Man birdwatching on bench

Birds, habitats and the law

Laws protecting birds and their habitats have helped to secure the conservation of many species. We must make sure that they are adhered to.

Criminal offences across the UK

In England, Scotland and Wales, it is a criminal offence to disturb, intentionally or recklessly, at or near the nest, a species listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Disturbance could include playback of songs and calls.  Penalties that can be imposed for criminal offences in respect of a single birds nest or egg contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is an unlimited fine or six months imprisonment or both.

It is a criminal offence to disturb intentionally a bird at or near the nest under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. 

In Scotland, disturbance of capercaillie and ruffs at leks is also an offence.

The government can, for particular reasons such as scientific study, issue licences to individuals that permit limited disturbance, including monitoring of nests and ringing.

It is a criminal offence to destroy or damage, intentionally or recklessly, a special interest feature of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or to disturb the wildlife for which the site was notified. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a fine of up to £20,000 may be imposed by the Magistrates’ Court, or an unlimited fine by the Crown Court. In Scotland, the maximum fine on summary conviction is £40,000, or an unlimited fine on conviction or indictment.

Penalties that can be imposed for criminal offences in respect of a single birds nest or egg contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is an unlimited fine or six months imprisonment or both.

Nest & eggs of Cirl bunting Emberiza cirlus. RSPB Cirl Bunting Project. Devon,
Coast on a stormy day

Contact us on our crime email

crime@rspb.org.uk