What is it?
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects wild birds and other wild animals in England and Wales (there's a separate law for Scotland). It controls the methods that can be used to kill some species when they are causing serious damage to crops or other problems.
You can search our FAQs for information on specific queries. If you’re particularly interested in wild birds and the law, visit the RSPB website as well - they have some useful summaries and a detailed booklet.
The actual law itself can be seen at: www.legislation.gov.uk
Although it’s worth keeping in mind that the online version may not be completely up-to-date.
Some key points
The Act is very complicated and impossible for us to cover in detail - but we’ve picked out some of the major points below:
- All wild birds, their nests and eggs are protected (with exceptions).
- Under general licences issued by government, landowners are allowed to kill so called ‘pest species’ of bird or destroy their nests or eggs.
- Some species of bird can be shot outside the breeding season.
- Some species of bird can be sold if they are captive bred and fitted with a special ring.
- Injured birds can be treated provided that they are released afterwards or they can be humanely killed if very seriously injured.
- Rare species of bird are specially protected and it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb them whilst nesting.
- Endangered species such as red squirrels, water voles, pine martens and all the snakes are protected.
- Common animals such as the fox or rabbit are not protected but some methods of killing them are prohibited e.g. self-locking snares or poison bait.
- People legally killing animals must take precautions to prevent protected species being killed or injured.
- It is against the law to release, or allow to escape, non-native animals including those species which have already become established such as grey squirrel or mink.
We think it’s important that wild animals are protected from unnecessary suffering so we campaign for relevant changes to legislation. When the government is considering changes, we provide evidence to consultations.
We also assist with police investigations and prosecute people involved in wildlife crime such as badger digging or the trapping of songbirds.
What can you do?
If you’re concerned that someone has done something illegal to a wild animal, please call our 24-hour cruelty line on 0300 1234 999 - or contact the police.