Naturenet: Amphibians and Reptiles and the Law

Amphibians and Reptiles
and the Law

There are six species of amphibian and six species of reptile native to Britain, These are:

Common frog Rana temporaria
Common toad Bufo bufo
Natterjack toad Bufo calamito
Palmate newt Triturus helveticus
Smooth newt Triturus vulgaris
Great crested newt Triturus cristatus
Common (or viviparous) lizard Lacerta vivipara
Sand lizard Lacerta agilis
Slow-worm Anguis fragilis
Adder (or viper) Vipera berus
Grass snake Natrix natrix
Smooth snake Coronella austriaca

In addition, five species of marine turtle have been recorded in British waters; two of these, the loggerhead Caretta caretta and the leatherback Dermochelys coriacea are recorded sufficiently frequently that they are considered by some to be native species.


AdderAll of the native species (and all species of marine turtle) receive some degree of protection through the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet (as amended). There have been two alterations to the SchedulesPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet to this Act which have increased the level of protection since it was originally passed (these occurred in 1988 and 1991). There are three different levels of protection afforded to our amphibians and reptiles through the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; this results from different parts of Section 9 of the Act applying to the different species (as specified in Schedule 5Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet).

Full protection

This applies to the great crested newt, natterjack toad, sand lizard and smooth snake and to all species of marine turtle (i.e. the families Dermochelyidae and Cheloniidae) when found in British waters. All parts of Section 9 apply. This prohibits the intentional killing. injuring or taking (capture. etc); possession; intentional disturbance whilst occupying a 'place used for shelter or protection' and destruction of these places; sale, barter. exchange. transporting for sale and advertising to sell or to buy.

Protection against killing, injuring and sale, etc

This level of protection applies to the four widespread species of reptile, namely the common lizard, slow-worm, grass snake and adder. Only part of sub-section 9(1) and all of sub-section 9(5) apply; these prohibit the intentional killing and injuring and trade (i.e. sale, barter, exchange, transporting for sale and advertising to sell or to buy). It is not an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to possess these animals.

Protection against sale, etc, only

The four widespread species of amphibian, the smooth and palmate newts, the common frog and common toad, are protected only by Section 9(5) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This section prohibits sale, barter, exchange, transporting for sale and advertising to sell or to buy. Collection and keeping of these widespread amphibian species is not an offence.

Extent of protection

Wall lizardThe Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet only applies to 'wild animals'; these are defined as those that are living wild or were living wild before being captured or killed. It does not apply to captive bred animals being held in captivity. However, animals in gardens (e.g. newts in garden ponds) and captive bred animals that have been released to the wild are likely to be included in this definition.

The Wildlife and Countryside also prohibits the release of non-native species into the wild (Section 14). This is to prevent the release of exotic species that could threaten our native wildlife. Some populations of non-native species, such as the marsh frog Rana ridibunda, alpine newt Triturus alpestris and wall lizard Podarcis muralis have become established in the wild in Britain. The legislation does not prohibit capturing and keeping these animals but it makes re-releasing them an offence.

There are 'defences' provided by the legislation. These are cases where acts that would otherwise be prohibited by the legislation are permitted. Notably these allow things to happen that are reasonable, unpredictable and unavoidable, such as running over a slow-worm on the road.

Other legislation

All reptiles and amphibians held in captivity are covered by the Protection of Animals Act 1911 which prohibits cruelty and ill-treatment of animals. Keeping adders is prohibited , unless licensed by the Local Authority, by the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. Scientific research is controlled by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and this prevents activities such as toe-clipping unless licensed by the Home Office. Sales of products made from marine turtles are restricted by the EC Regulation no. 3626/82 which implements the Convention on the international Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) in the European Union.

This note is intended only as a brief introduction to the law concerning amphibians and reptiles in Great Britain. Reference should always be made to the full text of the legislation if more detailed interpretation is needed.

Adapted from notes by Tony Gent of Species Conservation Branch, English Nature. January 1994.

LWT Wildlife Facts: Find the link to Frogs and Toads