SCOTLAND'S 'General Licence' system for pest control is to be the subject of a 12-week consultation, Scottish Natural Heritage has confirmed.

The environment and wildlife quango admitted that its existing plans to review the system in 2020 had been brought forward due to the 'complicated situation' in England, where all General Licence arrangements – which allow users to control wild birds or destroy their nests if they are threatening damage to crops, livestock or public health – were abruptly scrapped a fortnight ago under legal threat from a pressure group led by wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham.

SNH’s head of National Operations, Robbie Kernahan, said: “We want to ensure that General Licences in Scotland are clear, proportionate and fit-for-purpose.

“Our General Licences cover relatively common situations – such as preventing agricultural damage and protecting public health and safety – when there’s unlikely to be any conservation impact on a species. As with any licence, we need to ensure that General Licences strike the appropriate balance between species conservation and a range of other legitimate interests.

“We would like to reassure those who are currently operating under General Licences in Scotland that these remain in place, allowing those who comply with the conditions to continue to use them,” stressed Mr Kernahan.

The consultation will ask stakeholders for their views about how General Licences work in practice, what they should cover, and how they are worded.

BASC vice chairman Eoghan Cameron commented: “The shooting, rural and farming community in Scotland is understandably fearful of the situation around general licences having seen the chaos that has unfolded in England in the last few weeks. SNH has recognised that depth of feeling and has moved to reassure people that it will listen to the views of the public and stakeholders. BASC will remain in close contact with SNH over all aspects of species licensing.”

Chair of NFU Scotland’s Environment and Land Use committee, Angus MacFadyen, a hill farmer from Argyll, said: “General licences are an extremely important regulated mechanism that allows farmers and crofters to protect their crops, livestock and local wildlife from particular species that can cause problems.

“We welcome the reassurances from SNH that, for those who are currently making use of general licences in Scotland, that these remain in place, allowing those who comply with the conditions to continue to use them. NFU Scotland believes it is vital that these licences are retained in the future to allow an ongoing, pragmatic approach that allows farming and crofting to thrive alongside wildlife."

RSPB Scotland's head of species, Duncan Orr-Ewing, said: “RSPB Scotland accepts that in certain circumstances and as a last resort some birds do need to be killed for specific purposes. However, we have long been concerned that some of the general licences in Scotland are not fit for purpose, and are targeted at species for which there is no evidence that they are having any impact on the conservation status of other species, and are therefore often used merely as cover to increase shootable surpluses of gamebirds.

"We have previously provided SNH with comprehensive evidence that the licences have been misused or deliberately abused. This is a welcome consultation and we hope that SNH take this opportunity to listen to all stakeholders and produce a system of licensing that permits legitimate 'pest control' based solely on robust evidence, where use of the licences is documented and centrally recorded and where the terms and conditions are enforceable.”