The Law that affects Pigeons & Seagulls | Lawful removal of Birds

The laws that affect pigeons, seagulls and you

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5th February 2018

It is the property owner’s responsibility to ensure any works carried out are legal, no matter if 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.

Anybody that experiences a wild-bird-related problem should be aware that whether they deal with the problem themselves, or whether they 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.

General Licences to kill wild birds

*As of Thursday 25th of April 2019 Natural England and DEFRA have revoked the system of General Licencing for controlling 16 species of birds including Feral Pigeons. They intend to introduce species specific licensing over the next few weeks to replace the General Licence. As yet, nothing has been published regarding the Feral Pigeon and some species of Gull. We will publish the findings here as soon as we know what has been decided. In the meantime, individual licenses can be obtained through the government website.*

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.

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. You cannot kill Herring Gulls under a General Licence. You can only remove or destroy their nests and eggs under a General Licence for the purposes of health and safety.

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).

Discarded human waste can attract birds and rodents

The United States of America

In the United States, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act 1918 protects native wild birds, making it illegal to kill them or remove their nests. If it is absolutely necessary to do so, a permit must be obtained. To remove a nest without a permit, you must wait until the nest is completely vacated. That being said, the pigeon is an exception to this law as it is an introduced species to America and is considered non-native.

Individual states have their own laws concerning pigeons. Some states allow poisoning while others see it as animal cruelty. Most allow shooting as the most effective way of killing pigeons, and although you don’t need a special licence, a basic hunting licence is required. In fact, hunting pigeons is a recognised sport.

Seagulls are classed as migratory and therefore are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This makes it illegal to pursue, hunt, kill or sell gulls as well as being against the law to disturb, destroy or move any active seagull nest. It doesn’t even discriminate between dead or alive birds and it offers protection to bird parts, including individual feathers, eggs and nests. The only way to cull seagulls is with a special permit issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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