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Friday, 30 May 2014

Bushcraft and the Law; General Licences

Many of us who enjoy practising bushcraft would like to be able to sustainably forage our food, a beginning to that might be learning the skills to identify edible plants but eventually we are going to want to take birds, animals and fish as food as well: This is going to be the first article in a short series addressing the law and codes of practice which surround the taking of game and vermin in the UK. Hopefully this will be of use to those who want to branch out their bushcraft practice to include using legal traps, snares and firearms to get yourself a meal. 

This first article is on General Licences

Unlike mammals which are not protected by law unless they are specifically mentioned in the legislation, such as badgers, otters, etc.., all birds are given general protection by legislation. What allows you to kill or take game birds is the game act and it’s various updates and additions and pest birds are covered by the issue of general licences. 
These licences are issued annually by Natural England for England; (http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/regulation/wildlife/licences/generallicences.aspx)
Welsh Government for Wales;
Scottish Natural Heritage for Scotland;

You do not need to apply for a general licence if you are carrying out legitimate control for any of the reasons given in the general licences, but it is worth printing off a copy from the sites listed above and becoming familiar with them. They are renewed on the 1st of January each year so you need to check them as they do change, for example starlings and house sparrows used to appear on the general licence, this is now not the case and those two species are afforded the same protection as any other bird. Species are also occasionally added to the licence and now Canadian Geese, Egyptian Geese and Monk and Ring-necked Parakeets are listed on the licence for; “To kill or take certain birds to conserve flora and fauna (including wild birds)”.

As you can tell from that title the licences are very specific and there are two main ones which will be relevant to the bushcrafter who may use an air rifle or firearm to gather food.

The first is the aforementioned licence; To kill or take certain birds to conserve flora and fauna (including wild birds)
The second; “To kill or take certain wild birds to prevent serious damage or disease”.

These licences include all the species which might be of interest, including wood and feral pigeons, collard doves and Canada geese (this list is not exhaustive, please follow the given links for full copies of these licences). Notice though that the title and wording of these licences does not say “to kill or take certain birds because they are delicious” you need to be aware that if you are shooting wood pigeons to eat, your primary reason for shooting them has to be that you are controlling them to prevent serious damage or disease, ie to prevent damage to crops etc..  Yes once you have shot them you can eat them but that can’t be your reason for killing them. You should also be aware that the killing of species named on the licence should only be carried out if measures to prevent damage, such as scaring or preventing access, are ineffective or impracticable.
 
Pheasants, Partridges, Grouse and other game birds do not appear on the general licences, they are covered specifically by the Game Act 1831 you can shoot these for sport or food under the conditions of that legislation.

Also be aware that if you are going to kill anything for food; bird mammal or fish the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the legislation that preceded it makes it illegal to cause unnecessary suffering, the legislation does not define what unnecessary suffering is so it is open to interpretation in court. But consider this; you will of course be using a legal method of catching or killing something but if you shot a goose with an air rifle and it wasn’t killed instantly that would be considered unnecessary suffering as an air rifle is not suitable for use on quarry that large. Codes of practice, such as those published by BASC, or the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust are good sources of reference for anyone who wants to shot or catch food for the pot and abiding by them will ensure you do not fall foul of the law.


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