Latest News from BPCA

26 February 2021

Natural England: Gull control licence screening explained


2020 was not a great year for gull licences in England. Many licences were far too late to be effective. Some never arrived at all, and many were turned down without reasons being given.

We caught up with David Brown, Senior Adviser for Bird Licensing at Natural England, to see what has changed this year to make the process fit for purpose.


Thanks for joining us, David. Can you tell us a bit about how the new licence screening process works?
The process covers conservation, public health and safety licensing purposes; the latter chiefly comprising the control of large gulls.

Because the process is designed specifically for these purposes, the questions we ask can be much more specific.

Screening gives us an instant summary of what we need and prevents delays at both ends. Very quickly we can confirm if you have a genuine licensing need or otherwise.

What evidence are you looking for, specifically when we’re trying to get a gull control licence for public health and safety?
We are looking for two main things.

Firstly, information relating to the specific risk of not controlling gulls in this circumstance. Spell it out to us; what’s likely to happen if you don’t manage the gulls on site? Provide as much evidence as you can for this.

Remember, nuisance or inconvenience is not licensable. There has to be a clearly defined risk to public health and safety.

Secondly, we need to know the alternatives to lethal control that you’ve tried. You’re required to have tried everything reasonably practical before permission for lethal control can be granted.

If there isn’t anything that you could reasonably do, you need to tell us why: is it unlikely to work? Can the client not afford it?

Use your full knowledge of the site, gull behaviour and your client to evidence this. Lethal control should be seen very much as a last resort.

What happens after you go through the screening process? Do you then need to fill out a full A08 licence application?
You’ll get a reply from us saying if you’re likely to get a licence or not. If you are, you’ll get a prepopulated A09 form (rather than the usual A08) and you will need to complete this by providing the evidence which you confirmed during screening.

If we don’t think you’re likely to be granted a licence, we will inform you promptly. You may wish to reapply via screening if circumstances change or you are in receipt of more evidence.

Whatever the decision, we aim to respond to your registration far quicker than last year.

Whatever the decision, we aim to respond to your registration far quicker than last year.

David Brown, Natural England

What’s the difference between A08 and A09?
A08 is a general form for individual bird licence applications and remains on the page. However, we felt that it is not particularly well suited to this area of licensing work and have made some changes.

The A09 form is an amended version of the A08 and, on the face of it, it looks very similar. Some notable differences are that it’s prepopulated for you based on your screening application, and has space for your screening reference number.

It’s more focused on this specialist area of licensing than the more general A08 form.

Where can you access the screening form? It’s not on the website.
For a number of technical reasons a direct link to the screening form is not available on the page but rather a link to it, labelled screening form via the following email address – email us at and we will send you the link.

Who is determining how much of a risk constitutes a danger to public health and safety? How much risk is required for a successful application?
We have a team of people doing the screening and sending out the responses.

When a risk is unclear, the case is highlighted and then escalated to a specially convened group with the relevant experience. We then assess the risk based on the information you supply.

A lot of evidence comes after the problem has happened. Some places like schools and hospitals won’t give us access to CCTV footage, accident books etc. Can customer testimonies be useful?
Testimonies can be useful evidence, as long as these are clearly explained, together with an explanation as to why some evidence cannot be submitted.

Tell us why you can’t provide accident books, photos, CCTV etc. An application will also have greater merit where information comes from the person or organisation who has sought help from a pest controller.

Essentially, we need to know why you are proposing to do what you want to do. Sometimes pest controllers assume we know the risks (and in many cases we do) but we need to hear it from you – that’s a key part of the licensing process.

For example, I have seen applications which note nesting material is likely to cause water ingress. They’re almost there, but we need more information - what risk does water ingress present in this instance?

Evidence of damage to buildings is not appropriate under this purpose. Building damage is an entirely different purpose to public health and safety.

The specific and well-defined risk to health and safety should be front and centre of your application.

The specific and well-defined risk to health and safety should be front and centre of your application.

David Brown, Natural England

Why do we have to tell Natural England things you already know? You know water ingress can cause roofs to collapse. You know gulls can’t be deterred.
Because it’s part of the licensing process and legally required. You must satisfy the licensing tests on every application.

You can cite your knowledge and experience of gull behaviours on similar sites in support, but we need to be able to assess what is happening at the specific site in question.

Some people can’t afford the netting. How do we approach this?
In your application, explain what deterrents have been used (or why deterrents are unlikely to work). Explain why the cost is prohibitive, ie the roof is too big or the customer can’t afford it, and we will factor this into our assessments.

How are we meant to know how many eggs we’re likely to find before we’ve been issued a licence?
You have to make a reasonable estimate. If you were to receive a licence, it can be amended if circumstances change and subject to the tests continuing to be met.

Use the free text box to talk about the maximum amount of eggs you could be removing but let’s be clear – where activity is carried out under licence, we must carefully and continually review the impact on birds of conservation concern and where at all possible avoid the removal of large numbers of eggs.

We can discuss the details around proportionality with you during the full application process.

Do you distinguish between taking adult birds and eggs when assessing an application?
Yes, we use a mathematical formula which essentially converts eggs to adult birds. One egg does not equal one breeding adult, and our assessment process reflects that.

Can we apply for one licence for a whole area? For example, an industrial estate all experiencing the same problem?
It’s possible. It’ll depend on the size of the site, if all the landowners are in agreement etc.

If everyone agrees and the risk to public health and safety is the same for each site in the area, we could combine into one application. This should be expressed during screening.

How long is the screening process and application likely to take? Time is critical when we’re trying to control a nest before eggs hatch.
This was an issue last year. In some cases, delays meant that chicks had hatched before a licence was granted.

The screening process will provide a response within 10 days but in reality approximately 48 hours.

The screening process also helps us prioritise applications, meaning those time-critical cases can be identified promptly.

You’re likely to get most of your licence applications at the same time in March and April. Are you ready?
You’re right. This is a relatively small window in licensing terms and we expect the majority of applications to be submitted in February to March, mostly comprising gull licence applications.

We’ve assumed we’ll get a similar number of applications as last year and we’ve assembled a team to deal with these on that basis.

We’ve got a clear escalation route with experienced advisers meeting daily and we’re confident we can meet the demand, even during the peak season.

Could we see organisation licences being granted to pest control companies or coordinated campaigns with local authorities to support gull control programmes?
We’ve got plans to try and pilot some schemes soon - watch this space.

How’s it going?

We’re keen to hear how gull licensing is working on the frontlines. If you have a comment about your experiences of the screening process, let us know!

Source: PPC102

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