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The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981

Slavonian grebe on calm loch

Image: Steve Round

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is the primary legislation which protects animals, plants, and certain habitats in the UK.

Information on the legal protection afforded to wild birds in England, Wales and Scotland in Part 1 of the Act is given in these pages. However, we cannot hope to answer all specialist queries or problems on the website. For detailed information, it is advisable to consult the Act itself, which is available from HMSO – please see the Acts of the UK Parliament link on this page. 

Please also note that because of devolution there are now some significant differences in the law between the constituent countries of the UK.

Definition of a wild bird

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, a wild bird is defined as any bird of a species that is resident in or is a visitor to the European Territory of any member state in a wild state. 

Game birds however are not included in this definition (except for limited parts of the Act). They are covered by the Game Acts, which fully protect them during the close season.

Basic protection

All birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law and it is thus an offence, with certain exceptions (see Exceptions), 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 or the Protection of Birds Act 1954 
  • use traps or similar items to kill, injure or take wild birds
  • 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 (see Schedules
  • intentionally or recklessly disturb any wild bird listed on Schedule 1 while it is nest building, or at a nest containing eggs or young, or disturb the dependent young of such a bird.   

Fines

The maximum penalty that can be imposed for an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act - in respect of a single bird, nest or egg - is a fine of up to £5,000, and/or six months' imprisonment.

How you can help

Poisoned red kite

Have you seen a crime against a wild bird? Use this form to report a wildlife crime to us.

Reporting form