|Long title An Act to repeal and re-enact with amendments the Protection of Birds Acts 1954 to 1967 and the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975; to prohibit certain methods of killing or taking wild animals; to amend the law relating to protection of certain mammals; to restrict the introduction of certain animals and plants; to amend the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976; to amend the law relating to nature conservation, the countryside and National Parks and to make provision with respect to the Countryside Commission; to amend the law relating to public rights of way; and for connected purposes.|
Territorial extent England & Wales; Scotland
Amended by The Environment Act 1995 (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 1996
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom implemented to comply with European Council Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds. In short, the act gives protection to native species (especially those at threat), controls the release of non-native species, enhances the protection of SSSIs and builds upon the rights of way rules in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The Act is split into 4 parts covering 74 sections, it also includes 17 schedules.
- Wild Birds Protection Act 1902
- Birds Directive
- Part I Wildlife
- Part II Nature Conservation Countryside National Parks
- Part III Public Rights of Way
- Part IV Miscellaneous General
- Main amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
- Amendments from following legislation
- Regulated by Natural England
- Regulated by Countryside Council of Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage
- Regulated by the police
- Regulated by the Environment Agency
- Regulated by local authorities
- Monitored by
- Land owners and occupiers
- Public bodiesindustry
- Any person
The legislation has strength; few amendments have been made to it, and it has acted as a foundation for later legislation to build upon. The compulsory 5 year review of schedules 5 and 8 make it dynamic in terms of the species which it protects.
Wild Birds Protection Act 1902
The Wild Birds Protection Act 1902 (2 Edw 7 c. 6) was an Act of Parliament of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, given the royal assent on 22 July 1902 and repealed in 1954.
It provided that where any person was convicted of an offence against the Wild Birds Protection Acts 1880 to 1896 (the 1880, 1881, 1894 and 1896 Acts), the court was empowered to dispose of any bird or bird's egg in respect of which the offence had been committed.
The Act was repealed and replaced by the Protection of Birds Act 1954. Bird Sanctuary Orders (BSOs) under this Act were replaced by Areas of Special Protection (AoSPs) under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The 1979 Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats covered the natural heritage of Europe, as well as in some African countries. It encouraged European co-operation in protecting natural habitats; and the conservation of flora and fauna, including migratory species and particularly endangered species.
The convention became open for signature on 19 September 1979 as a binding international legal instrument; it came into force on 1 June 1982. The UK ratified the convention and adopted the European Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (among other directives).
European Directive 79/409/EC on the Conservation of Wild Birds was adopted on 2 April 1979. The main provisions included: protection of vulnerable species; classification of Special Protection Areas, protection for all wild birds; and restrictions on killing/selling/keeping wild birds.
From 1981 several acts have passed as UK legislation to comply with the European Directive on the Conservation. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 strengthened protection of SSSIs introduced by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The pre-dated acts:
1982- The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was implemented.
1985- The UK ratified the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (1979). Adopted in Bonn, Germany in 1979 and coming into force in 1985, the Bonn Convention worked to conserve migratory species and their habitats. Listed in Appendix I are species which are endangered, Appendix II contains species which would benefit from international cooperation.
Appendix 1 migratory species listed in the convention were amended into the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Further UK legislation to comply with the European Directive on the Conservation include:
Part I: Wildlife
Part I includes sections 1 to 27 of the Act. The legislation contained in these sections covers:
Part II: Nature Conservation, Countryside & National Parks
Part II includes sections 28 to 52 of the Act. The legislation contained in these sections covers:
Part III: Public Rights of Way
Part III includes sections 53 to 66 of the Act. Building on the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 which required local authorities to draw up maps defining public rights of way.
- diversion of a highway
- extension of a highway
- widening of a highway
- stopping of a highway
- addition of a highway
- removal of a highway
- change in position of public path or traffic byway
- implementation of restrictions to public right of way
Part IV: Miscellaneous & General
Part IV includes sections 67 to 74 of the Act. The legislation contained in these sections covers:
The Act contains 17 schedules.
Schedules 1 to 10 relate to powers under the "Wildlife" part of the Act. Schedule 1 lists over forty species of birds that are protected by special penalties. Schedule 2 lists Huntable birds and their close seasons.
Schedules 11 to 13 relate to powers under Part II of the Act
Schedules 14 to 16 relate to powers under Part III of the Act
Schedule 17 lists previous legislation that was repealed in favour of this Act.
There have been a few simple amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Act, such as word changes, increase in fines, etc. Every 5 years the JNCC coordinates a compulsory review of schedules 5 and 8 to add new species that may need protection.
A secretary of state can add or remove species at any time.
Main amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
1985- Makes it necessary for local authorities to use Countryside Commission guidelines in deciding whether area with natural beauty are important to conserve. Amendments were made to SSSI documentation, notification periods and maintenance of registers.
1991- Amendment making it an offence to knowingly cause or permit to cause actions listed in sections 5 and 11.
1995- Restricts licenses issued to control wild birds in order to reduce damage to crops, livestock, etc.
1998- Variation of schedules 5 and 8; for example, Flamingo Moss (Desmatodon cernuus) was added to schedule 8 as well as 17 other species.
1999- Variation of schedule 9; several species of deer were added to schedule 9.
2004- Minor amendments of various words.
Amendments from following legislation
1990- The Environmental Protection Act 1990 established English Nature and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. JNCC made responsible for producing guidelines for SSSI selection.
1994- Conservation Regulations 1994. Built on Part I protecting habitats and species by implementing the requirement to assess plans/projects that will impact on European Protected Species.
2000- The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 strengthened protection of SSSIs; by increased English Nature's enforcement power (allowed to combat neglect, prevent damaging activity, make public bodies responsible for conservation and enhancement of SSSIs) and increasing penalties for damage to a maximum of £20,000 per offence (along with court power to order restoration if damage occurs).
Improved public rights of way giving people access to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land.
2006- The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 merged English Nature and the Countryside Agency to create Natural England. Introduced new offences involving the intentional and reckless damage of SSSIs.
2009- The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 allowed the creation of marine conservation zones and with the consent of the secretary of state, the creation of SSSIs below mean low water mark.
2011- The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 made some major amendments with regard to control of non-native species, the protection of birds, protection of hares and rabbits and associated poaching.
Regulated by Natural England
As well as being a regulator of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Natural England acts as an advisor (to individuals, companies, government, etc.) in relation to nature conservation. Additionally Natural England helps with land management through grants, projects and information.
Legally responsible for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and enforce law when necessary. Damage, destruction or disturbance of SSSI habitats and features can lead to the following actions by Natural England:
Regulated by Countryside Council of Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage
Similar responsibilities to Natural England, but responsible in Wales and Scotland.
Regulated by the police
Within the police there are several aspects to regulating wildlife crime; intelligence, enforcement and prevention.
The police are responsible for enforcing part I of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, often advised by Natural England and will investigate wildlife offences; usually performed by wildlife crime officers (WCOs).
The National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) is a law enforcement unit which helps agencies with enforcement. Wildlife crime investigations, statistics and intelligence are provided.
Regulated by the Environment Agency
The Environment Agency deal with reports from the public in relation to wildlife crime; under duties to prosecute environmental crimes, offences such as damage to habitats and wildlife are included. The EA work closely with the RSPB and wildlife crime officers.
Regulated by local authorities
Local authorities (e.g. Southampton City Council) are responsible for regulating public rights of way and enforcing rights of way legislation. Issues such as obstructions and misleading signs are usually reported by members of the public and then are dealt with by the local authority.
Land owners and occupiers
Tried with regards to each separate animal/site involved. If multiple organisms or sites are involved then defendant tried per animal/site involved:
Exemptions to Part 1- Wildlife
There are various exemptions applied to part one providing protection for wildlife, thus no lawful act or offence will be committed, if:
All sick and injured birds and animals which are being cared for must be registered with DEFRA.
Provided below is a list - probably incomplete - of documents modifying the W&C Act 1981.