Deer and the Law

There are six species of deer in the UK: native Red and Roe Deer; Fallow Deer (first brought to Britain during the Roman period but now considered to be naturalised), and invasive, non-native Sika, (Reeves’) Muntjac and Water Deer. Deer populations are probably higher now than ever before. They are an important part of the UK’s countryside and play a vital role in creating balanced ecosystems.

Deer are protected by the Deer Act 1991 which criminalises various activities including poaching deer and the use of certain ammunition in hunting deer and the Hunting Act 2004 which bans hunting of mammals with dogs, but they can currently be legally hunted in certain circumstances at certain times of the year.

Deer are still chased and killed in the southwest of England. The ‘deer hunting season’ is divided into three phases. From early August until the end of October mature stags are hunted, from November to early March hinds are hunted, and during March and April young stags are hunted. 

It is illegal to:

  • Use anything except legal firearms to kill deer.
  • Use a snare to take or kill a deer.
  • Shoot out of season unless authorised to do so.
  • Shoot at night (one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise) except under licence.
  • Shoot from a moving vehicle.
  • Use a vehicle to drive deer (unless there is no intention for them to be taken or killed: deer can be moved by a vehicle to to count them, clear them from an area where they are causing damage or pose a threat to safety for example).
  • Sell venison in Scotland, except to a licensed venison dealer.


Deer can only be legally hunted/culled/killed during the following periods – the so-called ‘open season’.

Males typically have different ‘seasons’ from females (who may be carrying or have dependent young).

The dates are inclusive – outside of these periods deer are legally protected:

  • Red deer stags: Aug 1 – April 30 (mature stags from early August until the end of October, young stags from March to the end of April)
  • Red deer hinds: Nov 1 – Mar 31 (Oct 21 – Feb 15 in Scotland)
  • Fallow deer bucks: Aug 1 – April 30
  • Fallow deer does: Nov 1– Mar 31 (Oct 21 – Feb 15 in Scotland)
  • Roe deer bucks: April 1 – Oct 31 (1 April – 20 October in Scotland)
  • Roe deer does: Nov 1 – Mar 31 (Oct 21 – Mar 31 in Scotland)
  • Sika deer stags: Aug 1 – April 30
  • Sika deer hinds: Nov 1 – Mar 31 (Oct 21 – Mar 31 in Scotland)
  • Chinese Water Deer bucks (England only): Nov 1 – Mar 31
  • Chinese Water Deer does (England only): Nov 1 – Mar 31
  • Muntjac Deer – there is NO close season for Muntjacs which can legally culled all year round

Deer seasons exist to protect female deer and their young and male deer still growing their antlers, but there is a ‘last resort’ provision under Section 7 of the Deer Act 1991 that allows for deer to be culled out of season on pasture, cultivated land or enclosed woodland only.

If you are not the owner or occupier of the land you will need written authority from the owner/occupier to kill/cull out-of-season deer unless you are:

  • Any member of the occupier’s household normally resident on the land;
  • Any person in ordinary service of the occupier of the land;
  • Any person having the right to take or kill deer on the land;
    Any person acting with written authority of a person having that right.


The excuses for killing out-of-season include:

  • Having ‘reasonable grounds’ (a very woolly concept in law) for believing that deer of the same species were causing, or had caused, damage to crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber or any other form of property on the land.
  • It was likely that further damage would be so caused and any such damage was likely to be serious.
  • the action was necessary for the purpose of preventing any such damage.


Note that only individuals of the species of deer that are causing the damage on the land where the damage occurred may be killed.


This is a ‘defence’ and not a right, and does not cover the shooting of deer at night which can only be done under a specific license issued by Natural England or NRW (if in Wales).


For Scotland, NatureScot says “Authorisations – both general and specific – can allow you to cull deer in situations where you wouldn’t usually have the legal right to shoot them. You don’t need to apply to use the general authorisation. But you must be sure that you carry out any control entirely in accordance with the conditions. Please note all of our deer forms have been updated and we will no longer accept any out-of-date forms.”

As much as we may find it distressing or don’t believe it is necessary, the law strongly favours the landowner when it comes to deer ‘culling’.

That makes it very difficult to stop a deer ‘cull’ taking place if it is being carried out legally:

  •  the landowner or occupier has given permission for the killing to take place;
  • the deer being killed are not protected by a close season; 
  • the correct firearms are being used in the correct way;
  • and the animals are not being caused ‘unnecessary suffering’.


Shooters must be aware of members of the public when using firearms, but culling operations may be carried out on land or in woodland crossed by footpaths etc.

No, the Hunting Act 2004 made it illegal to chase deer with dogs. 

However, some landowners in south west England who want deer ‘culled’ are actively involved with the three remaining deer hunting packs. These packs exploit loopholes in the Hunting Act that says: a mammal can be ‘flushed’ out by a maximum of two hounds and shot, or to relieve suffering; a deer can also be killed in the name of ‘research’.

Deer are fully protected by the Hunting Act 2004 which makes it illegal to hunt mammals including deer with dogs, yet there are still packs hunting deer in the south-west of England.

Stag hunts (which do not technically ‘trail hunt’) use exemptions and loopholes in the Hunting Act – especially the so-called ‘Observation and Research’ exemption which allows hunting with two dogs ‘for the purpose of or in connection with the observation or study of the wild mammal.

  • No peer-reviewed ‘research’ has EVER been published by a hunt.
  • To get around the Hunting Act 2004, note that hunts will use two dogs ‘in relay’ – as the dogs tire they will be replaced wth fresher ones, meaning that a single deer will eventually be chased by many dogs but not by more than two dogs at any one time (though hunts have been recorded on numerous occasions chasing deer with more than two dogs).

Hunts have recently starting claiming (without any evidence) that the hunted deer ‘has TB’, exploiting Schedule 1.2(a) of the Hunting Act, through which the hunt can use two hounds to flush out a mammal that might cause “serious damage” to livestock. This baseless claim was refuted in September 2023 by The Deer Society. Besides which any deer suspected of having bTB shouldn’t be chased across the countryside as the risk of spreading the disease in the deer’s bodily fluids (eg saliva) is presumably very high.

Hunts routinely suggest that they are only hunting a deer to ‘put it out of its misery’ or to ‘relieve suffering’. This invariably means that the ‘suffering’ deer is chased on horseback for many miles before the exhausted animal is finally shot.

Deer hunting is yet another reason why we have launched our campaign to replace the Hunting Act with much stronger legislation which bans hunting with dogs with no exceptions whatsoever.  Please see ‘A Proper Ban on Hunting‘.

A licence is no longer needed to kill or take deer anywhere in the UK, though obtaining a Deer Stalking Certificate is typically recommended by shooting websites looking to legitimise deer shooting.

However, it is law that someone must apply for a licence (A16) from Natural England to shoot deer:

  • in the close season for health and safety reasons, or to prevent the deterioration of natural heritage.
  • at night for health and safety reasons, to prevent the deterioration of natural heritage or to stop serious damage to property.

Natural England will only (or at least, should only) issue a licence where there:

  • is a serious risk of deer causing the problems concerned;
  • is not a satisfactory alternative.

In law, only rifles and ammunition which are legal for the species of deer being shot can be shot. The legal requirements are laid down in the Deer Acts and vary slightly depending on the size of deer being killed.

England and Wales

For Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer only – a rifle with a minimum calibre of not less than .220 inches and muzzle energy of not less than 1000 foot pounds and a bullet weight of not less than 50 grains may be used.

For all deer of any species – a minimum calibre of .240 and minimum muzzle energy of 1,700 foot pounds is the legal requirement.

Northern Ireland

For Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer only – a rifle with a minimum calibre of not less than .220 inches and muzzle energy of not less than 1000 foot pounds and a bullet weight of not less than 50 grains may be used.

For all deer of any species – a minimum calibre of .236 inches, a minimum bullet weight of 100 grains and minimum muzzle energy of 1,700 foot pounds is the legal requirement.


For Roe Deer, where the bullet must weigh at least 50 grains AND have a minimum muzzle velocity of 2,450 feet per second and a minimum muzzle energy of 1,000 foot pounds may be used.

For all deer of any species – the minimum legal requirement is that the bullet must weigh at least 100 grains AND have a minimum muzzle velocity of 2,450 feet per second and a minimum muzzle energy of 1,750 foot pounds.

Stag hunting has a long and bloody history. Confined to the west country now, it is perhaps the most abhorrent and depraved practice of the hunting community in the whole of the U.K. Even within hunting circles it has long been referred to as ‘a blood sport too far’. Pro-hunt individuals confess that it is the hunting communities’ Achilles heel.

Protect the Wild has published several articles on stag (and hind) hunting written by ‘The Secret Monitor’, an activist with connections inside the west countries’ deer hunts.

For more inside information on this appalling bloodsport please see:

In law, deer which can roam freely are wild animals and are not owned by, or the responsibility of, anyone and have protection under the Deer Acts. NatureScot (which generally appears pro-hunting and pro-shooting) says that “Scotland’s deer are owned by nobody but managed by numerous organisations and individuals – as a hunting asset, in the public interest and to reduce deer impacts on agriculture”.

A wild deer becomes the property of a landowner when “reduced into possession” i.e. killed or captured: in other words a culled deer is the property of the owner of the land on which it dies.

A deer killed in a road accident is the property of the owner of the highway, verge or land on which it falls.

How the law relates to enclosed deer (for example in a park) is less clear, but they are generally regarded as “wild” with respect to shooting ‘seasons’.

Deer which carry tags that include the agricultural holding number or which are listed as part of a farm enterprise are regarded as domestic livestock and therefore (in law) as property.

It is illegal to go onto land without the consent of the owner or occupier (or other lawful authority) in search or pursuit of deer with the intention of taking, killing or injuring.

Even with landowner permission or consent to go onto the land it is illegal to take or intentionally kill certain deer in close season, or to attempt to do so.

  • There is an exception for businesses which keep deer in enclosed land for the production of meat, or other foodstuffs, or skins or other by-products, or as breeding stock. Such deer must be conspicuously marked/tagged so that they can be identified.
  • It may also be a defence if an offender believed they would have had consent if the owner/occupier knew what they were doing, and the circumstances in which they were doing it.
Where it is suspected that someone is committing an offence, they can be required to leave the land immediately and to give their full name and address. Failing to do is also a criminal offence.

Poaching is the illegal killing or taking of an animal, and usually involves trespass/land rights. Poaching is typically done for financial gain.

Deer poaching therefore is the illegal or unauthorised hunting of deer without the landowners’ permission. It is carried out in a variety of ways including shooting at night under spotlight (lamping) and illegal hunting with dogs. Lamping and the use of night vision equipment, for example, is considered to be the most common method of poaching deer in Northern Ireland.

  • Poachers have no regard for the welfare of deer. Deer are routinely chased down by dogs at night or are killed out of season, even when they are close to breeding.
  • Poachers regularly intimidate and threaten landowners and members of the public when challenged. They are often involved in armed trespass, a serious offence of trespassing with a firearm.
  • Poachers are often part of criminal gangs with links to violence and other areas of crime.
Poachers can be very violent, may have dogs with them, and of course are usually armed. If you witness poaching taking place DO NOT approach but call the police immediately.

Deer poaching is the illegal taking or killing of deer without the landowner’s permission. It typically involves trespass, dogs and firearms, and is carried out by Organised Crime Gangs who are not interested in either the welfare of the deer or the concerns of the landowner.

The Deer Society estimates (without explaining where its data comes from) that “as many as 50,000 deer are killed eey year by poachers, ofte using dogs to attack deer at night“.

No it is not.

It is a criminal offence to set a trap or snare, or to use poisoned or stupefying bait intended to cause injury to any deer coming into contact with it, or to use such methods for the purpose of taking or killing a deer (or to attempt to do so).

It’s also illegal to use certain firearms or ammunition as set out in the Deer Act (unless the owner has given written permission to do so), kill a deer from a moving vehicle, as well as use other specific weapons and articles such as spears and arrows.

Some stag hunt supporters are currently claiming that the hounds that hunts use are able to detect diseased deer that appear healthy to human observers.

This claim is designed to excuse hunting with hounds, exploiting Schedule 1.2(a) of the Hunting Act, through which the hunt can use two hounds to flush out a mammal that might cause “serious damage” to livestock.

The British Deer Society stated in September 2023 that “the BDS has seen no evidence that hounds are able to detect or select diseased
deer that appear healthy to experienced humans. No peer-reviewed scientific work has given any weight to this theory.”

Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) is a Notifiable Disease and must be reported.

Stag hunts have started to claim that they are offering a service by killing deer infected with bovine tuberculosis. How could they recognise a deer with bTB though?

According to a best practice guide published by the Deer Initiative in 2009 and repeated verbatim by Nature Scot in January 2023,Live deer often show no outward signs of infection but animals with advanced disease may appear emaciated, have diarrhoea or may just be quiet and unwell“. Stag hunts last for many hours and hunts choose the largest, healthiest deer to chase, making an absolute nonsense of their claims to be searching out infected deer.

What should they do if they then kill a deer they think has bTB?

If TB is suspected in a wild deer carcase the following actions have to be taken:

  • Under the Tuberculosis (Deer) Order 1989 (as amended) suspicion of TB in any deer (or carcase) whether farmed, park or wild, must be notified to the Duty Vet at a local Animal Health Office,
  • Contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on 03000 200301 and report your findings.
  • Contain the gralloch / viscera in an impervious container (eg. a strong, sealed plastic bag).

APHA will advise on the next steps. If disease is suspected an APHA inspector will be deployed to collect the required samples. APHA can also advise regards disposal of the remainder of the carcase and its contents.

  • It is important that suspicious carcases are handled and disposed of safely and in line with the Animal By Products Regulations as they can pose a disease risk to other animals.

This should mean that if a stag hunt claims they are hunting a deer with bTB they MUST NOT share out the animal after a kill (or collect trophies) and MUST inform APHA of the kill if those claims are to be taken seriously.

The police have the power to stop and search a person, and any vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing the person may be using, if there are reasonable grounds to believe an offence under the Act has been or is being committed.

  • The police also have the power to seize and detain any deer, venison, vehicle, animal, weapon (or other thing relating to the offence) as evidence.
  • The police have power to sell any deer or venison seized.
  • The police have power to enter land (unless it is a home or ‘dwelling house’) without a warrant, in the exercise of their powers under the Act, or when arresting a person for an offence under the Act.

The penalty for offences under the Deer Act 1991 is a maximum level 4 fine and/or, in some cases, imprisonment of up to 3 months.

The Court also has the power to order the forfeiture of any deer or venison in relation to the offence, and any vehicle, animal, weapon, etc, which was used to commit the office (or could have been used to take, kill or injure deer).

In some case, the Court also has the power to cancel any firearm or shotgun certificate held by a person.

If someone is charged with an offence under the Deer Act 1991, the following defences are available:

  • the act was in pursuance of a requirement by the Minister of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra).
  • the act was to prevent the suffering of an injured or diseased deer.
  • killing the deer was an act of mercy– but where a smooth-bore gun (ie one that has a barrel without rifling) is used and the deer had been seriously injured (not by that person’s act) or was in a serious condition.
  • where, in the case of the slaughtering of a deer, the person uses certain other types of smooth-bore guns.
  • where the person has a licence granted by Natural England.

Various defences are also available to occupiers of land, as well as members of their household, and their employees, and others who have the right to take or kill deer on that land.

It is not a legal requirement to report hitting a deer, even though it’s estimated that 40,000 (and perhaps as many as 74,000) deer are killed or injured on UK roads every year.

The advice usually given is as follows:

If you hit a deer while driving or see an injured deer on the roadside:

  • When it is safe to do so, pull over at a safe place and if necessary use hazard lights to advise other motorists you have stopped.
  • Call the Police and give as precise a location as possible.
  • Do not try to assist or move the deer unless you have been trained – deer are powerful; wounded animals can lash out; the deer may try to run across the road risking another accident; you could put yourself in danger.

Muntjac (or Reeves’ Muntjac) were brought from China to Woburn Park (Bedfordshire) in the early 20th century.

Deliberate releases and escapes from Woburn and other estates in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, led to the establishment of feral populations, and they are now widespread and increasing in number and range. Unlike other species of deer in Britain, Muntjac do not have a defined breeding season (rut) and are capable of breeding at eight months old and breed all year round.

However, they are not considered a native species in the UK and perhaps never will be. Muntjac were listed in England and Wales as invasive non-native species under the Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019  (IAS) and in Scotland as invasive non-native species under the Wildlife & Natural Environment Act (Scotland) 2011 (even though at the time there was little evidence that the species was resident in the country).

Both pieces of legislation are broadly similar in reference to Muntjac and ban:

  • The release of muntjac into the wild without a specific license (Note: the IAS Order revoked any existing release licenses previously granted under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981)
  • The import of live muntjac into the UK
  • The breeding of muntjac in captivity
  • The sale of live muntjac

Any muntjac already in captivity must remain in captivity until the end of their natural lives and should not be bred (a licence is required in Scotland to keep a Muntjac in captivity).

Animal rescue centres (or similar) are not allowed to release any muntjac back into the wild that have been brought to them and rehabilitated (the same applies to Grey Squirrels which are also listed under the ISA).

It’s possible that deliberately releasing a muntjac accidentally trapped in an enclosed area would constitute an offence, though releasing an animal accidentally trapped outside (caught in netting for example) wouldn’t be.


  • There is NO close season for Muntjac Deer and they can legally be killed/culled all year round.

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 would you 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.

For more general information about deer in the UK go to our Deer Facts page.

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.