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ARCHIVE: Policy: Licensing under section 16 of the Act 1981 (cormorants)


This policy statement relates to licensing functions under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which Natural England are authorised to perform as set out in the Part 8 Agreement dated 29/09/06 between Natural England and Defra under section 78 the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. It should be viewed in conjunction with the ‘Agreement on Natural England’s discharge of Wildlife Management Functions’.

Main Objective

The policy objective is to protect fisheries against serious damage caused by cormorants whilst ensuring that the conservation status of the cormorant is not jeopardised.  The policy intends to fulfil this aim by making the licensing system accessible for those with a genuine need to obtain a licence to take/kill cormorants for the purpose of preventing serious damage at specific sites where non-lethal methods of preventing the damage are ineffective or impracticable.

Criteria for licences

In order for a licence to be granted, three fundamental tests must be satisfied:

  1. Serious damage: Serious damage is being, or is likely to be, caused by cormorants at the site.  It is accepted that proving damage by direct evidence alone is extremely difficult in many circumstances. If, on balance, it is reasonable to assume from the indirect or circumstantial evidence that cormorants are causing serious damage at a site then this should be taken as basis for serious damage occurring.
  2. Non-lethal measures: All other non-lethal anti-predation measures have either been tried and found to be ineffective, or are impracticable at the site.
  3. Damage control: It is reasonable to consider that shooting cormorants will reduce, or prevent from increasing, the level of damage (whether through scaring or direct reduction of numbers).

Consequences of the Policy

Where the tests set out above are met, licences can allow fishery managers to undertake, if appropriate, lethal shooting to either

  1. scare other cormorants; or, if this is judged likely to be ineffective,
  2. effect a reduction in the numbers of cormorants at the site.

The number of cormorants which could be killed

NE must set a prudent national upper limit to ensure that licensed removal does not irreversibly affect the conservation status of the species. This must be evidence based and should take full account of the CSL cormorant model which will include data on the actual number of cormorants that have previously been killed under licence. Data from the model will be made available to NE. *

*Note: To date under this policy up to 2,000 cormorants may be killed under licence each year (16 April to 15 April) nationally (with scope for up to 3,000 for a “short period”).  This equates to about 11% (or 18%, if 3,000 birds) of the English over-wintering population. The evidence base supports this number and the expectation is that unless new data comes to light which clearly outweighs the present data, the prudent upper limit will continue at this level.

Impact on the population

Assessment of the impact on the national population of the number of cormorants being shot will be conducted using the CSL cormorant model which will include data on the actual number of cormorants that have previously been killed under licence.


Page last modified: 11 November 2008
Page published: 11 November 2008

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