Cage Traps and the Law

Cage traps are widely used by gamekeepers on shooting estates to trap and hold (then later kill by shooting or clubbing) corvids (crows, including magpies).

As distressing as finding wild birds trapped in a cage trap may be, their use is (currently) legal – but only under strict conditions and by a licenced user.

Trapping is permitted under the authority of relevant general licences issued by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for England, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) for Wales, since April 2020 NatureScot for Scotland, and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) for Northern Ireland.

Larsen Trap
Walk-in Cage Trap

Five types of live-catch cages are legally used, the main two being Larsen traps and Walk in multi-catch cage traps. We’re unlikely to come across or even notice the smaller traps sometimes used (like the clam or Larsen mate design highlighted in an RSPB case in April 2023), but General Licence conditions apply to all bird cage traps.

Cage traps are mainly used to catch Carrion Crows, Rooks, Magpies, and Jackdaws. 

  • Larsen traps are the smaller of the two and are light and compact enough to be moved around and used in different locations. They have two or three (sometimes more) compartments. The largest compartment is for holding either bait or a live bird to act as a decoy. The other compartment(s) are for catching the birds enticed into the trap.
  • Walk in multi-catch cage traps (sometimes known as Crow Cage Traps) are large enough for the operator to walk into. The trap is covered in mesh, and birds enter by a roof funnel, ground funnel, or ladder or letterbox entry point.

General Licence 33 (GL33) which runs from January 2023 and is valid until December 2023 says that a trap must be of one of the following permitted designs:


No other type of trap can be used under the terms of GL33.

Traps must be set in a location that minimises the likelihood of:

  • capturing non-target species
  • an unauthorised person interfering with the trap
  • non-target species damaging the trap, or harming themselves or trapped animals
  • target species being harmed when they’re held in the trap.

When in use, traps must be physically inspected at least every 25 hours. ‘Physically inspected’ means an inspection that is sufficient to check if:

  • any animal has been trapped – including the identification and physical condition of the trapped animal
  • any decoy bird held within the trap is in good health
  • there is food and water in sufficient quantity and condition
  • the trap is operating effectively.

If even one of the conditions listed above are not being met then the trap is being used illegally and a potential wildlife crime is being committed.


  • All ‘non-target species’ caught in a cage trap must be released UNHARMED immediately upon discovery.
  • At each inspection any dead animal, including any dead bird, caught in the trap should be removed from it.
  • Any birds killed in accordance with the general licences must be killed in a quick and humane manner (in Wales the general licences require that any bird held captive before being killed must be killed out of sight of other captive birds). In England a separate licence issued by Natural England is required to shoot a trapped bird.
  • In Scotland each trap must carry a sign that gives the operator’s ID number and the number of the local police station or the Wildlife Crime Officer for the area.

Yes, particularly Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which prohibits ‘unnecessary suffering’.

In its ‘Wildlife Management Advice Note‘ (published in 2010 and revised in April 2019), Natural England says of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 that “Although the Act focuses on domestic animals, it also applies to wild animals while they are being held captive”.

They specifically use the example of birds caught in cage traps (though it equally applies to eg snares), stating that “Under the Animal Welfare Act, leaving an animal in a cage trap without food, water or shelter for a period of time, so causing it to suffer unnecessarily, may be an offence,
especially if the period of time it was left untended exceeded that of any relevant licence conditions or guidelines.”

Larsen Mate or Clam Traps are widely used by gamekeepers on shooting estates to trap corvids.

They are a “portable, single-compartment, spring-operated cage trap. It comprises 2 shell sections hinged along one edge connected by one or more springs and kept open by a split-rod or trip-perch”.

General Licence 33 specifically says that:

  • When open (set) the minimum distance between any 2 corners of the trap must be 39cm but not exceed the size required to humanely capture the largest target species.
  • The trap must not shut tightly along the majority of the length of the meeting edges, to avoid injuring the animal when it closes.


The latter issue was documented on the notorious Moscar Estate by Moorland Monitors in May 2023 when they recorded a Carrion Crow pinned in a clam trap after it closed across the bird. This would have undoubtedly caused such an intelligent bird stress and suffering, and is not legal under the Animal Welfare Act as once caught the bird becomes the responsibility of the trap operator who  (ironically)must ensure the bird’s welfare before shooting it or clubbing it to death.

When in use, traps must be physically inspected at least every 25 hours.

You must only set traps if you are confident they will be inspected within the required period. For example, if inspection every 25 hours will not be possible because of predicted severe weather, you must not set the trap.

If unforeseen circumstances mean the trap cannot be inspected, you must make every effort to have the trap inspected as soon as possible.

‘Physically inspected’ means an inspection that is sufficient to check if:

  • any animal has been trapped – including the identification and physical condition of the trapped animal.
  • any decoy bird held within the trap is in good health.
  • there is food and water in sufficient quantity and condition.
  • the trap is operating effectively.

To make a ‘sufficient’ physical inspection an operator needs to have a clear view of all parts of the trap and its contents. This would normally require them to be close enough to touch the trap.

At each inspection, an operator must without unnecessary delay:

An operator must ensure the welfare of animals caught in their trap. If an animal suffers, an operator may have committed an offence of causing unnecessary suffering.

The law is clear on how a trap must be secured or immobilised when not in use. In all cases any bait, food, water or decoy birds must be removed when a trap is not in use.

In Scotland when any trap is not in use it must be immobilised and rendered incapable of use.

  • When any multi-catch cage trap is not in use access doors must be removed or securely padlocked so that no bird can be confined. Any other traps, when not in use, must be rendered incapable of catching any birds or animals by either removing from the site or securing shut with a padlock. Any Larsen mate or Larsen pod trap must be firmly pegged or staked down or tethered prior to use so that it cannot be moved should a non-target animal be caught.

In Wales when any cage trap is not in use it must be immobilised and rendered incapable of use in such a way that the immobilisation could not be reversed without considerable foresight and difficulty.

  • In order to render any cage traps incapable of holding or catching birds or other animals, it’s necessary to either secure the door in a fully open or closed position, secured with a padlock, or to remove the door completely. When any Larsen trap is not in use, it shall be removed from site and stored in such a manner as to prevent its accidental use.

In England when a cage trap is not in use it must be rendered incapable of holding or catching birds or other animals (but unlike in Scotland does not have to be padlocked open).

Government advice starts (tellingly) by appearing to acknowledge that the general public don’t like traps and says that an operator should avoid setting a trap in view of people using any areas they have a right of access to. If this is not possible, it advises useing signs to indicate it is a trap operated under a wildlife licence, to deter what it calls ‘human interference’.

  • Operators should avoid setting a trap where livestock or domestic animals are likely to interfere with it, causing injury to themselves or any animal in the trap.
  • Operators should avoid setting a trap during periods of extreme hot or cold weather, or when such conditions are likely. If extreme weather is possible, position traps so that either natural cover or an appropriate shelter provides trapped animals with shelter from the elements (including exposure to wind, rain, low or high temperatures).
  • Operators should avoid setting a trap in areas at risk of flooding that may harm animals held within the trap.

Cage traps need only be marked and registered in Scotland.

As of 1st April 2020 NatureScot Licensing took over Trap Registration from Police Scotland. Operators need to register with NatureScot in order to use Larsen Traps, Larsen Mate Traps, Larsen Pod Traps and multicatch crow traps under their General Licences. Registrations are issued to individual people rather than properties. Trap registration codes provided by NatureScot must be attached to any of the traps listed above.

The RSPB has made frequent recommendations that this be extended to other UK countries, but (as of 2023) no changes to licencing and marking have been made.

A ‘call bird’ is a corvid (usually a magpie) which is trapped and then kept alive as a decoy in a cage trap.

Corvids become territorial in the spring. Gamekeepers place ‘call birds’ in traps hoping corvids with established territories will think the ‘decoy’ is an intruder into their territory and will fly down and try to drive the ‘intruder’ away.

Some will inevitably get caught in the trap too, and will then be killed at a later stage by eg a gamekeeper.

Clearly this is traumatising for the bird held as a decoy as they can not escape or fly away, and (against the published advice) may witness birds of the same species being killed in front of them.

This cruel practice is done solely to ‘protect’ the eggs of birds being reared to be shot, including pheasants, partridges, and grouse, which are laid around the same time of year.

  • It is illegal to use ‘call birds’ which have been injured or maimed (usually as a result of shooting when trapping them in the first place), have had their wings clipped (the flight feathers removed), or which are blind.

Cage traps often hold a decoy or bait bird, used to attract other birds to the cage.

In England and Wales as of Jan 2022 ONLY the following species are allowed to be used as decoys:

  • Carrion Crow Corvus corone
  • Jackdaw Corvus monedula
  • Jay Garrulus glandarius (NB a Jay may never be used in Scotland)
  • Magpie Pica pica
  • Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus (considered a non-native species)
  • Ring-necked Parakeet Psittacula krameri (considered a non-native species)
  • Rook Corvus frugilegus
  • In Scotland Hooded Crows Corone cornix may be used as well.

It is illegal to use ANY other bird species as a decoy. NB Feral Pigeons are sometimes used as decoys to attract birds of prey: this is illegal.

It is also illegal to clip a decoy’s wings ( (ie cutting the flight feathers) or injure the decoy bird in any way. If they escape or are released, clipped wings would make the ‘decoy’ unable to escape attacks by predators or other birds.

The welfare of decoy birds is well-covered by law. If any of the following conditions are not being met then the trap is being operated illegally:

  • suitable food must be readily accessible.
  • clean drinkable water must be available all of the time (what ‘clean’ means is not properly defined in law, but water must be available for a decoy bird).
  • there must be shelter which protects the bird from prevailing weather conditions (this may just be a wooden shelf, but if a bird can escape rain it’s normally considered acceptable).
  • there must be a perch placed under the shelter.
  • no decoy bird can be left in a trap when the trap is not in use.
  • operators can not use any live bird or animal which is tethered, or secured by means of braces or other similar appliances, is blind, maimed or injured, or has had their wings clipped (the flight feathers cut so the bird can’t fly). (This last condition applies to shoots as well – it is illegal to use tethered, blind, maimed or injured birds to attract other birds to be shot.)

Yes, but only under very specific circumstances and under licence.

In an advice note on the Animal Welfare Act 2006, Natural England notes that live prey species can be used as decoys under a Natural England licence to assist in the capture of birds of prey for ringing or marking for the purpose of research and/or conservation.

They stress that the technique could cause the decoy (prey) species to suffer as a result of its proximity to a natural predator, but that “The practice is considered acceptable in certain situations under the Animal Welfare Act provided that all the following criteria are

• the licence is issued for a genuine purpose (ie as listed in Section 16 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act);
• there is no alternative means of capturing the bird of prey;
• the cage trap is under constant direct supervision while it is in use;
• the decoy is removed and released as soon as the predator is caught, and
• is not used more than once.”

Licences permitting the use of live decoys are assessed on their individual merits and the technique is only authorised where the licensed activity would be of benefit to the bird of prey or its conspecifics (ie a member of the same species).

Any animal used as a decoy (this would typically be a Feral Pigeon or a corvid) is also subject to Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which relates to ‘Duty of person responsible to ensure animal welfare’.

Government advice is clear – then not so-clear!

It says that operators must NOT use meat baits, including carrion, in any trap – unless strictly necessary. This is to minimise catching non-target species.

If it is strictly necessary meat baits can be used:

  • to catch a Corvid decoy bird when you do not have an existing decoy bird and meat is the only effective bait.
  • for the effective control of carrion crows, which are causing serious damage by feeding on livestock – excluding eggs.
  • where decoy birds or other bait types, such as eggs, are ineffective.

The legal definition of ‘strictly necessary‘ appears to be vague, though, and open to interpretation by shooting estates and the agriculture industry.

No. It is illegal to use any sound recording as a decoy.

Condition 8 of General Licence 33 says that a trap operator “must humanely dispatch trapped target species… without delay.” The advice says that an operator “should remove birds from the trap and dispatch using a humane method. Humane methods include a sharp blow to the back of the head using a suitable stick or dedicated priest [a tool for killing wild animals or fish] or equivalent”.

The advice also recommends that as far as is practicable an operator should “avoid the public seeing the dispatch” and that they “must not dispatch birds in view of decoy birds or other trapped birds”.

Clearly this demonstrates that the government recognises that the public would object if they saw this practice taking place and that it is traumatic for highly intelligent birds like corvids to witness other birds being killed in front of them. That hasn’t persuaded them to ban this sort of trapping and killing though.

All ‘non-target species’ caught in a cage trap must be released UNHARMED by the operator immediately upon discovery.

If we find a so-called ‘non-target species’ trapped in the cage (particularly if the species is protected) we are recommended not to try and release it as we may harm or injure the bird, and even find ourselves charged with damaging a legal trap.

Instead take a photo for evidence and call the police on 999 immediately.

An option is to also call an animal welfare charity:

  • Contact RSPB Wildlife Enquiries on 01767 693690.
  • England and Wales – RSPCA Cruelty line 0300 1234 999
  • Scotland – Scottish SPCA Animal Helpline 03000 999 999
  • Northern Ireland – USPCA Animal Information Line 028 3025 1000, caller ID required


What though if the bird is injured and needs help? Most of us would take the bird to a vet as soon as we could. Could we be charged with criminal damage if we have to break a padlock to get into the trap? Possibly, but if the trap were being used illegally, the bird being held illegally, and we were only concerned with the welfare of the bird the chances of police taking actions would be low – but please note we are not advising criminal damage and cannot know how an individual police officer might react on the day.

If a bird of prey is trapped in a legal crow cage-type trap it must be released by the cage operator immediately. There are no exceptions to this.

Our instinctive reaction on finding a trapped bird of prey, then, would be to release it immediately. However it is not recommended – no matter how tempting. A trapped bird may attack injuring themselves or injuring us, and (if we’re caught or recorded) we may even find ourselves charged with damaging a legal trap.

Instead take a photo for evidence and call the police on 999 immediately. Also contact the RSPB on their Raptor Crime Hotline 0300 999 0101


No. At each inspection any dead animal, including any dead bird, caught in the trap should be removed from it.

Finding a trap with a dead bird which is decomposed or fly-blown means that in all likelihood the operator has not been checking the trap at least every 25 hours – one of the conditions of use.

Take a photograph for evidence and report the incident to the police.

Red Squirrels and their dreys (resting places) receive full protection under Schedules 5 and 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). It is therefore an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take a Red Squirrel, but they can be trapped with a licence. Anyone trapping in an area where Red Squirrels are present (typically for monitoring purposes) should be using live capture traps. These must be checked regularly and the squirrel released unharmed.

Traps used to catch Grey Squirrels are typically lethal kill traps because under the Invasive non-native (alien) animal species regulations (which came into force in December 2019) it’s illegal to release a trapped Grey Squirrel back into the wild (or keep them as pets or let them breed or escape).

‘Humane’ live capture Grey Squirrel traps are still sold (so simply baited cages that hold an animal until release), but the majority of traps are ‘spring traps’ – either metal mesh cages (often mounted in a tree) or Fenn-style ground-based wooden boxes. Both are slightly larger than a squirrel with (usually) a baffled entrance. The traps are baited, often with hazelnuts, and close shut when a squirrel enters. As the squirrel reaches for the bait a plunger is triggered which crushes the animal’s head or a powerful spring bar is triggered which snaps shut. Some designs trigger CO2-filled gas canisters.

The law states that only approved spring traps can be used and that traps are set in natural or artificial tunnels to reduce the risk of killing non-target species.

No. Much as we dislike them, the fact is that because their use is currently legal it is an offence to tamper with a legally-operated trap, and damaging or destroying them could risk being charged with criminal damage (which occurs when someone unlawfully, and intentionally or recklessly, damages or destroys property belonging to another person).

Aside from ethical considerations (and there are many), if you have any doubts or concerns about a trap you’ve found (especially about how it’s being used etc) then take photographs and details and REPORT them to the police on 999 or the RSPB Investigations Team.

  • Note that in some areas (especially at sites where the public has access and are more likely to come across a trap) remote cameras have been installed next to cage traps to catch individuals damaging them. These cameras can record audio as well as video.

Wildlife crime is defined as any action which contravenes current legislation governing the protection of the UK’s wild flora and fauna, including species traded in the UK.

Note that wildlife crime does NOT include:

  • Incidents involving domestic or companion animals such as dogs (other than dogs being used to hunt mammals), cats, rabbits, domesticated birds, etc.
  • Wild animals that have been involved (killed or injured etc) in road traffic accidents.

Road accidents with wild animals do not need to be reported to the police, but note that domestic animals (as well as goats, horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep and pigs) come within the remit of the Road Traffic Act.
If you have a road accident involving these animals you are required by law to report it to the police. If the wild animal is so badly injured in a road accident that there is no chance of recovery or the animal can not be returned to the wild then he or she may be euthanised, providing there is no appropriate long-term captive or semi-captive accommodation or when treatment would involve undue suffering or distress.

If we come across a wildlife crime scene or a dead bird/object that may be related to a wildlife crime every piece of information is – or might be – important, but it needs to be recorded properly and accurately for the authorities to have a chance of prosecuting an offender.

  • Before we do anything else it is very important that we do NOT approach anyone we suspect of committing a crime – they may be violent and/or aggressive. This is especially true of badger baiters and hare coursers who are typically extremely violent. This must be a first priority!
What do we need to record?
  • What we can see happening – what sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved, could we or the public be in danger?
  • The exact location. Most smartphones have map apps or download the free What3Words app. If in open countryside look for obvious landmarks or fence lines, a tall or isolated tree, a wind turbine, any streams or brooks etc. Think about what information you might need to re find a remote location.
  • It is important to record if at all possible whether we are on or near public land as this will determine the type of police response.
  • Never put ourselves in danger, but can we see who is involved and what they look like (e.g. number of people, their gender(s), age(s), the clothing worn, tools being carried)? Can we hear them – if so what are they saying, are they using any names etc?
  • If any dogs are involved how many are there, what colour are they, do we know what breed they are (even information like ‘terriers’ or ‘lurcher-types’ can be very useful).
  • The make, colour and registration number of any vehicle (we can take photos of a car if we think it is being used or might be used to commit a crime). Does it have any obvious dents, branding or markings, spotlights, bullbars etc.



  • Do NOT disturb the scene by walking around unnecessarily – small pieces of evidence (cigarette ends, footprints, the marks left by a spade etc) may be lost or trampled into the mud or grass.
  • If photographing an object do try to use eg a coin or a notebook/field guide for scale – providing it won’t disturb the crime scene.
  • If in the countryside take wide angle photographs of any landmarks (a tree, a distinctive fenceline, a hill) that might help officers relocate the crime scene. DO NOT mark a site with eg a white plastic bag though. Being able to see a marker from a distance might sound like a good idea, but it will also alert an offender that someone has been at the site: they may go back and remove the evidence
  • Do NOT move any items at the scene – the exception being if they are likely to disappear before the police arrive when we can collect them as evidence.
  • Do NOT touch any dead birds or animals with bare hands. They may be poisoned baits or victims of poisoning. Many poisons (eg Carbofuran) are extremely dangerous in even very small amounts and can be absorbed through the skin.
  • Do NOT do anything illegal ourselves – that might mean our evidence is not admissible.
 If we see a wildlife crime taking place (or someone is at risk of getting injured or is being threatened) call 999 immediately.
They will want to know what we can see happening:
  • What sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved
  • Could we or the public be in danger
  • Do we have photos or video footage which may be used as evidence
  • Tell whoever you REPORT the crime to exactly what you have RECORDED as described in the section above.
To report a historic crime – that is, a crime that is no longer taking place – use 101 or a local organisation instead.
  • If calling the police ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer and make sure to get an Incident Report number.
  • Please always follow any advice given and – if they are not available – insist that a Wildlife Crime Officer is made aware of your report.
  •  Our options are wider if the event is over, and it may be preferable to talk first to a charity or NGO to get advice. Crimestoppers (an independent charity) can be contacted in complete confidence on 0800 555 111
  • When thinking about reporting a crime it’s worth noting that only the police have statutory powers to make an arrest. RSPCA and RSPB investigation officers work with the police for successful prosecutions.
Reporting a wildlife crime (or even a suspected wildlife crime) is important for two reasons.
  • If the event is still happening it may enable the authorities to catch the criminals ‘in the act’ (which means a higher chance of prosecution),
  • and if the event is over a report can still help to build up a more accurate picture of what might be happening in a specific location or across the country as a whole.
Our help is always welcomed
  • Whoever we decide to contact we have been assured that our help is welcomed and that if we’re in any doubt that what we’re seeing is a crime we should report it anyway. Remember, if what we see ‘feels’ wrong, it probably is!
  • Even if we’re not sure about what we’re seeing, we can take a photograph and email it to the police or an investigations officer – they are trained to quickly recognise for example when a snare is illegally placed, whether a trap is being used illegally, or whether a crime is being committed or not.
  • We may help stop or solve future crimes by helping build up a pattern of behaviour in an area.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault, or what we should do if we’re arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in over thirty simple, mobile-friendly pages just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault or harassment, or what we should do if we’re stopped and searched or even arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in forty-one simple, mobile-friendly pages and over 500 FAQs just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource with two aims: to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution; and to provide a ‘quick guide’ to anyone interacting with hunts, hunt supporters, or the police.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to, and the more we know our rights the better we can protect ourselves.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit currently has seven priority offences for wildlife crime.

Badger persecution

It is illegal to interfere with or block a badger’s home or ‘sett’. Badger baiting is a centuries-old now illegal blood sport, where small dogs such as terriers or lurchers seek badgers out of their setts before fighting and killing them.

Bat persecution

Bats and their homes are legally protected, so disturbing or removing them is an offence. If bats roost in your roof, you need to obtain a special ‘bat mitigation licence’ from Natural England to be allowed to disturb them. They are hugely important to our ecosystem.

Trade of endangered species

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) sets out which endangered animals and plants have protected status. It is illegal to remove any of them from their natural habitat, possess, or sell them. Currently, the top priorities are European eels, birds of prey, ivory, medicinal and health products, reptiles, rhino horns, and timber.

Freshwater pearl mussel offences

These Endangered mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera) are only found in rivers in Scotland and small parts of England. They can live for more than 130 years but are extremely sensitive to water pollution and have been illegally farmed for years. It is illegal to damage or destroy their habitat or to take, injure or kill them.


Fox, deer, and hare hunting are all illegal under the Hunting Act 2004. Poaching offences also cover illegal fishing – when anglers do not obtain a licence or remove protected fish from lakes and rivers without returning them.

Raptor persecution

Birds of prey are often targeted on shooting estates. Their eggs are also traded illegally. It is an offence to target, poison, or kill them, with a particular focus on Golden Sagles, Goshawks, Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Red Kites, and White-tailed Eagles. Disturbing or taking their eggs or chicks is also illegal.

Cyber-enabled wildlife crime

Social media is often used to promote wildlife crime and recruit people to take part in it. Endangered plants and animals are also traded illegally online.

  • Punishment must fit the crime. Conditional discharges and paltry fines are not a disincentive for criminals.

A common complaint is that even if wildlife criminals are brought to court the fines or sentences they get are pathetic and not a disincentive. In most cases judges are giving out the penalties they are allowed to under the law. Changes can be made though. In 2022 the maximum sentence for ‘causing uneccesary suffering’ went from six months to five years. That was the result of targeted public pressure and campaigning. We need to identify where changes should be made and push hard for them.


  • Wildlife crime must be notifiable and statistics accurately compiled so that resources can be properly targeted.

Police forces are required by law to inform the Home Office of any notifiable offences, which then uses the reports to compile the crime statistics known as ‘recorded crime’. Currently, wildlife crimes are not ‘notifiable’ though (and wildlife crime involving firearms are also not recorded as firearms offences by the Police).  Without them being notifiable, no one knows how many wildlife crimes are being committed across the UK and where the hotspots are (though ‘grouse moors’ is one obvious response). As we have stated many times on this website, law and legislative enforcement is hugely underfunded and under-resourced. Some of this has undoubtedly been through political choice, but if we at least know which crimes are being committed and where, the resources that are available can be placed where they are needed most.


  • There must be changes to make it far easier for all of us to play our part in ‘Recognising, Reporting, Recording’ wildlife cime.

As even a quick glance at the Protectors pages makes clear, laws protecting wildlife are hard to understand. Major pieces of legislation like the Hunting Act 2004  and other laws are riddled with exemptions which strongly favour the hunting, shooting, and agricultural industries. Some date from a century or more ago and don’t reflect the modern world. These need to be updated. While there has undoubtedly been efforts made by successive governmants to use ‘plain english’ to explain legislation, any government wanting to tackle wildlife crime needs to make understanding what is and what isn’t a crime far more easily understood and put resources into a reporting system that the public feel confident using. Crucially, the public need to be sure that if they do report a crime it will be acted upon.


  • We have to protect the environment and wildlife properly.

Laws protecting wildlife and the environment need to be revised to reflect the 21st century and the biodiversity and climate crises we are in. Animals (and plants) are not an add-on or a ‘nice to have’ – they have shaped the systems that life depends on, and our laws need to reflect how critically important they are.


If you’d like to support just one legislative change, Protect the Wild has launched ‘The Hunting of Mammals Bill: A Proper Ban on Hunting‘ – please sign our petition calling for a proper ban on hunting with dogs.

We would like Protectors of the Wild to be the ‘go to’ free resource, packed with the kind of information that really does help all of us become ‘eyes in the field. But we can’t possibly think of every question that might need answering or every situation someone might find themselves in! And while the information in these pages is largely taken from Government online advice and was compiled in 2023 (and constantlyy updated), perhaps we’ve missed something out.

If you could provide us with legal advice get in touch. Or if you find a mistake or a gap please let us know. That way we can continually improve Protectors of the Wild – for the benefit of animals and all of us. Thanks.

‘Protectors of the Wild’ is a project of Protect the Wild. We have a dedicated email address for anyone wishing to get in touch with a specific Protectors query or with additional information etc. Please use the form on our Contact Protectors page or email Thank you.

Much of the information we give in these pages is very technical or to do with legislation which can be revised without much notice. While we have worked very hard on these pages and we take keeping our information accurate and up-to-date very seriously, Protect the Wild are not legal professionals. Just to make sure no-one thinks we’re offering professional legal advice, we feel obliged to include the following disclaimer on every page.

  • Please think of the ‘Protectors of the Wild’ pages as a ‘first stop’ before seeking legal advice. We provide detailed information but not professional advice. The information provided by Protect the Wild should NOT be considered or relied on as legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Any of the material on our website may be out of date at any given time, and we are under no legal obligation to update such material. While we update and revise as often as we can, Protect the Wild assumes no responsibility for the accuracy and correctness of any information, or for any consequences of relying on it. Please do not act or refrain from acting upon this information without seeking professional legal advice.