For a brief description of the Wildlife and Countryside Act see below.
How well do you think you know the law regarding our wild birds?
The following are some questions most frequently asked about bird
protection. The answers are based on the provisions of Part 1 of the
Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which is the legislation that
protects birds in Britain.
First read the question in the table, then decide your answer. To
see if you are right, block shade the box below the question with your
mouse to reveal the correct answer. This is achieved by clicking the
mouse just in front of the A. and, while holding the mouse button down,
drag to the right and down to fill in the box.
|Q. My Neighbour keeps birds of prey.
Does he or she need a licence?
|A. No but all
native birds of prey (excluding owls) except the Buzzard, Kestrel and
Sparrowhawk, plus some non-native species, must be registered with the
department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), Tollgate
House, Houlton Street, Bristol BS2 9DJ
|Q. How do
I know if a bird of prey is registered?
|A. One of its
legs will be fitted with a DETR close ring or metal swiss ring carrying a
|Q. I have seen an advertisement
offering Barn Owls for sale. Is this legal?
|A. Yes, as long
as they have been bred in captivity and are fitted with close rings. An
'Article 10' certificate issued by the DETR is also needed.
local pet shop is selling Bullfinches and Goldfinches. Surely they are
|A. Yes, they are fully protected, but
many British birds are bred in captivity by aviculturalists. Certain
species may be sold if they have been captive-bred and fitted with
approved close rings.
|Q. I know a person who traps finches
and keeps them in an aviary. Is this illegal?
|A. Yes, not only is it an offence to
take British wild birds, but keeping them is also illegal. You should
contact the Police or the RSPB with this information.
|Q. I have
found an injured bird. Can I look after it?
|A. Yes, but you must release it when it
has recovered. In the case of Schedule 4 birds you must notify the DETR
and register the bird.
|Q. Is it against the law to collect
wild birds' eggs?
|A. Yes, except if you are a landowner,
in which case you can take eggs of a few named 'pest' species. The maximum
penalty for taking the eggs of a wild bird is 5,000 and/or six months
imprisonment in England and Wales or in Scotland, 5,000 for Schedule 1
birds and 1,000 for other birds.
|Q. Is it
an offence to possess wild birds' eggs?
|A. Yes, if they were taken after 28
September 1982, the day the Wildlife and Countryside Act came into force.
|Q. I have a nest box in my garden and
last year the birds deserted their eggs. Is it all right to clean the box
out ready for next year?
|A. Yes, but only if carried our between
1 August and 31 January. You are not allowed to keep the eggs.
|Q. I have
an old collection of birds' eggs. Can I sell it?
|A. No. The sale or exchange of birds'
eggs, irrespective of age, is illegal. If you do not want the collection
you should consider donating it to a museum.
|Q. I have found a young person
collecting eggs. Should I report this to the Police?
|A. It would depend on the
circumstances. It may be better to explain why egg collecting is pointless
and selfish, as well as being illegal. Try to persuade the person to take
up watching birds instead and give details of the Wildlife Explorers.
|Q. I have
found a dead Tawny Owl on the road. Can I have it stuffed and keep it?
|A. If the bird has died of natural
causes you can pay a taxidermist to stuff and mount it for you to keep. If
the bird has been illegally killed, possessing it would be an offence.
|Q. I have an antique case of stuffed
birds. Can I sell it?
|A. Yes, there is a general licence to
cover the sale of legally-acquired dead birds. Certain conditions must be
complied with, for example, a record must be kept of the birds' details
and submitted to the DETR at the end of the year.
|Q. Each winter, the geese and the ducks
on a local lake are shot, Is this illegal?
|A. Probably. Several species of geese
and ducks included on Schedule 2 (see above) of the Act can be shot during
the open season (1 September to 31 January). You would need to find out
what species were being shot and when.
|Q. Every year a local farmer and his
friends shoot crows on his land. Is this legal?
|A. Yes. Crows and several other species
of birds can be killed by authorised persons at any time of the year to
protect livestock and crops from serious damage.
|Q. I know someone who keeps birds in
very small cages. Surely this is cruel?
|A. Possibly yes. The Act has
regulations governing the size of cages. Normally, all offences of cruelty
are dealt with by the RSPCA. The telephone number of your nearest office
can be found in the telephone directory.
|Q. Every year House Martins nests on a
local building are destroyed. Is this legal?
|A. No. All wild birds' nests are fully
protected and it is an offence to destroy them while they are in use or
being built. In the case of House Martins and Swallows a nest will remain
in use throughout the summer until the birds leave on their annual
migration. Only after they have all left, towards the end of October, can
the nests be removed.
|Q. I would like to take up photography.
Is there anything I should know about photographing wild birds?
|A. Yes, photography of wild birds in
Britain is restricted by law if it involves the disturbance of rare
breeding birds listed on Schedule 1 of the Act (see above).
If so, a licence is required. (Further information on bird photography and
the law can be obtained from the RSPB).
can I do about youths with air guns shooting at birds in our local park?
|A. Inform the Police immediately. They
are committing a serious firearms offence by using air guns in a public
place. With the exception of 'pest' species gamebirds and certain
waterfowl (which may be killed or taken by authorised persons during the
open season) it is illegal to shoot any bird.
|Q. How do I report an offence against
|A. In the first
instance contact the Police. Southend has a Wildlife Liaison Officer by
the name of PC Gary Bradford and he can be reached on (01702) 431212. If
neither of these options prove rewarding please contact one of the local
RSPB committee members. Our telephone numbers are accessed through our
membership details page.
Wildlife and Countryside Act
The principal legislation involving wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
This gives protection to all wild birds, a wild bird being any bird of a kind which is ordinarily resident in or is a visitor to Great Britain in a wild state but does not include poultry or, except in certain cases, any game bird. (See the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW) for recent amendments affecting England and Wales
The Act contains a number of Schedules, those relevant to wild birds being:
Schedule 1 Part I
Lists 79 birds which receive special protection. These birds receive additional protection from disturbance at the nest. Schedule 1 species are rare, endangered, declining or vulnerable species.
Schedule 1 Part II
Lists three birds that are specially protected only during the breeding season. These are wildfowl species.
Schedule 2 Part I
Lists 19 birds that can be killed or taken during the open season but not during the close season. These birds are principally wildfowl species.
Schedule 2 Part II
This used to list 13 so-called 'pest species' which could be killed or taken at all times but this part of this Schedule was deleted from the Act in 1993 to be replaced by open General Licences. Open general licences allow the taking of certain 'pest' species by an authorised person (ie the landowner or someone with permission from the landowner) for the purposes of, for example, protecting agricultural interests from serious damage, to protect wild birds, to protect air safety or public health.
Schedule 3 Part I
Lists 19 species that can be sold alive at all times if ringed and bred in captivity. Species are mostly birds kept as cage birds for example finches.
Schedule 3 Part II
Lists just one species, the woodpigeon, which can be sold dead at all times.
Schedule 3 Part III
Lists 12 species that can be sold dead from 1 September to 28 February. These are mostly wildfowl species.
Lists birds that must be ringed and registered if kept in captivity. Many of these birds are raptors (both native and not native to the UK) but also includes other species such as song birds. Birds listed on this schedule are rarer species.
Lists animals and plants that, although already established in the wild, may not be released. This includes several bird species which are included, for example, for welfare reasons, to avoid alien species hybridising with native species, prevent competition with other species and prevent problems with 'pest' species.
Key Sections of the Act relating to birds include:
Section 1: makes it an offence to intentionally kill (or recklessly in England and Wales - see CROW Act 2000), injure or take any wild bird, nest or egg. The possession of any of these is an offence of strict liability. It covers special protection and increased fines of Schedule 1 species.
Section 2: lists exceptions to the above, for example species listed in certain Schedules.
Section 3: details areas of special protection.
Section 4: lists further exceptions to Sections 1 and 3. An offence is not committed if it can be shown that the act was the incidental result of a lawful operation that could not reasonably have been avoided.
Section 5: prohibits certain methods for killing and taking wild birds, for example it prohibits the use of traps, gins, snares, hooks and lines, electrical devices, poisons, nets, bird-lime, crossbows, automatic or semi-automatic weapon, gas, decoy, sound recording or artificial lighting. The RSPB also campaigned for an additional subsection making it an offence to cause or permit any of these acts.
Section 6: covers the sale of birds and eggs. This Section makes it an offence to sell, offer for sale, expose for sale, have in possession or transport for sale any live bird or egg (other than those permitted under the Schedules of the Act). It is also an offence to publish or cause to be published an advert offering them for sale.
Section 7: covers the ringing and registration of any species listed on Schedule 4.
Section 8: makes it an offence to confine a bird in a cage which is not sufficient in height, length or breadth to permit the bird to stretch its wings freely.
Section 14: prohibits the release of any species not native in Great Britain or listed on Schedule 9.
Section 16: allows licences to be granted relating to wild birds, for example for scientific research, education, conservation, photography, protecting public health, preventing serious damage to agricultural interests.
Section 17: makes it an offence to make false statements in order to obtain registration documents or a licence under Sections 6, 7 and 16.
Section 18: makes it an offence to be in possession of articles capable of being used to commit an offence.
Section 19: provides the police with certain powers. If a constable suspects with reasonable cause that a person is committing or has committed an offence they may stop and search them or search and examine any thing in their possession. (see CROW Act 2000).
Section 20: gives time limits on proceedings. (see CROW Act 2000).
Section 21: sets the level of fines. 1,000 for an ordinary offence, 5,000 for a special penalty offence in Scotland (see CROW Act 2000 for England and Wales).
Section 22: gives to powers to the Secretary of State to add or remove species from the Schedules.
Section 27: gives definitions of certain words used in the Act, for example, 'wild bird', 'game bird', 'sale', 'destroy'.
Brief guide to birds and the law
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 covers many subjects including the protection of animals, plants, and certain habitats. The legal protection of wild birds in England, Wales and Scotland in Part 1 of the Act is given in this guide. Because of its brevity this guide cannot hope to answer specialist queries or problems. For further information consult the Act itself.
Definition of a wild bird
Any bird of a kind which is resident in or a visitor to Great Britain in a wild state. Game birds however are not included in this definition. They are covered by the Game Acts which fully protect them during the close season.
All birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law and it is thus an offence, with certain exceptions (see later), to:
intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird
intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird whilst it is in use or being built
intentionally take or destroy the egg of any wild bird
have in one's possession or control any wild bird, dead or alive, or any part of a wild bird, which has been taken in contravention of the Act or the Protection of Birds Act 1954
have in one's possession or control any egg or part of an egg which has been taken in contravention of the Act
have in one's possession or control any bird of a species occurring on Schedule 4 of the Act unless registered, and in most cases ringed, in accordance with the Secretary of State's regulations. For details of Schedule 4 species see Schedule 1
intentionally (or wrecklessly in England and Wales) disturb any wild bird listed on Schedule1 while it is nest building, or at a nest containing eggs or young, or disturb the dependent young of such a bird.
In England and Wales, the maximum penalty that can be imposed - in respect of a single bird, nest or egg - is a fine of up to 5,000, six months imprisonment or both. In Scotland, the maximum fine that can be imposed - in respect of a single bird, nest or egg receiving ordinary protection - is 1,000. For offences involving a Schedule 1 species or an illegal method of killing (eg poisoning) the maximum is 5,000.