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Quad Bikes and the Law

Terriermen and hunt supporters often drive quad bikes (four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles). They routinely break the law while doing so, and attempt to confuse monitors and sabs by claiming they are driving ‘agricultural ATVs’ which don’t need MOTs. This page is designed to help clarify the issues 

All quads used on the road must be suitable to do so and must be an approved model to show that they meet all of the necessary standards. (If a quad bike has not been approved but meets road safety standards, an owner can apply for ‘type approval’.)

To be used on the road quad bikes must also be registered, taxed and if older than three years old have an MOT (an agriculturally taxed ATV does NOT require an MOT – see below).

Quad bikes being used on the road must have front and rear licence plates (plates don’t need to be ‘clean’ but must be legible and easily read by police officers).

A quad bike can only carry passengers if it is designed to do so and has the right number of seats.

Supporters following the Dunston Harriers on an overloaded quad bike which is also illegally displaying an illegible registration plate. Police on the day took no action.
Image South Norfolk Hunt Saboteurs

A quad is a motorised vehicle with four wheels, a maximum unladen weight of 400kg, and a maximum power of 15kW. If it’s intended to be used as a goods carrier, the maximum weight rises to 550kg. A “light quadricycle” is a four-wheeled vehicle with a maximum unladen weight of 350kg, a maximum spark ignition capacity of 50cc, or a maximum power of 4kW with maximum design speed of 45kph.

In law it is classed as a Private Light Goods (PLG) vehicle: the same as roughly 89% of the licenced vehicles on UK roads.

They are usually used for recreation or farm work but also widely used to follow hunts, particularly by terriermen – who when using a quad bike on the road still have to follow the law like everyone else.

Quad bikes are an ATV – an all terrain vehicle. The term ATV can be used to describe any vehicle that’s capable of driving over different kinds of terrain, including mud, sand, snow, and rocks. This includes some quads and 4-wheelers.

While most ATVs have four wheels, not all ATVs are quads and they don’t all have four wheels.

A “Road” is defined at section 142 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 as any length of highway or other road to which the public has access and includes bridges over which a road passes.

A quad bike may also be ridden on roads classified as “Public Right of Way” or byways. These are often called green lanes, but also known as BOATs (Byway Open to All Traffic), Unclassified County Roads, white roads or G roads.

Quad bikes must conform to the Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) Regulations 1986 and riders must fulfil various regulations under the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Registering

  • A quad bike must be registered with DVLA and the bike must have front and rear number plates.

 

MOT certificates

  • Quad bikes used on the road need a valid MOT certificate if they are more than 3 years old.

 

Driving licence

  • To drive a quad bike on the road an operator must have a full car licence or a category B1 licence if it was issued before January 1997.

 

Insurance

  • A driver must have at least third party insurance to drive a quad bike on the road (NB even if just using a road to get to private land where insurance may not be required).

 

Passengers

  • A quad bike can only carry passengers if it is designed to do so and has the right number of seats.

 

Lights

  • If using a quad bike at nght, it must be fitted with lights for the safety of other road users.

 

Crash helmets

  • Quad bike drivers and passengers in England, Scotland and Wales do not have to wear crash helmets, but it’s recommended. In Northern Ireland a driver can be fined up to £500 for NOT wearing one.
 

Driving dangerously

  • Even if someone has permission to ride a quad bike on private land, if they are found to be riding “dangerously” or “carelessly” (as defined by the Road Traffic Act 1991) they would be guilty of an offence even when they are driving off-road.
  • Under Section 59 Police Reform Act 2002, officers can seize vehicles which are being used illegally, including prohibited off-road use.

Some hunts (especially fell packs) have been claiming that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (aka the CRoW Act) gives them the right to use ‘open access land’.

It deos not. The CRow Act does not allow the taking or killing of any animal on open access land and certainly does NOT entitle them to take a quad bike with them.

A landowner may take a vehicle onto open access land (or give permission for someone else to do so), but outside of that specific instance the CRoW Act only gives access to land on foot. There is no right to ride a horse, a bicycle, or use any vehicle (except for a mobility scooter or powered wheelchair) including the quad bikes favoured by hunt followers.

The rules are exactly the same for other four-wheeled vehicles used on the road and police officers should know them.

Quad bikes must have front and rear plates and they must:

  • be made from a reflective material
  • display black characters on a white background (front plate)
  • display black characters on a yellow background (rear plate)
  • not have a background pattern
  • be marked to show who supplied the number plate
  • be marked with a British Standard number – this is ‘BS AU 145e’ for plates fitted after 1 September 2021

 

The characters must not be removable or reflective. If  number plates were fitted after 1 September 2021, they must also be a single shade of black.

While there is no specific law that says a number plate must be clean, it MUST be legible and easy to read by police officers.  Failing to maintain a clean and clear number plate can risk a £1,000 fine.

The government classifies road legal quad bikes as a B1 vehicle – a light four-wheeled quadricycle up to 400kg unladen or 550kg if the vehicle is designed to carry goods.

This means that the driver must hold a full car licence or a full motorcycle licence with category B1 entitlement to drive it on the road.

A motorcycle licence doesn’t give a legal right to ride four-wheelers on the road unless the operator has B1 entitlement.

Quad bikes used on the road need a valid MOT certificate if they are more than 3 years old.

An agricultural quad bike used on the road does not need an MOT, but must be registered and licensed for road use and must have a number plate and third party insurance.

 

Yes, if it’s used on the road.

A quad bike can be taxed as either a limited use vehicle or an agricultural vehicle, depending on how it will be used. There is no tax to pay if it’s going to be used for agriculture, horticulture or forestry, but a quad bike intended for road use is classed as a PLG vehicle and subject to tax at the prevailing rate.

An agricultural ATV is defined in UK law as a light four-wheeled vehicle with a weight not exceeding 1000kgs and a single seat designed and constructed primarily for off road use.

An agriculturally taxed ATV will NOT require an MOT. However, they must still be in roadworthy condition, registered, licensed, and a driver is still required to have third party insurance.

To be used on the road the vehicle must be approved for road use.

Most vehicles are single-seat and must not carry passengers. A two-seater ‘agricultural ATV’ falls under a restricted use banner and must not be taken more than 1.5km from the farm base.

A quad bike can only carry passengers if it is designed to do so and has the right number of seats.

  • If a passenger’s feet cannot touch the foot pegs or they are not secure on the quad they are not allowed to be carried.

 

Some “side-by-side” all-terrain Vehicles (ATVs) have bench-style seating which may allow three people to sit next to each other. “Sit-astride” agricultural ATVs are designed for a single operator and not built to take passengers.

Drivers should always make sure they have adequate insurance to carry a passenger.

Quad bike drivers and passengers in England, Scotland and Wales do not have to wear crash helmets, but it’s recommended.

You must wear a helmet if you’re driving a quad bike in Northern Ireland. You can be fined up to £500 if you do not.

Anyone can find out (for free) if a vehicle has an MOT certificate and when it runs out by going to gov.uk/check-mot-status.

All that is needed is the vehicle’s registration number (number plate).

All vehicles must get an MOT test by the third anniversary of their registration.

No, a driver does NOT need a driving licence to ride a quad bike off-road.

The vehicle does NOT need to be taxed and registered IF the quad bike if is only going to be used off-road (but does need to be if the driver uses a road to get to land considered ‘off road’).

Driving dangerously

  • Even if someone has permission to ride a quad bike on private land, if they are found to be riding “dangerously” or “carelessly” (as defined by the Road Traffic Act 1991) they would be guilty of an offence even when they are driving off-road.
  • Under Section 59 Police Reform Act 2002, officers can seize vehicles which are being used illegally, including prohibited off-road use.

Driving without a licence is a serious offence that can carry significant penalties. Under the Road Traffic Act 1998, it is an offence to drive a vehicle without a licence that is appropriate to a vehicle of that particular class. It is not permitted to drive a vehicle on a provisional licence unless the driver is accompanied by a full licence holder aged 21 or over who has held their licence for at least three years. Learner plates must also be displayed on the vehicle.

Driving whilst disqualified is a very serious criminal offence and could have severe consequences. If someone has been disqualified from driving, and fails to adhere to the driving ban, they will be arrested and taken to a police station.

Quad bikes do not have to be fitted with roll bars in the UK, but in October 2021 Australia made roll bars mandatory on all new and imported second-hand quad bikes sold following hundreds of deaths across the country — particularly on farms.

Campaigners in the UK regularly push for tougher safety laws, but lawmakers so far reman largely unconvinced..

Yes. From 25 March 2022 it became illegal in England, Scotland, and Wales for a driver (but not a passenger) to hold and use a phone, sat-nav, tablet – or any device that can send or receive data – while driving or riding a vehicle. That includes quad bikes and quad bike drivers filming sabs or monitors.

‘Using’ a phone was expanded to cover the following:

  • Illuminating the screen
  • Checking the time
  • Checking notifications
  • Unlocking the device
  • Making, receiving, or rejecting a telephone or internet-based call
  • Sending, receiving or uploading oral or written content
  • Sending, receiving or uploading a photo or video
  • Utilising camera, video, or sound recording
  • Drafting any text
  • Accessing any stored data such as documents, books, audio files, photos, videos, films, playlists, notes or messages
  • Accessing an app
  • Accessing the internet

An exemption applies to using the phone for an emergency call to 999 or 112 (the European emergency number)

In the latest version of the Highway Code (29 January 2022) a ‘hierarchy of road users’ was introduced. This is the principle that those in charge of the vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others.

At the top of this hierarchy are drivers of motor vehicles (including therefore quad bikes) who have a responsibility to cyclists, horse riders, drivers of horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians.

While this hierarchy does not constitute a legal presumption in respect of apportioning blame for an accident, the Highway Code is an approved code of practice and can be used as part of evidence in a Court.

A quad bike used for agriculture, horticulture and forestry work must be registered as a light agricultural vehicle.

An agricultural quad bike used on the road does NOT need an MOT, but must be registered and licensed for road use and must have a number plate and third party insurance. It will also need lights if it’s being used on the road after dark.

An owner does NOT have to pay vehicle tax on quad bikes used for agriculture, horticulture or forestry, but there is:

  • a limited use tax class for bikes used on the road;
  • an agricultural machine class for bikes not licensed for road use.

 

It is against the law for a child under the age of 13 to drive a quad which is being used in agricultural operations.

No. Quad bikes used as light agricultural vehicles should be made with only a driver’s seat. They are not allowed to carry passengers.

A seventeen year old who holds a full licence may ride a quad on the road (assuming all other requirements like having the right tax, insurance and licence plates etc have been met).

Children of a certain age and ability may also be able to ride a quad bike on private land and with the landowners permission if it is designed for them and they can maintain proper and safe control.

Point 4 of the All-Terrain Motor Vehicles (Safety) Regulations 1989 states that for persons twelve and under:

  • No one should supply a regulated vehicle with four wheels, that is designed or intended for someone under the age of twelve, if its maximum speed is greater than 15 mph.
  • Neither should a vehicle be supplied that is fitted with a regulator that doesn’t limit the top speed to 10mph.
  • For children between twelve and sixteen, point 5 of the same regulation is similar, but the respective top speeds are 30mph and if a regulator is fitted, 15mph.
  • A clear label should also be attached to the quad bike saying: THIS IS NOT SUITABLE FOR A CHILD UNDER 12 YEARS.

No, it is illegal to carry a child as a passenger (and will reduce ability to control the quad bike).

Off-road bikes (including quad bikes) can be used on private land with the landowner’s permission.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 includes provisions that make it illegal to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle on land where permission has not been given.

It is forbidden from using a quad bike on council land including parks unless there is a designated area specifically for this type of vehicle for example.

Is it worth us reporting quad bike drivers for driving offences? The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) says that:

  • The level of culpability of a driver is likely to be relevant. The greater the degree of culpability, the greater the public interest in favour of prosecution;
  • If the driver has caused harm, annoyance or distress to other road users, it is more likely to be in the public interest to prosecute; see the section on Driving without reasonable consideration;
  • If a person drives below the required standard and they have not passed a driving test, are unfit to drive because of a medical condition, or are driving otherwise than in accordance with the conditions of a provisional licence, it is more likely to be in the public interest to prosecute.

 

The CPS also lists some further public interest considerations that prosecutors should keep in mind with driving offences:

“… each individual case must be considered on its own facts and on its own merits when applying the Full Code Test as contained in the Code for Crown Prosecutors (the Code). The Full Code Test has two stages. The first is the consideration of whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect on each charge (the evidential stage). If there is sufficient evidence, the prosecutor must then go on to consider the second stage, namely whether a prosecution is in the public interest (the public interest stage). 

The relevant considerations are set out in detail in the Code.

The public interest will usually be in favour of prosecution due to the serious nature of many of the offences covered by this guidance, especially those cases involving the death or serious injury of another. However, there will be cases where we decide that it is not in the public interest to prosecute.”

 

 

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, dangerous driving includes situations where the driver has adopted a particular way of driving, and where there is a substantial error of judgement, even if only for a short time.

If the driving that caused the danger was taken as a deliberate decision, this would be an aggravating feature of the offence.

It is important to remember that the manner of driving must be seen in the context of the surrounding circumstances in which the driving took place (for example amount of traffic, visibility, weather conditions, excess speed etc.) and these unique factors will be relevant in reaching an appropriate charging decision in each case.

The test for “dangerousness” is an objective one: persistent disregard of, say, traffic directions (be they “stop”, “give way” or traffic lights) may be evidence that the manner of driving has fallen far below the standard required, thus making a charge of dangerous driving appropriate.

 

Injury and Driving without Due Care and Attention

  • The mens rea (the mental state of a defendant who is accused of committing a crime) for an assault, on a reckless basis, requires the offender to have been subjectively reckless as to the risk of using unlawful force against another person – that may be through the vehicle coming into contact with an object or person. If a person drives a vehicle whilst being reckless in this manner, that driving is dangerous as it must fall far below that of a careful and competent driver and be obviously dangerous to such a driver.

 

If a vehicle was used in an assault, even on a reckless basis that must mean the driving was dangerous.

Further, causing serious injury by dangerous driving is only available where the standard for dangerous driving is met and the injury is physical harm that amounts to grievous bodily harm – s1A RTA1988.

 

Causing serious injury by dangerous driving

  • Section 143 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 created an offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving by inserting s.1A RTA 1988. This amendment came into force on 3 December 2012.

The offence is committed when the manner of the defendant’s driving is dangerous and results in another person suffering a serious physical injury.

Under s.1A(2) RTA 1988 dangerous driving has the same meaning as set out in s.1 RTA 1988 and “serious injury” is defined as “… physical harm which amounts to grievous bodily harm for the purposes of the OAPA 1861.”

The offence is an either way offence carrying a level five fine and/or six months’ custody in the magistrates’ court with a mandatory disqualification period of at least two years (unless special reasons are found not to disqualify) and endorsement. An extended retest is also mandatory.

In the Crown Court, the maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine with a mandatory two-year minimum period of disqualification (unless special reasons are found not to disqualify) and endorsement. An extended retest is also mandatory.

 

Wanton and Furious Driving

  • The offence of wanton and furious driving under s.35 Offences against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA 1861) is committed when bodily harm (i.e. injury) is caused to any person as a result of the manner of driving of a suspect and is not limited to motor vehicles but covers any kind of vehicle or carriage including bicycles.

It is an offence triable only on indictment (except when committed by a youth).

The offence carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. Penalty points and discretionary disqualification can be imposed by the courts under s.28 Road Safety Act 2006.

The offence can only be committed if the driver has a degree of subjective recklessness so far as the foreseeability of causing injury is concerned. In other words, he or she must appreciate that harm was possible or probable because of the manner of driving: see R v Okosi [1996] CLR 666.

 

Driving without reasonable consideration

  • The offence of driving without reasonable consideration under s.3 RTA 1988 is committed only when other persons are inconvenienced by the manner of the defendant’s driving, see s.3ZA(4) RTA 1988.

The maximum penalty is a level five fine. The court must also either endorse the driver’s licence with between three and nine penalty points (unless there are “special reasons” not to do so), or impose disqualification for a fixed period and/or until a driving test has been passed. The penalty is the same as for driving without due care and attention.

A driving without due consideration charge is more appropriate where the inconvenience is aimed at and suffered by other road users.

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.

If any laws are being broken by quad bike drivers then the police must act just as they would for any other traffic offence – that clearly includes when supervising hunts and when quad bikes being used on the road by hunt followers and terriermen. Traffic Act violations should be reported immediately to any police officer present and an incident number taken.

Members of the public can alternatively report repeat offenders anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 11

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.