NatureScot (the body formerly known as Scottish Natural Heritage) has issued new general licences for 2022. The majority of 2022 general licences are similar to those issued in 2021.
What are general licences?
In Scotland, many species of wildlife are protected by law. For example, it is an offence to kill, injure or interfere with the habitat of various species of wild bird.
However, it is recognised that certain persons, particularly rural business-owners and workers, will have a legitimate reason for interfering with certain species. The reasons can include to prevent the spread of disease, or protect livestock or crops.
NatureScot publishes annual general licences permitting anyone who falls within their conditions to interfere with identified species in specified circumstances.
Each general licence has its own terms and conditions but, by way of example, GL02/2022 permits authorised persons to kill or take certain birds for the prevention of serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables and fruit.
Under this general licence, a landowner could use permitted traps to capture certain birds. However, to do so, they would need to comply with the conditions of the general licence, which include registering trap operators with NatureScot and ensuring traps that are in use are checked at least once every 24 hours.
What do rural businesses need to do to ensure compliance with the conditions of general licences?
It is imperative that those who make use of general licences comply with their conditions. The first step in that process is understanding the licence conditions and explaining their impact to staff.
The start of the year (and the issue of fresh general licences) is a good opportunity for rural businesses to provide refresher training to staff in this area.
What happens if you fail to comply with the conditions of a general licence?
Failure to comply with a condition of a general licence can lead to criminal prosecution of those responsible. That could include a rural business if (1) its staff fail to comply with the conditions of a general licence and (2) the business cannot show that it had proper systems in place to prevent compliance failures occurring on its land or knew that its staff had failed to comply with the conditions.
In addition, where it considers that wild birds have been taken or killed other than in accordance with a general licence, NatureScot can prevent individuals or whole estates from relying upon general licences. In such cases it may still be possible to apply for an individual licence to undertake the necessary controls.
What is coming next?
The Scottish Government's Programme for Government for 2021 – 2022 commits to a review of the species licensing system "with a view to ensuring that the law is being applied correctly and that lethal control is only licensed where the conditions required for such a licence are demonstrably being met."
It is therefore possible that further amendments will be made to the system of general licences in due course.