to air safety, public health, and preventing disease or agricultural damage. The Hawk and Owl Trust welcomes the fact that licences must be applied for and that control of individual birds cannot be carried out before first obtaining such a licence. These licences can only be granted once all other avenues have been explored. From Natural England’s own website, it says:
“A successful applicant must clearly demonstrate – with supporting evidence – that: actual damage or a problem is occurring; the species is actually causing the damage or problem; other reasonable and practical non-lethal alternatives have been considered and tried (such as scaring, trapping or proofing); the action is proportionate; and the conservation status of the species will not be negatively affected.”
We are unable to comment on individual licences, but overall figures suggest that in that 5-year period the majority of birds controlled were geese, ducks and gulls, alongside Cormorants (inland fisheries), Wood Pigeons and Starlings. According to NE’s records, the very few licences for Peregrine, Buzzard, Red Kite and Kestrel were all given for preserving air safety.