Generally speaking

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The GWCT shows how research and advice interacts to deliver conservation policy. Here Mike Swan, the GWCT’s head of education, explains the trust’s involvement with General Licences

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s research has shown the effect of predatory species such as crows on the population performance of game birds, wading birds and songbirds.

What is not commonly appreciated is that the fieldwork to support the research into crow predation has been done under licence.

These have not been special research licences but rather General Licences (formerly Open Licences). This suite of key licences in each of the devolved countries of the UK authorises activities related to the control of certain bird pest species including crows, gulls and pigeons. These are the same licences that land managers operate under when controlling birds for the conservation of flora and fauna (including wild birds) or the prevention of serious damage to livestock and crops. Users don’t need to apply for a personal licence; hence they are general.

Over many years, the GWCT’s research has provided critical information on effectiveness and selectivity that underpins whether it is considered appropriate to make such licences generally and publicly available.

Larsen traps are highly selective and an efficient catcher of corvids but  must be used responsibly to ensure their continued use under license

Larsen traps are highly selective and an efficient catcher of corvids but must be used responsibly to ensure their continued use under license

Starting in the 1980s with the Salisbury Plain Experiment and subsequently the Upland Predation Experiment at Otterburn (2000-2008) and the Allerton Project (since 1992), the GWCT has demonstrated the impact of corvids (crow, magpie, jackdaw and rook) and the effectiveness of mitigating the impact by their removal.

It is now generally accepted that the timely suppression of corvids along with other common predator species significantly improves the chances of ground-nesting birds breeding successfully.

In the 1980s, we pioneered research into the use of Larsen traps, showing that their use with a decoy was efficient and highly selective. Our researchers persuaded the regulators that the use of Larsen traps could reasonably be permitted under a General Licence, exempting it from prohibitions that would otherwise apply, and publishing guidelines on responsible use.

Survey data – including the Trust’s National Gamebag Census – strongly suggests that controlling corvids has not adversely affected their conservation status. These findings have underpinned the licences ever since.

At every review we discuss the terms of these licences with the representatives of each national conservation agency to ensure that changes in species’ conservation status are considered, unclear wording is improved and new techniques are accommodated.

Recently discussions have considered the removal of herring gulls from the licences; the type of bait that should be used; and the emergence of new trap designs. An important issue has been how to improve both the clarity and practioner awareness of these licences.

Failure to follow their conditions is a breach of the law, and a prosecution prevents the individual from operating under them in the future. For this reason we repeatedly remind gamekeepers and others about the licences and the conditions for their use in the training courses that the GWCT’s advisors arrange.

The interactions with General Licences are a good example of how the GWCT’s research, advice and policy work in unison. The Trust aims to ensure that Government and practitioners have confidence in the practical conservation tools needed in a changing world, even as increasing corvid numbers, falling wader and farmland bird numbers, and fewer people with corvid control as a key part of their job, present some fundamental future challenges. In addition, regulators are increasingly considering restrictions on how and when licence users might act to control corvids. There have not yet been proper assessments of the impacts of proposed changes, so the Trust is urging an evidence-led approach to refining and increasing the efficiency of operation under these licences. This would initially be achieved by reviewing the design and use (such as location, season, and number of decoys) of corvid traps, and offering impartial best practice advice where sought.

The suppression of corvids significantly improves  breeding prospects for ground-nesting birds

The suppression of corvids significantly improves breeding prospects for ground-nesting birds

Best practice training

The past few years have seen ever increasing complexity in the licensing and legal regulations governing predator control techniques with the Animal Welfare Act (2006), Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, and the Nature Conservation Scotland Act 2004 in particular throwing up new questions and creating grey areas.

To address this, the GWCT’s best practice courses seek to ensure that predator control is carried out according to all the relevant legal requirements and best practice codes in a way that minimises attempted prosecution and, should it occur, provide the best defence in court. The half-day modules offered are:

  • Snaring
  • Lamping
  • Cage trapping for corvids (including multi-catch crow cages)
  • Tunnel trapping

Each course covers the legal aspects, the methods employed including equipment required and best practice, practical hints and tips and an outdoor demonstration. At the end there is a short test that if passed will result in a Certificate of Attendance.

In Scotland, training in the use of snares became obligatory in 2010. The Trust, in partnership with SGA and BASC, can provide accredited fox and rabbit snare training. For more information please contact our Scottish Headquarters at or call 01738 551511.

Specialist training for part-time keepers

The part-time keepers course is now based at the Trust’s renowned Allerton Project demonstration farm at Loddington. With flourishing game cover crops, new release pens and a rearing field on the doorstep, the Allerton Project has ample examples of best practice management available for inspection and discussion. Combined with a new eco-build visitor centre, clad in straw bales, the farm makes a superb new venue for this long-established three-day course that provides practical advice and guidance on game management to part-time gamekeepers, both amateur and professional.

The legal position on using Larsen traps

The use of Larsen traps is regulated by Open General Licences issued under section 16 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Separate licences are issued by Natural England (NE), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW).

Individual operators do not need to apply for these licences. These licences restrict the use of Larsen traps to authorised persons (effectively landowners or persons with their permission). They also impose a series of licence conditions on the user. These mainly relate to the welfare of the decoy bird. If you follow the guidance given in these hints you should be well within the law, but the following points should be emphasised:

  • Check your trap every day (at intervals of no more than 24 hours);
  • Provide adequate food and water at all times, appropriate shelter and a suitable perch;
  • Only the following seven species can be used as decoys: crow, magpie, rook, jackdaw, jay, ring-necked and monk parakeets;
  • Any non-target captures that are fit for release should be let go as soon as they are discovered and as close as possible to the point of capture;
  • Remove the decoy, food and water if the trap is not in use;
  • Make sure that the trap is rendered incapable of holding or catching birds when in the open and not in use.

It is also important to remember that the licences are issued for only a year at a time, and that they can be amended. It is up to you to ensure that you are aware of the current licence conditions, and that you stick to them. You can view and download the current licences on the NE, SNH and CCW websites.

Please do remember to take note of the welfare points mentioned in this leaflet. Look after your call birds and keep your traps clean. Strict adherence to our guidelines will not only ensure keepers are working within the law, it will also help the public accept this valuable trapping technique.

Nesting songbirds suffer as much as gamebirds  from corvid predation, as this dunnock nest clearly shows

Nesting songbirds suffer as much as game birds from corvid predation, as this dunnock nest clearly shows

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

The GWCT promotes the use science to promote game and wildlife management as an essential part of nature conservation, developing well-researched techniques for conservation work and offering advice to individuals and the government. The GWCT believes in humane and targeted predator control, supports best practice for field sports and advocates the importance of the link between conservation and economic land use.

For more information visit

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Posted in Countryside Law, Pest Control

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