Adopt
fox hounds

Dogs and the Law

We love dogs here at Protect the Wild, but through no fault of their own they are widely used by hunters, shooters, and wildlife criminals like badger baiters and hare coursers to fight, chase, retrieve, or kill wild animals. That means that we may well come across dogs (or packs of dogs) when out and about.

 UK law on for example worrying farmed animals, dogs wearing collars, picking up dog faeces, or preventing dogs from running on to roads are straightforward enough, but, as described below, as is so often the case exemptions have been made for dogs used for hunting and shooting. Many law-abiding dog owners who never ‘bend the rules’ might legitimately question why the law has been altered for a small minority of dog owners.

While some of the questions below are also answered on other pages, we felt it made sense to bring as much information together on dogs in one place as possible.

(Also see Protectors pages on > Deer and the Law> Foxes and the Law, > Hare Coursing and the Law, > The Hunting Act 2004, > The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill 2023).

Under the Hunting Act 2004, it is an offence in England and Wales to hunt wild mammals with dogs (unless that hunting is exempt). Specifically it is an offence to:

  • Hunt a wild mammal with a dog,
  • Permit land to be used for hunting a wild mammal with a dog,
  • Permit a dog to be used for hunting a wild mammal,
  • Enter/permit/handle a dog in a hare-coursing event.

In England and Wales the Hunting Act 2004 allows only one dog to be used below ground and only in respect of foxes. In Scotland the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act is similar but also allows dogs to hunt mink underground.

The dog must be

  • under control
  • fitted with a device to allow tracking of the position of the dog below ground.

 

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act requires that once flushed, a fox must be shot or killed by a bird of prey. If an attempt to kill a fox results in the fox being injured but not killed, reasonable steps must be taken to kill the fox in a way (other than by using a dog) that causes the minimum possible suffering. The Act bans using a dog to search for, or flush a rabbit from below ground

Exemptions were inserted into the Hunting Act 2004 to allow hunting to continue in much the same way as it did pre the Hunting Act 2004. These exemptions are repeatedly used by hunts to excuse illegal hunting with dogs.

  • Stalking and flushing to guns: Two dogs may be used to flush a fox from cover so it can be shot for the purpose of protecting livestock, ‘gamebirds’ or biodiversity. The dogs must be kept under close control and the fox must be shot as soon as it breaks from cover – no further chasing is allowed. (Easily exploited and the ‘rules’ broken by hunts with no interest in ‘protecting biodiversity’).
  • Rescue of an injured mammal: Two dogs may be used to capture a fox if the hunt believes it is injured and the hunting is undertaken to relieve its suffering. (In other words, illegally hunt a fox, injure it, and then ‘legally’ continue the hunt on welfare grounds…)
  • Research and observation: Two dogs are allowed to be used for the purpose of or in connection with the observation or study of a wild mammal. (This exemption is widley used by stag hunts – NO peer-reviewed science has ever been produced by them.)
  • Flushing to a bird of prey: An unlimited number of dogs can be used to flush a fox from cover to a bird of prey which will catch and kill it. (Used as an excuse for illegal hunting, and ususally involves hunts carrying a miserable-looking tethered Eagle Owl or small eagle.)
  • Recapture of escaped wild mammal: An unlimited number of dogs can be used to capture a fox that has escaped from captivity (which will inevitably be a fox reared by the hunt and illegally released to a pack of hounds).
  • Use of a dog below ground (terrier work): One terrier may be used below ground to flush out a fox to be shot for the purpose of ‘protecting’ birds being reared for shooting. (A terrier man must carry written permission from the landowner, but this is rarely (if ever?) enforced by police officers, and terrier men routinely accompany hunts well away from land used for shooting.)
 
All of these exemptions allow hunting with dogs to continue. The only solution is a proper ban on hunting that bans all hunting with dogs with no exemptions or exceptions.

 

No, they do not. In so-called traditional fox hunting one or more terriermen were employed by the hunt to kill foxes that had sought refuge underground (“gone to ground”), but terriermen have no legitimate role in a so-called ‘trail hunt’ as the hunt is not supposed to be chasing foxes at all.

Terriermen are still permitted to use a dog below ground but only to prevent or reduce serious damage to game birds or wild birds kept for shooting, livestock, or biodiversity (known widely as the so-called ‘Gamekeeper exemption’).

Section 3(2) of the Hunting Act 2004 says that a person commits an offence if he knowingly permits a dog which belongs to him to be used in the course of the commission of a section 1 offence.

Section 11(4) provides that for the purposes of the Act a dog ‘belongs to someone’ if they:

  • own the dog,
  • is in charge of the dog,
  • has control of the dog.
 

This is similar to the terminology used in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

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 (mostly in the south-west of England).

Stag hunts (which do not technically ‘trail hunt’) rely on 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.’

To get around the law limiting the number of dogs being used, hunts will use two dogs ‘in relay’ replacing dogs as they tire – meaning that a single deer will eventually still be chased by many dogs but not by more than two dogs at any one time.

  • No peer-reviewed ‘research’ has EVER been published by a hunt.

 

Hunts have also recently starting claiming (without any evidence as it is not usually possible to be certain that a deer has btuberculosis without internal examination) that the hunted deer ‘has bTB’, 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. 

However 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.

Closing loopholes like these are 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‘.

Section 5(1) of the Hunting Act 2004 says that ‘A person commits an offence if he: Participates, attends, knowingly participates in a hare coursing event or permits land which belongs to him to be used for the purpose of a hare coursing event. A hare coursing event is a competition in which dogs are, by use of live hares, assessed as to skill in hunting hares.’

Section 5(2) creates offences relating to involvement with a dog which participates in a hare coursing event:

Each of the following persons commits an offence if a dog participates in a hare coursing event:

  1. any person who enters the dog for an event;
  2. any person who permits the dog to be entered;
  3. any person who controls or handles the dog in the course of or for the purposes of the event.

 

It is important to note that the law talks about ‘persons’ not ‘owner’ – the issue of who owns the dog does not arise in the definition of these offences.

(For more go to Protectors page > Hare Coursing and the Law)

Yes. Lamping is sometimes carried out with lurcher-type dogs. While it is illegal to hunt wild mammals with more than two hounds (as laid out in the Hunting Act 2004) it is legal to use dogs to catch rats and rabbits or use them to retrieve a shot hare or fox.

Yes. Because rabbits are considered to be ‘pests’ they are not currently protected in the UK by Acts that ban hunting of wild mammals with dogs.

When the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act 2023 comes into force in summer/autumn 2023 it will longer be permissible to use a dog to search for, or flush a rabbit from below ground in Scotland. Under the new Scotland Act a dog may be used to find an injured rabbit but must not kill it.

Yes, but not while ‘working’. The Control of Dogs Order 1992 requires every dog while “on a highway or in a place of public resort to wear a collar with the name and address of the owner inscribed on the collar or on a plate or badge attached to it” (including the postcode).

However the law does not apply to a dog:

  • while being used for ‘sporting purposes’;
  • while being used for the capture or destruction of so-called ‘vermin’;
  • while being used for the driving or tending of cattle or sheep;
  • while being used on official duties by a member of the Armed Forces, Customs and Excise, or the police force for any area;
  • while being used on emergency rescue work;
  • or any dog registered with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.
 
‘Sporting purposes’ include hunting, shooting, beating, picking-up and gundog training (but does NOT include travelling to or from any such activity). Shooting and hunting lobbyists say that ‘it makes sense’ that active dogs shouldn’t have to wear collars while ‘working’ – though many of us (especially those with active dogs) might ask why the law shouldn’t apply to all dog owners equally.

Yes. Since 2016 (and since 2012 in Northern Ireland), it has been a legal requirement across the UK to have ALL dogs microchipped by the time they are eight weeks old (by twelve weeks in the case of a veterinary certified working dog), and to keep contact details up to date on one of the government standard registers.

All dogs over eight weeks old in Scotland must be microchipped under the Microchipping of Dogs (Scotland) Regulations 2016 and have their details registered on a compliant database.

The current keeper is the person responsible for ensuring that dogs are microchipped. 

This includes gun dogs and hunting hounds.

Tail docking is the removal of a dog’s tail in part or whole for cosmetic reasons or to prevent possible injury.

Tail docking is considered to be a mutilation under UK law. The practice is illegal in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, there are some exemptions, such as removal of the tail by a vet for medical reasons (eg damage or cancer) or – and of course hunting and shooting worked in some exemptions for themselves – for certain breeds of ‘working dogs’ (Hunt Point Retrieve (HPR) gundog breed of any type or combination; spaniel of any type or combination of type; terriers of any type or combination of type) supposedly to prevent tail injury or infection.

  • In the latter case the dog MUST NOT be more than 5 days old and the veterinary surgeon must certify that he or she has seen evidence that the dog is likely to work in one of these specified areas: a) law enforcement; b) activities of HM Armed Forces; c) emergency rescue; d) lawful ‘pest’ control; e) the lawful shooting of animals.
  • Tail docking was illegal in Scotland until 2017 but the ban was altered (much to the delight of ‘countryside’ lobbying groups) to allow vets to shorten the tails of working spaniels and HPR breeds by a third.
  • In Wales cross breed dogs cannot be tail docked, only individual pure breed animals.
  • If it is found that a dog has had their tail docked illegally, the owner can face up to two years in prison and an unlimited fine. 


Shooting lobby group BASC blithely says that “The reasons for docking working gundog and terrier breeds is well documented; for others, the reasons have been lost over the fullness of time.” That’s okay then…

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is unequivocal, though, saying that “Tail docking should be banned as a procedure for all breeds of dogs, unless it is carried out by a veterinary surgeon for medical reasons (eg injury)” and goes on to say that “puppies suffer unnecessary pain as a result of tail docking and are deprived of a vital form of canine expression in later life. We continue to call for a complete ban on tail docking of puppies for non-therapeutic reasons across the UK.”

There is no blanket law in the UK that specifically requires dogs to be kept on a lead.

However, there are a series of more local orders that mean a dog owner may have to keep a dog on a lead in certain places – for example children’s play areas, sports pitches, roads, parks and beaches.

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 introduced Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) which give local authorities power to “ban specific acts in a designated geographical area in England and Wales” and these can be used  to restrict dogs to being walked on a lead (or excluded from the area entirely) in some public spaces. The authority should post signage detailing any restrictions.

Additionally:

  • Section 56 of the Highway Code says that dogs must not be let out on the road on their own, and must be kept on a short lead when walking on the pavement, road or a path shared with cyclists or horse riders.
  • The Road Traffic Act 1988 section 27 Control of Dogs on Road says Anyone who allows a dog to be on a designated road without being held on a lead, is guilty of an offence”.
  • On open access land covered by the CRoW Act 2000, dogs must be kept on short fixed leads (of no more than two metres) between 1 March and 31 July to protect ground nesting birds (including the pheasants, partridges, and grouse that pre-occupy ‘shooting interests’), or at any time when they are near livestock (we have yet to find a definition of ‘near’).

Yes, and in particular whether/when dogs need to be on a lead.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 section 27 Control of Dogs on Road says “Anyone who allows a dog to be on a designated road without being held on a lead, is guilty of an offence”.

The Highway Code Rule 56 says “Do not let a dog out on the road on its own. Keep it on a short lead when walking on the pavement, road or path shared with cyclists or horse riders.”

Hunts, however, often take their dogs across main roads or walk them on shared paths without leads, seemingly with impunity.

  • This is because when the Road Traffic Act was passed an exemption was made for hunts by pro-hunt parliamentarians. “Subsection (1) … does not apply to dogs proved … to have been at the material time in use under proper control for sporting purposes”.

However, this exemption raises valid questions about a) when is a dog being used for a ‘sporting purpose’, and b)  how ‘under proper control’ is defined.

While neither is properly defined in law, police should be looking at whether ‘exercising’ hounds (which many hunts claim to be doing, especially in the autumn when out cubbing) falls under the exemption and is using a dog for a ‘sporting purpose’. Walking or exercising a dog is not a sport. Legally therefore like all other citizens here a hunt taking dogs onto a road while ‘exercising’ them must ensure all of their dogs are on leads when crossing or using a road. If they don’t then the law is being broken by the person in charge of the dogs.

‘Proper control’ is hard to define, but dogs that are dashing in and out of speeding cars on an A road are not ‘under proper control’. Hunts are registered businesses and should be held legally responsible if one of their dogs causes a road accident involving injury, illness or death.

Neither of these issues will end so-called ‘trail hunting’ but both (if properly enforced by the police) would be a huge inconvenience to hunts and make their lives more difficult.

Rule 57 of the Highway Code states “When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly.” 

In a car, this would mean crated, using a seatbelt harness or behind dog guards.

When using a van each dog must be crated and the crate needs to be secured so as not to slide around. The best solution is to have a professional crate system in place.

While a rule not a law per se, not properly restraining a dog could potentially result in serious driving offences. A noisy or loose dog could stop a driver from spotting other dangers and lead to driving ‘without due care and attention’ or to the more serious offence of dangerous driving.

 

Some public areas in England and Wales are covered by Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) which are used to deal with nuisances or problems in particular areas that impact the local community’s quality of life. This includes problems with dogs.

PSPOs are enforced by councils, and any breaches should be reported to them with supporting evidence (a series of photographs or video).

In public areas with PSPOs, dog owners may have to:

  • keep a dog on a lead
  • put a dog on a lead if told to by a police officer, police community support officer or someone from the council
  • stop a dog going to certain places – like farmland or parts of a park
  • limit the number of dogs an individual has with them (this applies to professional dog walkers too)
  • clear up after a dog
  • carry a poop scoop and disposable bags

 

If someone ignores a PSPO, they can be fined:

  • £100 on the spot (a ‘Fixed Penalty Notice’)
  • up to £1,000 if it goes to court

 

Do PSPOs apply to hunts?

PSPOs do not cover farms etc, but hunts regularly take packs into public areas (especially at Boxing Day meets) where they might be especially susceptible to issues around dog fouling.

  • Photographic evidence of ‘fouling’ gathered by a Cornish sab group resulted in a hunt being fined £100 by the local council (and the hunt complaining on Twitter of the additional costs of not tidying up after themselves).
  • Action Against Foxhunting report that they have contacted three local councils (Cornwall, Mendip, Somerset West and Taunton Deane) which all confirm there no exemptions to their PSPOs for hunts.
  • In a Freedom of Information request dated February 2023, Sarah Little asked Northumberland County Council: “Whilst hunting dogs are not mentioned in your pspo/ dog fouling, please can you confirm that hunting dogs are NOT exempt?”. The Council responded that that hunting dogs “are not exempt from our current dog control PSPOs “.


It is easy to find the relevant council to report a dog fouling problem to by entering a postcode at gov.uk/report-dog-fouling

Many images have been published online which show fox hunts allowing their dogs to defecate and not dispose of the faeces afterwards (in other words to ‘foul’). Could it be a useful tactic to slow a hunt down if they were made to pick up after their dogs, or a way to increase a hunt’s costs if they had to pay fines for any fouling incidents they don’t deal with?

Across the UK dog fouling in public places is illegal.

  • In England and Wales it is illegal under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, introduced in 2014. This legislation covers dog-fouling offences that were previously included in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005.
  • In Scotland it’s an offence under the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Act 2003 for anyone in charge of a dog not to immediately clean up after the animal if it fouls in any public place or on private land without the owners consent.
  • Under the Litter (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, local authorities have the duty to keep land or any road it is responsible for, clear of litter and refuse (including dog faeces). In addition, it is an offence for the owner of a dog not to clear up after their dog if it has left faeces on publicly accessible land.

 

There is no exemption in law for lack of awareness or an excuse of ‘not noticing’ that a dog has fouled. Legal responsibility is on “the person in charge of the dog” at the time of the fouling whether they are the owner or not. Dog fouling is not a police matter and incidents should be reported to a local council.

 

Fines for dog fouling are typically:

  • £100 on the spot (a ‘Fixed Penalty Notice’)
  • up to £1,000 if it goes to court

 

What are ‘public places’? In England and Wales ‘public places’ are defined by local councils and may be covered by a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO). Local councils will usually have a map that shows the boundaries of any area that is covered. Hunts do not appear to be exempted by councils.

Public places covered by the law and where picking up dog faeces is mandatory normally include:

  • roads, pavements and public footpaths
  • parks and green spaces
  • town centres and shopping precincts
  • car parks
  • playing fields, playgrounds and school grounds
 

However, certain types of exemption where the fouling rules don’t apply exist for selected areas of public land in England and Wales:

  • Highways which have speed limits of 40mph or more.
  • Land used for woodlands or agriculture.
  • Parts of rural common land, or that which is mostly marshland, heath land, or moors.

 

Hunts do cross roads and parade through towns, of course, but are largely confined to woodland or agricultural land where the advice (which is not legally binding) is still to pick up faeces (as they could carry disease) but otherwise to move any faeces off a path and into a hedge or long undergrowth.

However (as noted an a different section on this page):

  • Photographic evidence of ‘fouling’ gathered by a Cornish sab group resulted in a hunt being fined £100 by the local council (and the hunt complaining on Twitter of the additional costs of not tidying up after themselves).

 

Dog fouling may not be a major issue for hunts, but they need to be reminded that laws apply to them too. Fines and even incovenience are irritants they could do with out, so it seems to be an issue worth pursuing. It is easy to find the relevant council to report a dog fouling problem to by entering a postcode at gov.uk/report-dog-fouling.

 

Under Section 1(3) of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act it is an offence to be in possession of any of the following four types of dog (unless they have been exempted pursuant to a Contingent Destruction Order made by the Court and registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs (managed by DEFRA), and the conditions of exemption are complied with):

  • Pit Bull Terrier 
  • Japanese Tosa 
  • Dogo Argentino 
  • Fila Braziliero
  • On 31 December 2023 the XL Bully was added to the list and breeding, selling, advertising, rehoming, abandoning and allowing an XL Bully dog to stray will be illegal. From 1 February 2024 it became a criminal offence to own an XL Bully in England and Wales unless you have a Certificate of Exemption. Even then the dog must be neutered, microchipped, kept on a lead and muzzled at all times when in public, and kept in a secure place so it cannot escape. A version of the American Bulldog developed from the American Pit Bull and not recognised by any of the main dog associations in the UK, meaning there are no figures on ownership rates in the country, according to The Guardian the ‘bully’ has been “responsible for half of all dog-related deaths in the UK since 2021, killing nine people including three children”.
 

The legislation is highly contentious, with lobbying groups like the Kennel Club saying: “Breed-specific legislation ignores the most important factors that contribute to biting incidents – primarily antisocial behaviour by irresponsible dog owners who train their dogs to be aggressive or do not train their dogs adequately.”

Adding dogs to the banned list is the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the environment secretary.

 

Exemptions can be obtained for prohibited breeds if a court is satisfied that an individual dog is not dangerous.

To secure a certificate of exemption the dog must be 

  • Neutered
  • Micro-chipped
  • Have a policy of third party insurance       . 

 

Once a certificate of exemption has been obtained the dog must always be kept on a lead and muzzled when in a public place. An owner will never be allowed to breed, sell or gift an exempted dog or abandon/allow the dog to become a stray.

While the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is notorious for singling out a very small number of ‘dangerous’ dog breeds, Section 3 of the Act created the criminal offence of allowing any dog (i.e. of any breed or type) to be “dangerously out of control in a public place or a place to where it is not allowed”

A dog can be regarded as being dangerously out of control on any occasion where it causes an individual fear or apprehension that they may be injured. The offence is aggravated (ie is more serious) if a dog does injure them.

The law applies to all dogs regardless of breed or type.

  • Note that unlike most offences in English law there does not have to be any criminal intent or recklessness for liability to arise. A person can therefore be guilty of an offence even if their dog was on a lead and had never behaved in such a way before.

 

It is against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control:

  • in a public place;
  • in a private place, for example a neighbour’s house or garden;
  • in the owner’s home

 

A dog is considered dangerously out of control if he or she:

  • makes someone worried (the wording of the legislation says ‘reasonable apprehension’) that they may injured by the dog;
  • injures someone.

 

 A court could also decide that a dog is dangerously out of control if:

  • the dog attacks someone’s animal; or
  • the owner of an animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop the dog attacking their animal.
 

 

Penalties are quite severe for allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control.

  • An owner can get an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to 6 months (or both) if a dog is dangerously out of control. They may not be allowed to own a dog in the future and the dog may be destroyed.
  • If an owner allows a dog to injure someone they can be sent to prison for up to 5 years or fined (or both). If they deliberately use a dog to injure someone they could be charged with ‘malicious wounding’.
  • If someone allows a dog to kill someone they can be sent to prison for up to 14 years or get an unlimited fine (or both).
  • If an owner allows a dog to injure an assistance dog (for example a guide dog) they can be sent to prison for up to 3 years or fined (or both).

Figures from insurers NFU Mutual, published in February 2024, revealed that farm animals worth an estimated £2.4 million were severely injured or killed by dogs in 2023, up nearly 30% from the previous year.

The law that covers dog attacks on farmed animals (or ‘livestock’), the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, appears straightforward enough but as we explain does provide a get out clause for hunts (presumably because many laws were written by parliamentarians/landowners that hunted).

In general terms, according to the Crown Prosecution Service:

  • Under section 1 of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, an offence is committed by the owner or person in charge of a dog if the dog worries livestock on any agricultural land.
  • An offence is not committed if at the time of worrying, the livestock were trespassing, and the dog belonged to the owner, or was in the charge of the occupier or a person authorised by the owner, of the land on which the livestock were trespassing, and the person in charge of the dog did not cause the dog to attack the livestock.
  • A dog owner shall not be convicted of an offence under section 1 if he / she proves that someone they reasonably believed to be fit and proper was in charge of the dog when that dog worried the livestock.
  • Section 2 of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 provides that for a case to go to court it is necessary to have the consent of the Chief Officer of police for the police area in which the land is situated, or the occupier of the land, or the owner of any of the livestock in question. The consent is a pre-requisite to any prosecution.
  • Section 3 of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 defines ‘livestock’ as being cows, sheep, goats, pigs, horses or poultry. Note that the definition does not include ‘exotic’ farm animals such as alpacas, buffalo, ostrich etc which are increasingly being kept by farmers and others. If any of these animals are attacked by a dog, there is no offence under this Act. There may, however, be recourse under the Dogs Act 1871 or under the 1991 Act.
  • The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 applies only to ‘agricultural land’. The Act does not apply to private gardens, parks etc.

 

Note that for the purposes of this Act worrying livestock means:

  1. Livestock worrying includes barking, chasing, biting and killing;
  2. chasing livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock or, in the case of females, abortion, or loss of or diminution in their produce;
  3. or being at large (that is to say not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.
  4. Under the Animals Act 1971, a dog could be shot if caught in the act of ‘worrying’ by a landowner.

 

However, also note that the Act does not apply:

in relation to—

  1. a dog owned by, or in the charge of, the occupier of the field or enclosure or the owner of the sheep or a person authorised by either of those persons;
  2. or a police dog, a guide dog or other assistance dog, trained sheep dog, a working gun dog or a dog lawfully used to hunt, but only if and to the extent that the dog is performing the role in question.
 
The idea that a dog could be ‘lawfully used to hunt’ after the passing of the Hunting Act 2004 should be laughed out of court, but of course the law has been complicated by so-called ‘trail hunting’ – which is labelled a lawful activity despite being used as a smokescreen for illegal hunting. On farmed land ‘trail hunting’ is often undertaken with the landowner’s permission which means a prosecution for ‘worrying’ would be unlikely – perhaps they are willing to take the risk that dogs belonging to the hunt might attack farmed animals belonging to them for the sake of allowing hunting to continue illegally?
 

(NB: There is no power in the 1953 Act for any penalty other than a financial one. There is no power to make a control or destruction order. Civil proceedings could be brought in tandem with criminal proceedings to apply for a control order on conviction.)

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 and DO NOT

  • 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.

Poaching

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 protectors@protectthewild.org.uk. 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.