Which Birds are protected by law and what protection do they have?
“Barn Owl” Picture by Tom Harris
Which Birds are protected by law and what protection do they have?
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 on this page. Please be aware however, that it’s impossible to answer all specialist queries or problems on this webpage. For further detailed information, it is advisable to consult the Act itself, which is available from HMSO.
Please also note that because of devolution there are now some significant differences in the law between the constituent countries of the UK.
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)
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.
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.
**Additional Schedule 1 Protection**
(Birds Protected By Special Penalties AT ALL TIMES)
The birds listed below are protected under The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as part of Schedule 1 – Birds Which Are protected By Special Penalties At All Times;
Birds listed on this schedule enjoy all of the normal protection afforded to all British birds i.e. it is an offence to kill or injure our native birds, or damage or destroy their nest or eggs.
Schedule One birds are further protected from disturbance whilst building their nest, incubating their eggs and rearing their young. For example many local planning authorities list a survey for barn owls as a standard requirement where existing buildings will be affected by development.
|Common Name||Scientific Name|
|Bittern, little||Ixobrychus minutus|
|Bunting, cirl||Emberiza cirlus|
|Bunting, Lapland||Calcarius lapponicus|
|Bunting, snow||Plectrophenax nivalis|
|Buzzard, honey||Pernis apivorus|
|Capercaillie (Scotland only)||Tetrao urogallus|
|Crake, spotted||Porzana porzana|
|Crossbills (all species)||Loxia curvirostra|
|Divers (all species)||Gavia|
|Duck, long-tailed||Clangula hyemalis|
|Eagle, golden||Aquila chrysaetos|
|Eagle, white-tailed||Haliaeetus albicilla|
|Falcon, gyr||Falco rusticolus|
|Godwit, black-tailed||Limosa limosa|
|Grebe, black-necked||Podiceps nigricollis|
|Grebe, Slavonian||Podiceps auritus|
|Gull, little||Larus minutus|
|Gull, Mediterranean||Larus melanocephalus|
|Harriers (all species)||Circus|
|Heron, purple||Ardea purpurea|
|Kite, red||Milvus milvus|
|Oriole, golden||Oriolus oriolus|
|Owl, barn||Tyto alba|
|Owl, snowy||Nyctea scandiaca|
|Petrel, Leach’s||Oceanodroma leucorhoa|
|Phalarope, red-necked||Phalaropus lobatus|
|Plover, Kentish||Charadrius alexandrinus|
|Plover, little ringed||Charadrius dubius|
|Quail, common||Coturnix coturnix|
|Redstart, black||Phoenicurus ochruros|
|Rosefinch, scarlet||Carpodacus erythrinus|
|Sandpiper, green||Tringa ochropus|
|Sandpiper, purple||Calidris maritima|
|Sandpiper, wood||Tringa glareola|
|Scoter, common||Melanitta nigra|
|Scoter, velvet||Melanitta fusca|
|Shrike, red-backed||Lanius collurio|
|Stilt, black-winged||Himantopus himantopus|
|Stint, Temminck’s||Calidris temminckii|
|Swan, Bewick’s||Cygnus columbianus|
|Swan, whooper||Cygnus cygnus|
|Tern, black||Chlidonias niger|
|Tern, little||Sterna albifrons|
|Tern, roseate||Sterna dougallii|
|Tit, bearded||Panurus biarmicus|
|Tit, crested||Lophophanes cristatus|
|Treecreeper, short-toed||Certhia brachydactyla|
|Warbler, Cetti’s||Cettia cetti|
|Warbler, Dartford||Sylvia undata|
|Warbler, marsh||Acrocephalus palustris|
|Warbler, Savi’s||Locustella luscinioides|
“Little Bittern” Picture by Stuart Fisher
Licences are available for the following
Disturbance in relation to science, education or conservation
Disturbance in relation to photography
Click for License information
Some birds are protected by special penalties during the close season which is 1 February to 31 August (21 February to 31August below high water mark) but which may be killed or taken outside this period. They are:
Goldeneye – Bucephala clangula
Greylag goose – Anser anser(in Outer Hebrides, Caithness, Sutherland, and Wester Ross only)
Pintail – Anas acuta
Full Act Details
Read the Full Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (with amendments) CLICK HERE
Join our WildlifeCrimeAware Campaign
Wildlife Crime is everywhere, but so are we!
For far too long, Wildlife Criminals have gotten away with illegally killing or illegally disturbing our wildlife in plain sight, without any real fear of being caught.
WildlifeCrimeAware is here to change this.
We would everyone to be the extra ‘eyes and ears’, protecting our local wildlife, by making wildlife criminals feel like they’re standing out or being watched, forcing them to be constantly looking over their shoulder for someone who might be “Wildlife Crime Aware!”
**Image Supplied by Raptor Persecution Scotland
Wildlife Crime, How you can help
Do you think you’ve seen a Wildlife Crime against a wild bird or animal?
If it is urgent, such as an incident involving firearms or immediate danger telephone the police using 999 (Emergency Only) or Dial 101 ( Police Non Emergency )
Sick or injured birds or animals, such as pigeons trapped in netting or injured swans should be reported to RSPCA in England and Wales (0300 1234 999), SSPCA in Scotland (03000 999 999) or USPCA in Northern Ireland (0845 6008000).
The Investigations team works with UK police forces and other agencies to help catch wildlife criminals, particularly involving bird of prey persecution, the illegal trapping and taking of birds, illegal trade and egg collecting.