UK wildlife laws

Wildlife law can apply to wild animals kept in captivity, or to those living in the wild. To keep a wild animal in captivity, you may need to apply for a licence. This page covers some of the legislation in place to protect wild animals living in the UK.

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

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

This legislation protects wild birds and other animals in England and Wales (Scotland has a separate law). The act can be viewed online, although this may not be up to date.

The Act is complicated so we've selected some of the major points below and recommend that you also learn more on the RSPB's website

Some key points of the Wildlife and Countryside Act include:

  • Wild birds - all wild birds, their nests and eggs are protected. It's an offence to intentionally disturb certain species of bird while they're nesting.
  • Shooting birds - under licence, some species of bird can be shot outside the breeding season.
  • Selling birds - some species of bird can be sold, if they've been bred in captivity and fitted with a ring.
  • Injured birds can be treated, provided that they're released afterwards. If seriously injured, they may be humanely put down.
  • Endangered species - certain endangered species, such as red squirrels, are protected.
  • Common animals, such as the fox or rabbit, aren't protected, but some methods used to kill them are prohibited, such as self-locking snares.
  • Non-native animals - it's against the law to release, or allow to escape, non-native animals such as the grey squirrel or mink.
  • Licences - these can be issued by Natural England or Natural Resources Wales so that landowners or an 'authorised person' can take action against certain species for specific reasons (as defined by the licence).
  • People legally killing animals must take precautions to prevent protected species being killed or injured.

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.

Campaigning for changes to wildlife laws

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

Find out more about our work to improve the welfare of wildlife in the UK.

Share this...