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Defra have compiled a list of answers to frequently asked questions relating to the release of game birds under licence, which we have reproduced below. If any NGO member has an issue with their application or needs help, please get in contact with your regional chairman or development officer. 

The application process for an individual licence for next season

Which gamebird releases will be covered by GL43 in 2024?

Gamebird release activity which takes place only on a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) or within its 500m buffer zone in England will continue to be covered by the GL43 licence, which expires on 30 May 2025. You must not release common pheasants or red-legged partridges on a SAC or within its buffer zone under GL43 if the site is also designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) or is within the buffer zone of a SPA.

Can I release gamebirds on a Special Protection Area in 2024?

The new general licence (GL45) covering gamebird release on or within 500m of 30 listed SPAs has now been published on GOV.UK. Please follow this link to find out which SPAs are covered by the new GL45 licence: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gamebirds-licence-to-release-common-pheasants-or-red-legged-partridges-on-specified-special-protection-areas-or-within-500m-of-their-boundary-gl45/gl45-licence-to-release-common-pheasants-or-red-legged-partridges-on-specified-special-protection-areas-or-within-500m-of-their-boundary. If you intend to use GL45, please ensure that you can comply with all the conditions.

You will need to apply for an individual licence to release gamebirds on or within 500m of a SPA that is not listed in GL45 or you cannot comply with the conditions in GL45. You can apply for an individual licence via this email address: GLEnquiries@defra.gov.uk. You can find advice on how best to apply for an application here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gamebirds-licence-to-release-common-pheasants-or-red-legged-partridges-on-specified-special-protection-areas-or-within-500m-of-their-boundary-gl45/gl45-licence-to-release-common-pheasants-or-red-legged-partridges-on-specified-special-protection-areas-or-within-500m-of-their-boundary

How can I tell if my gamebird release would take place within a SPA or its buffer zone?

Magic Maps is a publicly accessible mapping tool that can be used to view protected areas, their boundaries, and 500m buffer zones. To find out if your gamebird release would take place within a SPA or its buffer zone go to https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gamebirds-licence-to-release-common-pheasants-or-red-legged-partridges-on-specified-special-protection-areas-or-within-500m-of-their-boundary-gl45/gl45-licence-to-release-common-pheasants-or-red-legged-partridges-on-specified-special-protection-areas-or-within-500m-of-their-boundary for instructions.

If I applied for an individual licence in 2023, will I get the same outcome if I apply again this year?

We must respond to the emerging evidence and changing risks of avian influenza (in particular). An applicant for an individual licence should have no expectation that they will have the same licence outcome in the 2024 season as they received in the 2023 season. 

We recommend that if you require an individual licence to release gamebirds in a SPA or the buffer zone, that you pause ordering gamebirds and adapt your business planning until your application has been determined. It is the responsibility of gamebird producers and keepers to ensure the health and welfare of dependant animals in their care and to apply and adjust contingency plans, with private vet input, in response to changing circumstances as set out in the statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Practices. 

Will I be put at a disadvantage if I didn’t apply for an individual licence in the 2023 season?

Each individual application will be assessed based on the available evidence, regardless of whether previous applications have been made for the same site. We would encourage people to apply for an individual licence where necessary, even if you have not previously held such a licence. If you have any questions or are unsure if you need an individual licence, please contact: GLEnquiries@defra.gov.uk.

If I must apply for another individual licence for next season, when will the window for applications open?

The application window is now open. You can now apply for an individual licence via this email address: GLEnquiries@defra.gov.uk. We recommend that you submit your application as soon as possible, as this will allow us to consider the combined effect of all the planned releases at each site.

If significant releases have already been authorised for your release site, Defra may need to refuse your application or reduce the density of gamebirds you are allowed to release in order to limit the combined effects of planned releases at each site.

Will I have the same conditions and release date next year?

An applicant for an individual licence should have no expectation that they will have the same conditions and release date in the 2024 season as they received in the 2023 season.

Will the gamebird density thresholds for SPAs in GL45 be the same as the 2023 season?

Any gamebird release activity on/in the buffer of SPAs in 2024 will be subject to the same maximum thresholds as in 2023. This applies a maximum threshold of 700 birds per hectare in the SPA and 1000 birds per hectare in the buffer zone.

What are the thresholds for individual licences?

The thresholds for gamebird release on or in the buffer zones of SPAs are subject to site-specific risk assessments.

When does a vet inspection have to take place?

The vet inspection under condition 4 of GL45, must take place within the 24 hours before release. Therefore, if the gamebirds are inspected at the game farm, then the date of release into the wild, which is an offence without a licence, must be recorded as the date the gamebirds are placed into pens or release areas. If that is the case then the gamebirds cannot be placed into the pens until after the GL45 comes into effect, i.e. on 31 May.

How will Defra monitor / enforce compliance of the conditions of individual licences?

We will undertake targeted inspections of gamebird release sites to monitor compliance with relevant conditions. If you believe you have witnessed unlicensed gamebird releases taking place you should report that to your local police by calling 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


Will you be updating the GL when the poultry register requirements change in Oct?

We will consider whether GL45 requires an update once the changes to the poultry registration come into force on 1 October 2024. Currently, if you keep 50 or more birds, you are required to register as a keeper on the poultry register, using the compulsory registration form, within one month of keeping 50 or more birds on your premises. Please refer to the link provided in the GL45 as follows: Poultry and other captive birds: registration rules and forms - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

This does apply to keeping 50 or more gamebirds; however, registration on the poultry register is a legal requirement under the following regulation: The Avian Influenza (Preventive Measures) (England) Regulations 2006 (legislation.gov.uk)

Are there any delayed release date on GL45?

Condition 7 specifies a delayed release date of 7th September for the release of common pheasants on Peak District Moors SPA and its 500m buffer zone. Delayed releases are not required for gamebird releases on any other SPAs named in GL45.

Does the delayed release date of condition 7 of the GL45, for the Peak District Moors SPA only apply to common pheasants?

Yes. The delayed release date of 7 September is for common pheasants. It does not apply to red-legged partridge.

Does condition 7 of the GL45, for the Peak District Moors SPA, also apply to the buffer zone?

Yes. Condition 7 provides you must not keep or release common pheasants with or without pens (including temporary pens) before 7 September 2024 on the Peak District Moors SPA or within its 500-metre buffer zone.

Why does the Wash SPA specific condition 7 in GL45 only permit the release of red-legged partridge?

Condition 7 of the GL45 only permits the release of red-legged partridge because the Secretary of State could not rule out the adverse impacts from the release of common pheasants on the internationally protected species present on the Wash SPA. This is because there is cogent evidence based on the site-specific and gamebird species-specific risk assessments. It was also determined that the risk posed by common pheasants could not be reduced via additional mitigating conditions (e.g. delayed release date).

I had an individual licence last year - does the licence roll over?

No. Individual gamebird licences granted in 2023 do not roll over to permit releases in 2024. If the SPA that you plan to release on is named on GL45 you can release gamebirds under GL45 provided that you comply fully with GL45 conditions. If the SPA that you plan to release on is not named on GL45 or you are not able to comply with the conditions of GL45 you will need to apply for a new individual licence to release gamebirds on or within 500m of an SPA in 2024.

Current licence conditions

Can I release gamebirds if I haven’t released them already under my current licence?

Individual licences stipulate the number of gamebirds that can be released under the conditions of that licence, and before the expiration date of the licence. The total number of releases cannot exceed the number stipulated on the licence during the licensing period.

Consultation on changes to gamebird release policy

Did you consult the gamebird industry and shooting communities before making changes to the approach to gamebird release licencing for 2024?

We have engaged with a range of representatives from the shooting sector and environmental non-governmental organisations (eNGOs) with an interest in gamebird release, encouraging these stakeholders to share evidence and suggestions for the approach to gamebird release licencing. We aim to continue this engagement throughout the 2024 season.

Information sharing

Can I request access to all the documentation relating to my application in 2023 including how the decision was made?

If you would like to request access to the documentation relating to your own application, please contact GLEnquiries@defra.gov.uk.

Can I request information about the decisions made for any application?

Yes, you can. If you want to request information about the decisions made for applications, for which you were not the applicant, you can make a EIR / FOI request via the Defra helpline - helpline@defra.gsi.gov.uk. Please note that we will assess requests and apply exemptions / redactions on a case-by-case basis.

Avian Influenza

Did you update your evidence base / risk assessment before making licensing decisions for the 2024 season?

Yes, we gathered additional information regarding the detailed distribution of qualifying species on SPAs to make effective decisions and to be able process applications quickly and efficiently. We have carried out workshops with HPAI/avian disease experts and sector stakeholders/avian behaviour experts to try to improve our assessment of risk at the site level as well as how best, and to what extent, this risk can be managed. We will draw on the best available information to inform licencing decisions in 2024.

Can Defra explain why the release of mallards are not in scope given the high risk of Avian Influenza transmission shed for up to 3 weeks. Will they be in scope for 2025?

The scientific evidence currently does not require any need to consider regulating mallard release in an area which is classified as a special protection area. This is because the density of release activity is low and the National Avian Influenza transmission risk levels are currently low. However, Defra officials will continue to monitor national risk levels and consider whether mallard release activity in or around the SPAs will need to be regulated in light of any increased risk to the protected sites at these sites in the future.

Post Implementation Review (PIR)

Why is Defra undertaking a Post Implementation Review (PIR) of the legislation setting out gamebirds licencing requirements?

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (Variation of Schedule 9) (England) (No. 2) Order 2021 contains a review provision which means that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is required to conduct a review of the effectiveness of the current gamebird regulations and publish a report by 30th May 2024.

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