Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

All aspects of the law which are covered on this page are only relevant to the United Kingdom and (as far as I know) have no weight in any other country, except maybe Europe, though there may be certain passages which are international.

The information on these pages is sourced from various government pages, and all copyrights and credits belong accordingly, presentation and layout is mine.

The Wildlife And Countryside Act:

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 listed at.

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 for advice.

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' situations.

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 baiting etc.



These list the species which are protected in varying degrees.

Particularly relevant to pest control is Schedule II. Clicking on the Schedule will take you to the relevant page which provides a full listing of the animals covered.

In summary, the Schedules to the WCA list species are as follows:


Schedule 1
Birds which are protected by special penalties.
Rare birds which require special protection
Part I - At all times
Part II - During the close season
Schedule 2
Birds which may be killed or taken.
Game birds and some wildfowl
Pest species
Part I - Outside the close season.
Part II - By authorised persons at all times

NOTE: Part II repealed and species included on General Licences issued by MAFF/DETR. These licences impose certain conditions.

Schedule 3
Birds which may be sold.
For aviculture
Part I - Alive at all times if ringed and bred in captivity
Part II - Dead at all times
Game birds and some wildfowl
Part III - Dead from 1 Sept to 28 Feb.
Schedule 4
Birds which must be registered (with the DETR) and ringed if kept in captivity.
Aviculture and falconry
Schedule 5
Protected animals
(includes some mammals, reptiles and invertebrates).
Rarer species
Schedule 6
Animals which may not be killed or taken by certain methods.
Schedule 8
Protected plants.
Schedule 9
Animals and plants which may not be released into or caused to grow in the wild.
Protects native wildlife


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© Stuart M Bennett 2000