The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981
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.
About the Act
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, a wild bird is defined as any bird of a species which 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.
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 while 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.
Penalties that can be imposed for criminal offences in respect of a single bird, nest or egg contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is an unlimited fine, up to six months imprisonment or both.
For further information
For detailed information, it is advisable to consult the Act itself, which you can find on the UK Legislation website.
Please also note that because of devolution there are now some significant differences in the law between the constituent countries of the UK.
In more depth
Licences may be issued by the government to allow actions that would otherwise be illegal under the Act.
Find all schedules outlining laws relating to the treatment & protection of birds in the UK and internationally.
How you can help
How are we doing?
We've been making changes and we'd love to know what you think.