The Laws That Affect Pigeons, Seagulls And You

It is the property owner’s responsibility to ensure any works carried out are legal, whether they are doing it themselves or instructing a pest control company. The contractor is not legally liable.

The average person requiring guidance on how to legally and humanely deal with pest birds such as pigeons and seagulls will soon discover that the subject is complex, with many conflicting views available. This overview covers the legal issues surrounding the lawful removal of pigeons and seagulls from your property.

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

The lethal control (killing) of pigeons, seagulls and other wild birds in the UK is legislated by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), courtesy of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (Chapter 69), which effectively reports that it is illegal to kill or injure any wild bird, including pigeons and seagulls, unless general licensing regulations are complied with. All wild birds, their nests and eggs are protected by this law. Under this law, you must not intentionally kill, injure or disturb any wild birds. Also, this applies to when the bird is building a nest or the nest contains eggs or young, or disturb a nest containing chicks. You cannot remove or destroy the eggs of any wild bird.

Anybody that experiences a wild-bird-related problem should be aware that whether they deal with the problem themselves or instruct a contractor to provide controls on their behalf, the responsibility to ensure that those controls are legal lies with them and not the contractor. It is a common misconception that if a contractor provides controls on behalf of a third party, it is the contractor that is held legally liable should the law be compromised – this is not the case; it is the responsibility of the owner of the property upon whose site or building those controls are provided.

Pigeons nesting on a listed building

General Licences to kill wild birds

If you can’t resolve your pigeon issue using non-lethal methods, you may consider culling under a General Licence. These are free and only allowed if the type of work has a low risk for the conservation and welfare of the birds and the conditions written on the licence are followed accurately.

The current General Licencing that can be used for wild birds, including the feral and wood pigeon, came into effect on the 1st of January 2022 and is valid until the 31st of December 2023. General Licence 41 (GL41) can be used by the property owner if the birds are causing public health and safety issues, such as slips and falls, spreading disease and causing problems by nesting. This licence does not have a formal application process, but the conditions of GL41 must be complied with. Remember, all forms of non-lethal bird control like bird spikes must have been considered or tried before using the licence as a last resort.

Genereal Licence 42 (GL42) focuses more on agricultural settings, particularly livestock feed, the spread of diseases and fruit, vegetables and crops. Again this licence must only be used as a last resort.

Baby seagulls nesting on a chimney stack in summer

To undertake a culling operation and to ensure it is within the scope of the law, the property owner must be able to demonstrate the following:

1) The pigeon-related problems being experienced have resulted in, or are likely to result in, a risk to public health or safety.

2) All non-lethal methods of control have been tried and found to fail. Culling cannot be used as a method of control simply because pigeons are causing damage to a property through fouling. Culling for this purpose would always be illegal.

Access to these licences can be obtained online at General Licences for wildlife management.

As of January 2020, Natural England has changed licences for lethal control of herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls. It will license gull control through individual licences, which must be prioritised. You must apply to Natural England, and you will be required to provide evidence to prove that the actions being undertaken will cause no damage to the gull populations. They will consider the strength of need in each licence application individually but generally protecting human life and health will be the overriding priority. The stringent conditions and evidence-based application can be complicated for the average homeowner, and it may be advisable to seek advice from a qualified professional bird control company.

In rural areas, where lethal control has contributed to declining populations, a sustainable number of birds could be killed or taken - equivalent to no more than 5% of the natural mortality total of each species - without harming their conservation status. Control levels of nests, eggs and chicks will not be limited in urban areas, where populations are thought to have better breeding success rates. However, Natural England will continue to promote the use of non-lethal methods such as bird spikes through integrated management strategies that reduce opportunities for gulls to nest and scavenge in problem areas within the built environment.

Animal Welfare Act 2006

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 deals with issues relating to cruelty and unnecessary suffering, deliberate or unintended, to animals and birds. An example might be where birds have become trapped behind nylon bird netting installed on a building and subsequently died of starvation as a result. If the property owner was challenged and faced prosecution on the grounds of cruelty and unnecessary suffering, the above law would most probably be applied and not the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

There is currently no law specifically available to stop a person feeding wild birds. Where the persistent feeding of wild birds such as pigeons and seagulls is deemed unreasonable and detrimental to the local community’s quality of life (for example, a build-up of food attracting rodents), then local authorities and police forces are sometimes turning to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to issue Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) or Community Protection Orders (CPO).

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