Legal Tips

Countryside Law – Vermin Control V Animal Cruelty

Every week in the media you hear of bins attracting birds and rats. Health and hygiene in food establishments is also a reoccurring item problems with natural wildlife – whether it be seagulls attacking a baby in a pram or uncollected waste of news. We usually refer to these creatures as vermin but in actual fact not everyone is aware of what animal is classed as vermin.


Legislation today regarding the shooting/snaring of vermin has become more and more snarled up with the definitions of what is classed as this. The list of creatures classed as vermin is also not well publicised. However Natural England produces a list which can be found on their website.

The next item to be raised is: what rights do we, the general public, have to control these pests? What are the legal requirements needed to take matters into our own hands and rid our homes and gardens of what we call vermin?

The law on vermin control is not widely known and our media often reports news of instances where people have broken the law trying to control what they view as vermin. E.g. A recent cruelty to animal’s case was reported when a large number of Seagulls were shot in a south coast area. However some people do believe that seagulls are a pest – especially those who may have had food items snatched from their hands on seaside visits! Be aware that Seagulls are not classed as vermin and in fact in some areas of the country there is a worrying decline of certain species. E.g. May 2013 it was reported that the population of lesser black-backed gulls at Bowland – which is a nationally important one – has declined in recent years.

Birds of all species are normally always welcomed in non-agricultural/countryside environments as they are elsewhere.

Sometimes however there are occasions when they do cause problems. Reports of Crows and Magpies in residential areas chasing off or killing small protected song birds are often heard, and they are known to raid nests of smaller birds. Then there are the health hazards caused by the accumulation of bird droppings that may pose a risk to public health and safety, especially where children may play. Ridding yourself of such health hazards in the correct way is allowed providing you abide by the conditions of the law governing this.

Rats are known to be disease carriers and feared by the majority of people, and as Air rifles do not require a licence is it therefore legal to shoot them? Recently there was a case where someone was shooting in their backyard and by ‘accident’ one of the pellets went into the garden next door……surely this must classed as illegal? We do need to know more clearly the law regarding acts like this.

So do we need a license?
Well – yes we do!
The License that can be applied is known as a General licence and this is a set of standardised licences for which you do NOT need to apply for. However if you intend to act under the terms of this licence to control vermin you must abide by the conditions stipulated in the licence terms.

Presently the legalities surrounding these common problems are not clear or publicised enough. The balance of nature using natural predators to control normal vermin is becoming unstable as our urban environments continue to expand and the throw away society encourages over population of certain animals. Consequently if we suspect a case of animal cruelty or become the victim of someone’s ‘accident’ caused by their attempt to control pests it may be difficult to know where to turn for help. Personal injuries need legal advice from a solicitor; suspected animal abuse also requires legal advice and reporting to an official body e.g. police, RSPCA, RSPB. The more people report incidents the better publicity for this whole situation.