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Hedgerows and the Law

Hedgerows are the most widespread semi-natural habitat in the UK and they support a large diversity of flora and fauna. Hedgerows provide a vital food source for invertebrates, birds and mammals, create corridors between areas that wildlife can travel along in relative safety, and are important for nesting animals. Yet we’ve lost 50% of our hedgerows since World War II (some estimates suggest around 120,000 miles!) and around 60% of the hedgerows we still have aren’t in good condition.

Given how critical they are to biodiversity (and potentially to the fight to tackle the climate emergency, as hedgerows store plenty of carbon) how protected are they, and what can we do to protect them?

  • Note that regulations applying to hedgerows on subsidised or protected agricultural land do NOT apply to gardens: there are no specific laws in the UK banning the cutting of garden hedges at certain times of the year though nests and eggs must not be intentionally damaged or destroyed.

 

NB: As a consequence of Brexit, the existing regulations protecting hedgerows lapsed at the end of 2023. Defra needs parliamentary time to reinstate them so hedgerows currently lack much of the legal protection they previously had.

  • In March 2024 Defra released a response to a consultation on hedgerows which proposes to reinstate many of the previous regulations. Under “Hedgerow regulations to be brought into law to protect wildlife”, Defra state that “the regulations will include a two metre ‘buffer strip’ from the centre of hedgerows with no cultivation or application of pesticides or fertilisers, and a hedge cutting ban between 1 March and 31 August to protect nesting birds.”

In March 2024, in response to a consultation on what regulations should replace the previous regulations protecting hedgerows (which lapsed at the end of 2023) Defra stated the following:

“We have decided to replicate the requirements that farmers are familiar with from cross compliance, but with a simpler, fairer and more proportionate approach to enforcement. As stated in the consultation, we intend for the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to be the regulator. We intend to introduce a range of Civil Sanctions through the Regulation and Sanctions Act 2008 (RES Act), which RPA will use as part of their enforcement approach to help landowners come into compliance. We will consult further in due course on the statutory guidance to support this approach to ensure that we deliver a regulatory system that works both for farmers and for protecting the environment.

In summary, the new rules will aim to:

 

Buffer strips

  • replicate the 2m requirement for buffer strips and not increase the required width
  • continue to offer payment for buffer strips wider than 2m
  • continue to allow the spot application of pesticides within buffer strips to control the spread of invasive and injurious weeds
  • continue to measure the 2m buffer strip from the centre of a hedgerow as this takes into account hedgerows of all densities
  • replicate the exemption for the 2 m buffer strip requirement for hedgerows under 5 years old
  • replicate the exemption for field sizes under 2 hectares
 
  • maintain a cutting ban period and maintain the dates from 1 March to 31 August
  • permit cutting or trimming during the cutting ban period
  • if the hedge overhangs a highway, road or footpath over which there is a public or private right of way and the overhanging hedge obstructs the passage of, or is a danger to, vehicles, pedestrians or horse riders
  • if the hedge is dead, diseased, damaged or insecurely rooted and because of its condition, it or part of it, is likely to cause danger by falling on to a highway, road or footpath
  • if the hedge obstructs or interferes with the view of drivers or the light from a public lamp
  • if it is to carry out hedge-laying or coppicing during the period 1 March to 30 April (inclusive)
  • if it is to trim a newly laid hedge by hand, within 6 months of it being laid
  • if the Secretary of State has, in order to enhance the environment, improve public or agricultural access, or for reasons relating to livestock or crop production, given the beneficiary written permission to do so
  • in the interests of human or animal health or safety
  • cutting or trimming a hedgerow, or a tree growing in a hedgerow, in August will be permitted for the purposes of sowing oilseed rape or temporary grassland during the same August provided that the RPA has been notified.”
 
 
NOTE THAT the new regulations will not become law until the government of the day has found parliamentary time to debate and enact them. In the meantime one of the country’s most precious habitats are at risk.

The RSPB says that “Hedges may support up to 80 per cent of our woodland birds, 50 per cent of our mammals and 30 per cent of our butterflies. The ditches and banks associated with hedgerows provide habitat for frogs, toads, newts and reptiles.”

Vital wildlife habitats that provide food and shelter for many species, the Woodland Trust says that around 118,000 miles of hedgerows have disappeared since 1950 (about half the existing total), due largely to intensification of agriculture.

The loss has slowed since the 1990s, but neglect, damage and removal remain significant threats. Around 60% of remaining hedgerows aren’t in good condition.

‘Hedgerow’ is not defined in section 97 of the Environment Act 1995 or in The Hedgerows Regulations 1997.

Collins Dictionary defines a hedgerow as “a row of bushes, trees, and plants, usually growing along a bank bordering a country lane or between fields” and the Woodland Trust saysA hedgerow includes both the hedge and features such as banks, trees, walls, fences and gates. It may be ancient or newly planted, with a single species or many.

A hedge is a row of a single type of plant species, and becomes a hedgerow when it includes other features within it such as trees, or a wall, fence or a gate.

A hedgerow is protected under the terms of the Regulations, meaning it cannot be removed without consent (from a Local Planning Authority or from the National Parks or Broads Authority if the hedgerow is within those designated areas), if it meets the following criteria:

Length: A hedgerow is protected if it’s:

  1. more than 20m long with gaps of 20m or less in its length
  2. less than 20m long, but meets another hedge at each end

 

Location: A hedgerow is protected if it’s on or next to:

  • land used for agriculture or forestry
  • land used for breeding or keeping horses, ponies or donkeys
  • common land
  • a village green
  • a site of special scientific interest
  • a protected European site such as a special area of conservation or special protection area
  • a local or national nature reserve
  • land belonging to the state

 

Important: A hedgerow is important, and is protected, if it’s at least 30 years old and meets at least one of these criteria:

  • marks all or part of a parish boundary that existed before 1850
  • contains an archaeological feature such as a scheduled monument
  • is completely or partly in or next to an archaeological site listed on a Historic Environment Record (HER), (formerly a Sites and Monuments Record)
  • marks the boundary of an estate or manor or looks to be related to any building or other feature that’s part of the estate or manor that existed before 1600
  • is part of a field system or looks to be related to any building or other feature associated with the field system that existed before 1845 – you can check the County Records Office for this information
  • contains protected species listed in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
  • contains species that are endangered, vulnerable and rare and identified in the British Red Data books
  • includes woody species and associated features as specified in Schedule 1, Part II Criteria, paragraph 7(1) of the Hedgerow Regulations – the number of woody species needed to meet the criteria is one less in northern counties.

 

Note that a hedgerow is not protected by the Regulations if it’s in, or marks the boundary of, a private garden.

To be ‘important’ the hedgerow must (i) be at least 30 years old, and (ii) meet at least one of 8 set criteria. The criteria identify hedgerows of particular archaeological, historical, wildlife or landscape value and are listed in summary below.

The Regulations specify in detail how the criteria are met. The following is a simplified guide taken from apage on the Stafford Borough website (and managed by their Development Management Team).

A hedgerow is ‘important’ if it:
1. Marks a pre-1850 parish or township boundary
2. Incorporates an archaeological feature.
3. Is part of, or associated with, an archaeological site.
4. Marks the boundary of, or is associated with, a pre-1600 estate or manor.
5. Forms an integral part of a pre-Parliamentary enclosure field system.
6. Contains certain categories of species of birds, animals or plants listed in the Wildlife and Countryside Act or Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) publications.
7. Within an average 30m length, includes:
(a) at least 6 woody species
(b) at least 5 woody species, and at least 3 associated features;
(c) at least 5 woody species, including a black-poplar tree, or large-leaved lime, or small leaved lime, or wild service-tree; or
(d) at least 4 woody species, and has at least 4 associated features.
(e) at least 4 woody species, has at least 4 associated features and runs alongside a bridleway, footpath, road used as a public path, or a byway open to all traffic

The list of 56 woody species comprises mainly shrubs and trees. It generally excludes climbers (such as clematis, honeysuckle and bramble) but includes wild roses.

The associated features are:
(i) a bank or wall supporting the hedgerow;
(ii) less than 10% gaps;
(iii) on average, at least one tree per 50 metres;
(iv) at least 3 species from a list of 57 woodland plants;
(v) a ditch;
(vi) a number of connections with other hedgerows, ponds or woodland; and(vii) a parallel hedge within 15 metres.

Some hedgerows are hundreds of years old and may be protected by old Inclosure Acts. These may require that hedges are retained and managed forever more. Anyone wishing to protect (or remove) hedgerows should therefore seek professional legal advice to determine whether the hedgerow might be protected by an Inclosure Act. (Many Inclosure Acts are deposited in Local Records Offices.)

Some planning permissions may require the retention of hedgerows on development sites and their removal would be a breach of that planning consent. Breaches of planning consent are enforced by local planning authorities.

 

Removing hedges when birds are nesting may see a developer or landowner in breach of The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it illegal to:

 

Similarly, bats may be dependent on trees in older hedgerows. All bats are protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended). Seven bat species are also Priority species under Section 41 (England) and Section 42 (Wales) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act (2006), the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 (Greater Horseshoe, Lesser horseshoe, Brown long-eared, Bechstein’s, Barbastelle, Soprano pipistrelle and Noctule) ( > Bats and the Law)

 

If a hedgerow is listed as a special feature of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSi) it would be illegal to intentionally or recklessly destroy or damage it or, cause or permit the act, without written consent from Natural England.

Not a hedgerow per se. A Tree Preservation Order is an order made by a local planning authority in England to protect specific trees, groups of trees or woodlands in the interests of amenity.

That would not normally include hedgerows, but a Tree Preservation Order could be used to protect individual trees within a hedge or an old hedge which has become a line of trees of a reasonable height.

If a hedgerow is entered into an agri-environment scheme (such as Entry Level Stewardship (ELS), Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS), Uplands Entry Level Stewardship (UELS), Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) or the Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme (ESA) it must not be cut from 1 March to 31 July (inclusive) when birds may be nesting in it.

Some agreements might further restrict these dates, in particular ELS agreements starting on or after 1 October 2008 where hedgerows must not be cut between 1 March and 31 August (inclusive).

Otherwise there is NO statutory ban on hedge cutting or working on hedgerows between certain dates, but it’s RECOMMENDED that hedgerows or trees should not be cut or trimmed between March 1st and September 1st (inclusive) to protect nesting birds – though birds may nest earlier depending on conditions, and the relevant section of the Wildlife & Countryside Act specifically refers to nests and eggs rather than to dates > Nesting birds, Nests, and the Law).

 

There are exceptions when hedgerows may be worked on within these dates:

England:

  • The hedge overhangs a highway, road or footpath over which there is a public or private right of way and the overhanging hedge obstructs the passage of, or is a danger to, vehicles, pedestrians or horse riders
  • The hedge is dead, diseased, damaged or insecurely rooted and because of its condition, it or part of it, is likely to cause danger by falling on to a highway, road or footpath; or obstructs the view of drivers or the light from a public lamp
  • To carry out hedge-laying or coppicing during the period 1 March to 30 April (inclusive) – but NOT from May 1st until September 1st
  • To trim a newly laid hedge by hand, within 6 months of it being laid
  • Written permission from the Rural Payments Agency to cut or trim during the month of August for the purposes of sowing oilseed rape or temporary grassland during the same August.
  • Written permission from the Rural Payments Agency to do so, to enhance the environment, improve public or agricultural access, or for reasons relating to livestock or crop production.

 

Wales:

  • The hedgerow or tree overhangs a highway, road, track or footpath to which the public have access, and the work is necessary because the overhanging vegetation: – obstructs the passage of vehicles or pedestrians; – obstructs the view of drivers, or the light from a public lamp; or – is a danger to horse-riders.
  • The hedgerow or tree needs to be cut or trimmed because it is dead, diseased or damaged or insecurely rooted, and is therefore likely to cause danger by falling onto a highway, road or footpath.
  • The cutting or trimming is carried out in order to maintain a ditch.

 

The rules do not cover domestic hedges which have little protection, but may of course have birds nesting within them at certain times of the year when the Wildlife and Countryside Act will still apply.

No, it is not illegal to cut garden hedges in the spring.

There is a lot of confusion around this, but while there is a ban on cutting hedgerows on subsidised farm land this ban does NOT apply to gardens (except in Ireland). Birds will be nesting in the spring, and the Wildlife and Countryside Act makes it illegal to intentionally damage or destroy a nest or eggs, but there is no specific ban on hedge-cutting in domestic settings.

A person can only remove a hedgerow if:

  • it’s less than 30 years old
  • they are the owner, tenant or manager of the hedgerow
  • they are from a utility company that’s eligible to remove it

 

A proposal to remove a hedgerow must be discussed with the local planning authority (LPA) first to make sure the proposed work is legal.

The local planning authority has six weeks to determine the application and can either issue a Hedgerow Removal Notice (if the hedge is not considered ‘important’ or if there are grounds for allowing the removal of an ‘important’ hedgerow), or a Hedgerow Retention Notice (issued if the hedgerow is important and should be retained).

Hedgerow Removal Notices are only normally valid for two years after their issue. There is a presumption against hedgerow removal in the legislation.

A Notice of Intention to Remove a hedgerow must be given to a local planning authority if a hedgerow is on, or runs alongside:

  • agricultural land
  • common land, including town or village greens;
  • land used for forestry or the breeding or keeping of horses, ponies or donkeys; or
  • a Local Nature Reserve or Site of Special Scientific Interest.

 

But not if the hedgerow:

  • is shorter than 20 metres (unless both ends join up with other hedgerow or it is part of a longer hedgerow); or
  • is in, or borders, a garden.

(Gaps of 20 metres or less are counted as part of the hedgerow. A gap may be a break in the vegetation or it may be filled, for example, by a gate.)

 

A landowner also does not need to give Notice:

  • To get access – either in place of an existing opening, provided that they plant a new stretch of hedgerow to fill the original entrance, or when another means of entry is not available, except at disproportionate cost. They are strongly advised however, to contact a local planning authority prior to undertaking this work;
  • To gain temporary entry to help in an emergency; or
  • To implement a planning permission granted by the Council (but in the case of permitted development rights, most hedgerow removal WILL require prior permission).
  • Other categories are included in the Regulations http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1997/1160/contents/made

A local planning authority is the local government body that is empowered by law to exercise urban planning functions for a particular area.

Proposals to remove hedgerows need to be discussed with a Local Planning Authority (LPA) which will be one of the following:

Schedule 4 of The Hedgerows Regulations 1997 says that an Application for Hedgerow Removal Notice form should be used by a landowner, agricultural tenant, farm business tenant or certain utilities, such as gas companies that wants to remove a hedgerow, or part of a hedgerow, covered by the Hedgerows Regulations 1997.

The regulations are designed to protect important hedgerows in England and Wales. Anyone proposing to remove a hedgerow, or part of a hedgerow, covered by the regulations, must first notify the local planning authority by submitting a Hedgerow Removal Notice

A local planning authority cannot refuse permission to remove a hedgerow that is not ‘important’ (as defined above).

The authority will write to say that the hedgerow can be removed. The decision does not override any requirements to notify or obtain consent under other legislation, or any contractual obligations.

Grubbing or clearing is the complete removal of trees, shrubs, stumps and rubbish from a site. This is often at the site where a transportation or utility corridor, a road or power line, an edifice or a garden is to be constructed.

Grubbing is often performed following clearance of trees to their stumps, preceding construction.

No. ‘Remove’ is defined in section 97(8) of the 1995 Act as “uproot or otherwise destroy”, so the removal of a hedgerow also includes other actions that result in the hedgerow being destroyed.

‘Removing’ part of a hedge during coppicing, laying and taking away dead or diseased shrubs or trees is considered to be normal management and as long as the hedgerow is not destroyed is not covered by the regulations.

If an important hedgerow is removed without permission a local planning authority could direct the landowner to plant another hedgerow and have legal powers to ensure this happens.

A replacement hedgerow is automatically ‘important’ for 30 years after it has been planted.

‘Hooper’s Rule’ or ‘Hooper’s hedgerow history hypothesis‘ is a formula (Age =(no of species in a 30 yard stretch) x 110 + 30 years) developed by academic and scientist Max Hooper for dating hedges based on the number of tree and shrub species per unit length.

While the formula needs to be supported by “other dating techniques such as local history, old maps, study of the field patterns, other flora in the hedge” (according to Hedge Britannica) the number of tree and shrub species in a 30 metre length of hedge can indicate its age, with one species for each 100 years. A single species hedge is likely to be less than 100 years old whilst a 1,000 year old hedge is likely to contain ten to twelve species. Some species of shrubs and herbs are characteristic of old hedges or woodland, such as Spindle (Euonymus europaeus), Wild service (Sorbus torminalis) or Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa).

The formula should be used with caution, because hedges may have been planted with a mixture of species and there is geographical variation (hedges in upland areas and the north of England are less diverse).

Ancient hedgerows, which tend to be those which support the greatest diversity of plants and animals and are therefore the most in need of identification and protection, are generally defined as those which were in existence before the Enclosure Acts, passed mainly between 1720 and 1840 in Britain.

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.

The following information is taken from “Report a suspected hedgerow offence” on the government’s website (the specific page is managed by Natural England and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and was last updated 17 June 2019).


How you report a suspected hedgerow offence depends on whether the hedgerow is in a:

  • Countryside Stewardship scheme
  • Environmental Stewardship agreement scheme
  • EU basic payment scheme


These schemes are known as ‘Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) schemes’. You can check whether the hedgerow is in a Countryside Stewardship or Environmental Stewardship agreement scheme on the Defra MAGIC website.

Hedgerows in CAP schemes

If you have concerns about the activity someone is undertaking on a hedgerow in a CAP scheme, report it to Rural Payments Agency on 03000 200 301 or email ruralpayments@defra.gov.uk

Hedgerows not in CAP schemes

If the hedgerow is not in a CAP scheme, report the activity to your local planning authority.


Report a suspected offence against nesting wild birds or their eggs to your local police force. Ask for a wildlife crime officer to investigate for illegal activity.


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.