Naturenet: Wild Birds and the Law

Wild Birds
and the law

Mostly from The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Part 1

Definition of a wild bird

The definition of a 'wild bird' in Section 27 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 changed in 2004. A new Statutory Instrument (SI 2004 No. 1487) which came into force on 14 July 2004 means that a 'wild bird' as defined by the Act is now any species which is ordinarily resident in or is a visitor to 'the European Territory of any Member State' (of the EU). Previously, 'wild bird' only referred to birds which occurred in Great Britain. This brings the WCA in line with the EC Birds Directive and makes it illegal to be in possession in the UK of any eggs or birds of any species taken from the wild in another Member State.

Poultry or Game birds (see lists below) however are not included in the Wildlife and Countryside Act. A bird is only classed as bred in captivity if both parents were in lawful captivity when the egg was laid. Game is covered by the Game Acts which fully protect them during the close season.

Game birds are pheasant, ptarmigan, partridge, grouse, moor game, black or heath game. Poultry are domestic fowl, geese, ducks, guinea fowl, pigeons, quail and turkey. Shooting seasonsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet.

Basic protection

All birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law and it is thus an offence, with certain exceptions (see below) intentionally to:

Sale of live wild birds and their eggs

Unless appropriately licensed it is an offence to sell, offer for sale, possess or transport for sale or exchange:

Sale of dead wild birds

Dead robin (it died of natural causes)Unless appropriately licensed it is an offence to sell, offer, possess or transport for sale or hire any dead wild birds (or skin or part of such a bird) other than a bird on Schedule 3Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, Part II or lll unless the vendor has been registered and the bird marked in accordance with regulations laid down by the Secretary of State.

Birds listed on Schedule 3Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, Part II may be sold dead at all times, those on Schedule 3Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, Part III may only be sold dead from 1 September until 28 February.

Game birds may only be sold dead during the open season and for a period of up to 10 days immediately after the end of that season.

Exhibition of wild birds

It is an offence to show at any competition, or in premises in which a competition is being held, any live wild birds unless listed on Schedule 3Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, Part I and ringed in accordance with the Secretary of State's regulations.

Killing and taking birds

A number of methods of killing, injuring or taking birds are prohibited. These include gins, springs, traps leg pole traps), snares, nets, bird lime, electrical scaring devices and poisonous or stupefying substances; bows or crossbows, explosives (other than firearm ammunition), any gas or smoke, chemical wetting agent, artificial light, mirror or dazzling device, device for illuminating target or sighting device for night shooting, automatic or semi-automatic weapon (unless it is incapable of holding more than 2 rounds in the magazine), or shotgun with an internal diameter at muzzle more than 1 3/4 inches.

The use of sound recordings and decoys of live birds tethered, blinded or maimed is illegal. It is also an offence to cause or permit such methods to be used. Larsen traps (in which a magpie is kept in a cage) are legal so long as the captive magpie is properly looked after and the traps are used in accordance with the general licence.

It is an offence to use any mechanically propelled vehicle - including boats - in immediate pursuit of a wild bird to kill or take it.

It is an offence for any person to organise or participate in any event where captive birds of any sort are liberated to be shot immediately after liberation, or for a landowner or occupier to permit use of land for such an event.

Birds in captivity

In addition to the registration requirements for birds of prey and certain other Schedule 1Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet species (see Basic Protection), it is illegal to keep any bird (excluding poultry) in a cage or other receptacle which is not of sufficient size to permit the bird to stretch its wings freely in all directions. Exceptions to this are if the bird is undergoing veterinary treatment, is in the course of conveyance or is being exhibited: in the latter case the time the bird is so confined should not exceed an aggregate of 72 hours.

Attempting to commit an offence

It is an offence to attempt to commit any offence or have in one's possession anything capable of being used to commit an offence.

Exceptions
The most notable exceptions to the above provisions are:

Egg collections

Under Section 1(3) of the Act, egg collectors may be required to show that any eggs in their possession were lawfully obtained. This means that they must either have been obtained under license, or form part of a collection which was assembled prior to 1954.

Licenses

Licenses may be issued by government departments to kill or take birds and/or eggs for the following purposes:

Licenses may also be granted for the sale of live birds (except those listed on Schedule 3Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, Part I) and the sale of dead birds or their parts; for scientific examination and photography of a Schedule 1Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet species at its nest and for the public exhibition or competition of birds not listed on Schedule 3Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, Part I.

Falconry

Falconers can obtain a quarry license to take wild birds with birds of prey, for example taking  a skylark with a merlin. This is not necessary to take game birds, but a game license must be obtained from a post office. Schedule 2Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet birds may also be taken without a quarry or game license under certain circumstances - under a general license when causing serious damage to agriculture or for the purpose of conserving wild birds.

Fines and penalties

The maximum fine that can be imposed in respect of a single bird, nest or egg receiving ordinary protection is £1,000. For offences involving a Schedule 1Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet species or an illegal method of killing (e.g. poisoning) the maximum is £5,000. In recent years these fines have been rarely applied, but on a few occasions there have been very heavy fines or even imprisonment applied for offences under this Act, in particular for egg-collecting which has been very proactively prosecuted.


Most of the text of this page is adapted from a leaflet of the same title published by the RSPB. Some information is also from "Law of the Countryside" by Charlie Parkes.