The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
(WCA) is the principal legislation in Britain for the protection and conservation
of our wildlife and its habitat. It is supplemented by the Conservation
(Natural Habitats) Regulations 1994 ('the Regulations'), implementing
Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and
of wild fauna and flora ('the Habitats Directive').
NOTE: The WCA applies to
England, Wales and Scotland. It does not apply to Northern Ireland,
although the legislation there has a similar format.
Where other statutes only apply to England
and Wales or only to Scotland, this is clearly shown.
Under the WCA it will be helpful to remember
these general maxims:
- some species of wildlife and most wild
birds are protected at all times;
- some wild birds and some other species
are protected some of the time; and
- some species are protected only against
certain methods of killing or taking.
Details of protected species are listed
in Schedules to the WCA which show the degree of protection in each case.
All species are formally identified by their scientific name, which should
always be used in cases of doubt. The most frequently used of these are
The Regulations contain provisions relating
to the protection of European sites and to the protection of European
species of animals and plants. Details of protected species are listed
in the Schedules to the Regulations. All species are formally identified
by their scientific name, which should be used in cases of doubt. You
should note that nothing in the Regulations shall be construed as excluding
the application of the provisions of the WCA relating to the protection
of animals and plants.
There are several differences between
the Regulations and the WCA in relation to European protected species.
In particular where under the WCA it would be an offence to intentionally
kill, injure or take a protected animal (Section 9(1)), the Regulations
render it an offence where the action was carried out deliberately (Regulation
39(1)(a)). Whereas the WCA makes it an offence to disturb any such animal
whilst it is occupying a structure or place which it uses for shelter
or protection (section 9(4)(b)), the Regulations more simply make it an
offence to deliberately disturb a protected animal (Regulation 39(1)(b).
Additionally, the WCA offence of intentionally damaging, destroying or
obstructing any such place (section 9(4)(a)) is reflected in the Regulations
more simply by the offence of damaging or destroying a breeding site or
resting place of any protected animal (Regulation 39(1)(d)). Other equally
important differences exist, and in any proceedings for an offence involving
a European protected species you are advised to contact the MAFF
The WCA and the Regulations makes provision
for licences to be issued to allow activities to take place which would
otherwise be prohibited. When you are investigating any offences always
check whether a licence has been issued authorising the particular activity
which you are looking into. The WCA and the Regulations also allow for
certain birds and certain wild animals to be killed or injured in 'emergency'
In addition, under the Wild Mammals (Protection)
Act 1996, all wild mammals are protected against certain cruel acts carried
out with the intention of causing unnecessary cruelty, such as badger