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.

Update: 10 June

On 7 June Defra issued a modified version of the general licence GL45 which permits the release of gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridges) on specified special protection areas (SPAs) or within 500m of their boundary in England.

This updated general licence supersedes an earlier version and is now applicable to almost all SPAs. This means that, for the majority of those who previously needed to apply for individual licences to release on these areas, such an application will not now be required. 

Alongside issuing this updated GL45, Defra has produced some questions in relation to this licence which can be read here.

There is further information below, including FAQs. Any member requiring assistance should contact their local BASC regional team.


The release of gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridges) and the potential impact on European Protected Sites (EPS) in England (only) 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. Additionally, any activity that occurs outside of an SSSI which damages that site can be prevented by a stop notice.

Following the 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.

The general licence GL43 was subsequently introduced in 2021 and renewed in 2022 with little change. At this time, it permitted the release of pheasants and red-legged partridges on or within 500m of all EPS (both SAC and SPA), up to certain density figures, subject to other aspects such as relevant consents (as these sites are also SSSI, this could be required) being in place. The density figures for release were based on GWCT guidelines and are referenced in The Code of Good Shooting Practice.

The legislation is subject to a sunset clause, set to end in May 2025, after which time this legal requirement (and licensing requirement) is 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.

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.

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

Issues 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 the 500m buffer zone around these sites. The change was based on the perceived risk at this time of highly pathogenic avian influenza (AI) to the bird ‘features’ which the sites were designated for.  

GL43 remains valid in relation to SACs and the associated 500m buffer zone.

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

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. 


Following ongoing engagement with Defra by BASC and others stakeholder, a new general licence GL45 was issued on 22 March 2024. GL45 covered the release of gamebirds on a number of SPAs and surrounding buffer zones (details of these were listed on the licence) and for other areas not included, there remained an individual licence route.

This version of GL45 licence was issued on the basis, of the risk level of AI being ‘medium’. However, on 5 April 2024, this risk level was reduced to low. BASC raised this matter with Defra who confirmed as a result of the change in risk level, they would review GL45 and subsequently a new version of GL45, which now covers the majority of SPAs, was issued on 7 June.


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.  

The vast majority of SPAs (with the exception of Lindisfarne) and associated buffer zones are listed on GL45. Northumberland Marine has additional conditions relating to a delayed release date (7 September). Provide you comply with all the relevant conditions of GL45 e.g. stocking densities and reporting requirements you can operate under its authority. In other situations, you have the option to apply for an individual licence.

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.