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Protection of Wild Birds and Licences

With very few exceptions, all wild bird species, their nests, and their eggs are protected according to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in the United Kingdom. Information in this guide highlights several ways of avoiding harming wild birds and how to apply for a licence to carry out activities that may affect protected birds.

Basic Measures to Avoid Injuring Wild Birds

The best way to avoid harming wild birds is using actions that are not going to cause them injury or death.

So, before you do something that may be harmful to a wild bird, consider whether you can (either):

  • Time the work outside of the breeding season.
  • Use methods that act as a deterrent instead of causing harm.

Note: UK law allows you to hunt certain bird species (e.g. game birds, quarry birds, waterfowl). Another section explains more about hunting and shooting wildlife ‘legally’ in the United Kingdom

In some cases, you may need to prevent damage to your land, farm, fishery, or business, such as if wild birds are causing severe problems. Even so, there are lethal and non-lethal methods of bird control that will keep you within the law.

The law also allows exemptions for exceptional cases. It grants permission to legal activities where it’s impossible to avoid harming wild birds (e.g. a new housing development with planning permission).

Natural England also issues special licences for certain activities. Typical examples include those where wild birds are causing problems and need to be ‘removed’.

UK law states you must not…

  • Intentionally:
    • Injure, take, or kill wild birds.
    • Damage, destroy, or take the nest of a wild bird while it is being built or used.
    • Destroy or take the egg of a wild bird.
  • Control, possess, or transport live or dead wild birds (including parts of them or their eggs).
  • Display wild birds for sale or sell them.
  • Use any of the banned or prohibited methods to kill or take wild birds.

Schedule 1 Birds

Furthermore, ‘schedule 1 bird species‘ receive extra legal protection with special penalties for offenders. Typical examples include Barn Owls (scientific name Tyto alba) and Kingfishers (scientific name Alcedo atthis).

It is an offence to…

  • Intentionally disturb (or through lack of care):
    • Dependent young of schedule 1 bird species.
    • Schedule 1 birds while building a nest, nesting, inside (or near to) a nest that shelters their young.

Note: The penalty for each of the offences listed can result in an unlimited fine and up to six (6) months in prison.

Activities that Cause Harm to Wild Birds

Some of the most common human activities that can affect species of wild birds, especially during the breeding seasons, include:

  • Building and construction work, such as conversions, demolitions, and renovations.
  • Disturbances (e.g. bright lights, noise nuisances, and vibration).
  • Lethal and non-lethal actions taken to prevent common problems (e.g. dealing with nuisance bird species, removing nests, and shooting at them).
  • Trimming, cutting, and managing hedgerows, bushes, rough vegetation, and trees.

Licences for Activities that affect Birds

In general, there are no specific licences granted to permit development or construction. But, this type of work usually continues even if birds are present.

Assuming you qualify for one of the legal exemptions, you would need to comply with the exact terms to avoid breaking the law.

Natural England issues bird licences for activities that disturb or harm all kinds of wildlife if the reasons relate to:

  • Conserving animals and plants (including other species of wild birds)
  • Falconry, breeding or keeping birds in captivity, and photography
  • Preserving public health and safety (including air safety)
  • Preventing damage to animal feed, crops, or fisheries
  • Work for education, research, or science

Developers can get more information about working with construction near protected areas and wildlife and how to avoid harming protected areas and species.

Note: Natural England and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) offer extra guidance about surveys and mitigation for development projects in the United Kingdom.

Related Help Guides

Note: The main section contains more advice and information about wildlife and biodiversity enforcement laws including how to protect the natural environment.

Wild Birds Protection in the United Kingdom