GL43 and GL45

Covering the release of gamebirds on or near Special Protection Areas in England, GL45 now sits alongside the existing general licence (GL43), which facilitates the release of gamebirds on or near Special Areas of Conservation.


The release of gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridge) and their potential impact on European Protected Sites (EPS) in England was subject to a legal challenge.

Legal proceedings were brought due to a lack of information or assessments by the relevant government agency, rather than any specific evidence of an issue with the releasing of pheasants and red-legged partridge in relation to these sites.

EPS sites include Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) designated for flora and fauna and Special Protection Areas (SPA) for birds.

In practice, these sites are also Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), so if any activity is likely to cause damage, consent is needed from Natural England (NE). Additionally, any activity that occurs outside of an SSSI that damages that site can be prevented by a stop notice.

Introduction of GL43

Following a legal challenge in 2021, the government proposed an interim licensing regime, alongside a prohibition of the release of pheasants and red-legged partridge on or with 500m of an EPS.

BASC and others responded to the consultation on the proposals and engaged with civil servants to negotiate a workable interim regime and annual general licence.

GL43 was introduced in 2021 and renewed in 2022 with little change. Until it’s removal in 2022, GL43 permitted release on and within 500m of EPS, up to certain density figures, provided other aspects such as relevant consents (as these sites are also SSSI and could be required) were in place. The density figures were based on GWCT guidelines and are referenced in The Code of Good Shooting Practice.

The legislation was subject to a sunset clause, set to end in May 2025, after which time this legal requirement (and licensing requirement) was due to cease. By this time the relevant government agency should have carried out the relevant assessments.

Alongside GL43, which was issued by Defra, there was an individual licensing route for those who could not comply with its conditions; most notably if greater densities were planned to be released. The individual licensing regime was overseen by Natural England (NE).

GL43 did not have to be applied for, but users had to comply with the conditions set within the licence which included reporting if you were releasing 50 or more common pheasants or red-legged partridges within an SAC or its buffer zone.

Because EPS are also Sites of Special Scientific Interest, depending upon the designation of the individual site, permission – or consent as it is known – was also potentially required.  Find out more here.

Issues with GL43 in 2023

The 2022-23 version of GL43 expired at the end of May 2023, initially without a replacement. 

However, GL43 was subsequently reissued and is now valid for a two-year period. Importantly, it is no longer applicable to SPAs or within a 500m buffer zone around these sites. It remained valid in relation to SACs and the associated 500m buffer zone.

Therefore, anyone who wished to release pheasants and red-legged partridge on SPAs and within 500m of these sites in England, had to apply to NE for an individual licence, without which release in these areas is not be lawful.

Current situation

BASC launched a legal challenge following the decision to remove SPAs from GL43, but also continued to engage with Defra in seeking a solution to this issue. 

The Secretary of State (SOS) for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs wrote to BASC and other stakeholders at the start of February, advising of his intention for a new approach to gamebird licensing in relation to SPAs in 2024, and confirmed this on 22 March, issuing a new general licence GL45. 

This new GL45 covers the release of gamebirds on a number of SPAs and surrounding buffer zones (details of these are on licence) without the need to apply for an individual licence. An individual licence still much be applied for other SPAs not listed on GL45.

Anyone releasing gamebirds on an SAC and associated buffer zone can continue to use GL43.

On sites which are both an SAC and SPA, GL45 will supersede GL43 and you must comply with the conditions of this licence (GL45) to release gamebirds, or apply for an individual licence if the SPA is not listed on GL45.

Further information from Defra in relation to gamebird release and licensing can be found here.

If you are a BASC member and require further advice or assistance, please contact your regional team.


There is advice on the BASC website here which includes an updated mapping tool so you can easily find specific sites and designations. Alternatively, you can use the common pheasant and red-legged partridge releases map. You can also find a map of these sites from a link on the general licence itself.

If your planned release is on SAC or its 500-metre buffer zone and also an SPA, then you must comply with GL45 to release gamebirds or where the applicable (if the SPA is not listed on GL45) apply for an individual licence.  

In such instances you will need to apply for an individual licence there are links and information on how do this here . Defra have said that applications should be submitted before 7 April and that whilst applications can be submitted after this date, Defra will only review these once they have considered applications submitted before 7 April.

Release outside of these sites is not affected by this legislation. However, it is important to note that you must comply with other applicable legal requirements, such as completing the poultry register and caring for the gamebirds in line with welfare legislation and SSSI rules.

It is also important that as well as complying with the law, both in relation to this interim licensing regime and wider, we should also comply with established best practices for sustainable shooting, as detailed in the Code of Good Shooting Practice and the relevant sector codes of practice.

BASC members should initially contact their regional centre for assistance. We can also assist members in checking if their pens/intended release sites are within 500m of an EPS designation and support with the individual licence process if required.