Wild Mammals and the Law

© Wildstock

Many of Britain's wild plants and animals are protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW Act), and protected wild animals are listed on Schedule 5 of the act (wild birds are covered separately).

Examples of protected species include:

  • Otter
  • All British bat species
  • Smooth snake
  • Common dormice                                                     
  • Large blue butterfly
  • Wild cat
  • Natterjack toad
  • Red squirrel

Common animals such as foxes and deer are not protected by Schedule 5 but some methods of killing them are prohibited, such as self-locking snares and poison bait.

Other acts also help protect the UK’s wildlife, and the major ones are discussed below. For all the acts, ignorance is no defence.

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended)

The act was brought into law in 1981 and has been amended several times since. Schedule 5 is reviewed every five years. Together with the CRoW Act, it provides the strongest protection for UK wildlife.

The act:

  • Prohibits certain methods of killing and taking wild animals (e.g. using bows)
  • Protects animals that are listed on Schedule five from being taken from the wild, killed or injured, either intentionally or recklessly
  • Makes it an offence to either intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy, obstruct, or disturb the places the animals on Schedule 5 use for shelter and protection
  • Prohibits the possession or control of any animal, live or dead, listed on Schedule 5, unless it is disabled and the intention is to re-release it
  • Makes it an offence to allow the release or escape of a non-native animal (including those already established such as grey squirrel or mink)
  • Replaces and amends previous wildlife legislation

If the damage to or disturbance of a protected animal or its place of shelter can be shown to be “an incidental result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided”, the person who did the damage is not guilty of an offence. Other possible exemptions include carrying out scientific investigations or acting in the interests of public safety.

Any person found guilty of an offence under this act could receive a fine of up to £5,000 and/or six month imprisonment per offence.

For more information on the act, see the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website.

Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996

This act aims to protect wild mammals from acts of cruelty. An offence is committed if any person mutilates, kicks, beats, nails, or otherwise impales, stabs, burns, stones, crushes, drowns, drags, or asphyxiates any wild mammal with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering.

Hunting Act 2004

The hunting act bans the hunting of wild mammals with dogs and all hare coursing. The controversial and contentious act intended to bring to an end practices which many people feel causes unnecessary suffering to wild mammals. There are some exemptions to the act, which allows hunting activities to take place within limited circumstances. Using dogs to hunt rabbits and rats, stalking and flushing out with up to two dogs, and using a single dog to flush out wild mammals (such as a fox) from below ground in order to protect birds kept for shooting, are all still legal.
Maximum penalties are a £5,000 fine and/or having any articles used in the hunting (e.g. vehicles and dogs) confiscated.

Protection of Badgers Act 1992

The act makes it an offence to kill, injure, or take, or attempt to kill, injure, or take a badger, and carries heavier punishment than the Wildlife and Countryside Act: an unlimited fine and/or 3 years imprisonment. The act was originally intended to protect wild badgers from cruelty, but is increasingly used to protect them and their setts from adverse developments.

The Deer Act 1991

The Deer Act makes it an offence to enter land without the consent of the landowner in the pursuit of a deer in order to kill, injure, or take it. It is also illegal to hunt deer in the close season.

Police Powers

A police officer who suspects that a person has committed or is committing an offence under any of these acts may, without warrant;

  • Arrest that person
  • Search that person, and/or search any associated vehicle, animal, or article if it is believed that it will yield evidence
  • Seize that evidence, including a vehicle or animal
  • Enter land, other than a dwelling, to exercise the power to search


Photos: Wildstock, Allan Potts