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

The laws that affect pigeons, seagulls and you

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Updated February 2020

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

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.

As of 25th of April 2019 Natural England and DEFRA revoked the old system of General Licencing and introduced two new general licences in June 2019 which includes pigeons. The GL35 - General licence to kill or take certain species of wild birds to preserve public health or public safety which includes the feral pigeon and GL36 - General licence to kill or take certain species of wild birds to prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters which includes the feral pigeon and woodpigeon.

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 have made changes to licences for lethal control of herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls and will license gull control through individual licences, which will need to be prioritised. Natural England will consider the strength of need in each licence application individually but generally protecting human life and health will be the overriding priority.

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).

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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