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Wildlife law

If someone has done something illegal to a wild animal, please call our 24-hour Cruelty line on 0300 1234 999 or contact the police.


Wildlife law can apply to wild animals kept in captivity, or living in the wild. To keep a wild animal in captivity, you may need to apply for a licence.


Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

This protects wild birds and other animals in England and Wales (Scotland has a separate law).


The Act is complicated and impossible for us to cover in detail here, so we’ve selected some of the major points below and recommend also that you visit the RSPB’s website. The act can be viewed online, although this may not be up to date. The JNCC’s website has links to other laws including the Habitat and Species Regulations which provide protection for animals such as bats, otters and dormice throughout Europe.


Some key points of the Wildlife and Countryside Act:

  • All wild birds, their nests and eggs are protected.
  • Licences can be issued by Natural England or Natural Resources Wales so landowners or an 'authorised person' can take action against certain species for specific reasons (as defined by the licence).
  • Under licence some species of bird can be shot outside the breeding season.
  • Some species of bird can be sold if captive bred and fitted with a ring.
  • Injured birds can be treated, provided that they are released afterwards. If seriously injured they may be humanely killed.
  • It’s an offence to intentionally disturb certain species of bird whilst nesting.
  • Certain endangered species such as red squirrels are protected.
  • More common animals, such as the fox or rabbit, are not protected, but some methods used to kill them are prohibited e.g. self-locking snares.
  • 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 such as grey squirrel or mink.


We campaign for relevant changes to legislation to protect wild animals from unnecessary suffering and provide evidence to consultations when the government is considering changes.


We assist with police investigations and prosecute people involved in wildlife crime such as badger baiting or the trapping of songbirds.