Natural England and the licences it gives airports to kill birds 13km from airport boundary

The law in the UK allows airports to get licences to kill a range of bird species, within an area 13 kilometres from the airport boundary. The licences are issued by Natural England, the body whose description is: “We’re the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England, helping to protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy and for the services they provide”. A large number of species are listed, by Natural England, including Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Mallard, Feral Pigeon, Rook, Starling and Woodpigeon.  Other birds can be killed within 250 metres of the airport boundary, such as Magpie, Carrion Crow, Lapwing and Jackdaw. The killing is meant to be if there is danger to the safety of plane flights. Birds can be trapped, shot, or have their eggs oiled (which kills the chick before it can hatch). According to Natural England, 12,956 birds were culled in 2015-16, with rooks, crows and pigeons making up the largest number.  A FoI request has been submitted to ascertain the number of airports issued with licences recently, the number of birds killed, and the ways in which they were killed.


Natural England

CLASS LICENCE To kill or take certain species of wild birds to preserve air safety



1. Valid for the period 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020 (inclusive)

2. Area valid in All counties of England (landward of the mean low water mark)

3. Purpose(s) for which this licence can be used

This licence can only be used to preserve air safety

4. What this licence permits In relation to the species listed below, this licence permits killing or taking birds, taking or destroying their eggs, and taking, damaging or destroying their nests while that nest is in use or being built.

5. The species covered by this licence

(a) on, or within 13 kilometres (km) of the perimeter of, an aerodrome:

Goose, Canada Branta canadensis Goose, Greylag Anser anser Gull, Great Black-backed Larus marinus Gull, Lesser Black-backed Larus fuscus Gull, Herring Larus argentatus Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Pigeon, Feral Columba livia Rook Corvus frugilegus Starling Sturnus vulgaris Woodpigeon Columba palumbus

(b) on, or within 13 km of the perimeter of, an aerodrome (without the need for non-lethal methods of control to be used):

Goose, Egyptian Alopochen aegyptiacus Parakeet, Ring-necked Psittacula krameri

(c) on, or within the immediate vicinity (up to 250 m) of, the perimeter of the aerodrome:

Crow, Carrion Corvus corone Gull, Black-headed Chroicocephalus ridibundus (formerly Larus ridibundus) Gull, Common Larus canus  Jackdaw Corvus monedula Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Magpie Pica pica


and it continues:


6. The methods of killing and taking permitted under this licence

The methods permitted are:

a. shooting with a firearm/ammunition combination (including a semiautomatic weapon*) appropriate for the species concerned;

b. pricking of eggs;

c. oiling of eggs using paraffin oil (also known as Liquid Paraffin BP or light/white mineral oil);

d. destruction of eggs and nests;

e. a Larsen* trap

f. A multi-catch* cage trap

g. a pen or corral used as a trap;

h. falconry;

i. any hand held or hand propelled net to take birds whilst not in flight;

j. by hand; and

k. in relation to the killing or taking of Feral Pigeon (Columba livia) only:

– any device for illuminating a target or any sighting device for night shooting;

– any form of artificial lighting or any mirror or other dazzling device.

This licence does not authorise the use of any method of killing or taking which is prohibited by section 5 or section 8 of the 1981 Act except those listed above.


……. and it continues for many pages ….



See also:

See earlier:

More intelligent approaches, understanding bird psychology, help cut risk of bird strikes

Safety fears have led to mass culls of birds near airports. But are such drastic measures necessary? It appears that about 70,000 gulls, starlings, geese and other birds have been killed around New York airports since since 2009. They have been killed by shooting, trapping, and sometimes gassing. The CAA say that the number of confirmed bird strikes rose from 1,496 to 1,665 between 2011 and 2015. Only in 6% of cases did it have some kind of operational effect on an aircraft. In many of these incidents, planes aborted take-off, returned to the airport, or diverted to another. According to Natural England, 12,956 birds were culled in 2015-16. Rooks, crows and pigeons made up the largest number. Bird conservation organisations want airports to use less barbaric ways of reduce the risk of bird strikes. There are various technological solutions that may be effective. One bird ecology professor at Exeter university said that it is necessary to understanding of the birds’ point of view. A “sonic net” can be used, which is a noise played across areas to be protected. It needs to be at the same pitch as the alarm calls of birds, or predator noises that they are listening out for. “When birds experience this they either leave the area or their vigilance goes up because they can’t hear each other’s alert calls or a predator coming.” So the birds move away, as it is too risky to stay.

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German study indicates plane noise near Tegel airport has an impact on acoustic communication by birds

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen in Germany have found that birds near Berlin’s Tegel airport, one of Europe’s largest, start singing significantly earlier in the morning than their counterparts at quieter locations. What’s more, they discovered that chaffinches stop singing when the noise from air traffic exceeds a threshold of 78 decibels (A). The two most important functions of birdsong are territorial defence and the attraction of a mating partner, and so disturbances to birdsong by noise can impair the birds’ reproductive success. The scientists selected the Jungfernheide forest, immediately adjacent to the airport, with a similar area of forest 4 kilometres away, the Tegeler forest – where the noise was on average 30 decibels lower. Berlin-Tegel airport operates between 06.00 and 23.00, with a plane taking off or landing about every two minutes. with noise levels of up to 87 dB(A) during take-offs and landings. The birds near the airport were found to start singing a bit earlier. This may be to make up for time lost during the day, when they stop singing if the noise gets too loud. The noise of each flight lasts for perhaps 30 seconds, every 2 minutes, So the birds are losing about a quarter of their available communication time while flights are operating. So starting to sing earlier in the morning is clearly worthwhile.

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Gatwick objects to new hospice due to increase in ‘bird strike risk hazard’ – as within 13 km radius of airport

Under guidance from the DfT, airports have to be statutory consultees for any planning application within a radius of 13 km of the airport, that might have an impact on it, for a variety of reasons. One of these is the risk of bird strike, and so new developments that might attract birds are opposed. Now Gatwick Airport has objected to plans for a new hospice and homes in Pease Pottage [south of Crawley, and about 6km south of Gatwick airport] due to an increase in ‘bird strike risk hazard’. St Catherine’s Hospice would provide a 48-bed care facility, and there would also be up to 600 new homes, cafe, a community building, retail units, and a new primary school. The current hospice has only 18 beds, and is not able to cater for the number of people needing palliative support in the area nor has sufficient family areas. Gatwick says the areas of open water in the application would attract birds large enough to endanger planes, including feral geese, duck, grey heron and cormorants – especially if the public feed them. Gatwick also fear the mown grassland would provide a grazing habitat for birds. Gatwick wants minimal water. Airports keep their grassed areas as unappealing to bird life as possible. Gatwick set out, for the Airports Commission, what it would do to “control and where possible reduce bird hazard.”

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Belfast boy wants alternative home for geese facing cull for safety of Belfast City Airport planes

A 10-year-old boy – Jack McCormick – has appealed to Belfast’s Lord Mayor to have geese, considered to be posing a threat to low-flying aircraft, moved to another park. The Lord Mayor has promised to raise the issues in a meeting with George Best Belfast City Airport. “I am an animal lover and would hate to think of anything bad happening to the grey geese at the park,” Jack wrote: “My papa takes me to a great park in Gilnahirk …. It is big, but it has no geese or any animals. Why not move some of your geese from Victoria Park to the park at Gilnahirk? I would make sure that they were well-looked after. If you can’t move them to Gilnahirk, could you not move them to other parks around Belfast?” The authorities prick the eggs so they don’t develop. Jack said (children aren’t stupid!): “Last year I noticed that there wasn’t that many goslings but this year I’m hoping there will be an increase,” he said. “I don’t want any of them to die just because of being near an airport. To be fair, the geese were there first, and then the airport was built there.”

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