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Snares and the Law

Snares are banned in most European countries, but free-running snares are still legal in England and Northern Ireland. Wales passed a ban in summer 2023, and in March 2024 the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill was passed into law in March 2024 making it “an offence to use a snare to trap a wild animal, or in any way that is likely to injure a wild animal”. 

Foxes, rabbits, and Brown Hares are allowed to be caught as so-called ‘target animals’ (note that Scotland already had a closed season for killing Brown Hare from 1st Feb – 30th Sept).

The use of snares is covered by a Code of Practice, but otherwise snaring is subject to lawful restrictions under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which makes it an offence to set in position any trap or snare which is intended to cause bodily injury to any wild animal or to use a trap or snare for the purpose of killing such a wild animal included in Schedule 6 of the 1981 Act – ie so-called ‘non-target’ protected species like Badger, Otter, Red Squirrel, Hedgehog, Pine Marten and Polecat. The snaring of any protected species is not permitted unless that person has been issued a specific licence under section 16 of the 1981 Act.

This also means that snares must NOT be set near rivers used by Otters or near Badger setts (or along runs used by Badgers near setts).

Snares have been used for thousands of years to trap animals. A fairly simple but inherently cruel design, snares are essentially a loop set along a trail or suspended from a branch or small tree which catches an animal by the neck or leg as they walk into it. As the animal continues to move forward or struggles to get free, the loop pulls tight. If the snare is strong enough (so doesn’t snap) or can’t be dragged away, the animal will suffocate, their neck will dislocate, or they will be held where they were caught and then beaten to death or shot.

Snares used on eg shooting estates are made from thin steel wire. They’re cheap to make, easy to use, light to carry, quickly replaced, and far quieter than a rifle (so won’t alert police, or forest or park rangers, when committing wildlife crime).

They are basically a low-cost, low-skilled way to kill (or maim/injure) wildlife.

Finding a snare can be harrowing. Remember though that in England it is still legal to lay snares to catch foxes and rabbits. That makes it really important that we understand the laws on snares and snaring (across the whole of the UK), what animals the law still allows to be snared, and what criminal charges we may face if caught damaging or taking away a snare.

It’s important to remember as well that any live animal we find in a snare will be frightened. If we approach them they will try to escape (causing more injury to themselves) or attack us (potentially causing injury to us) – that’s especially important to remember if we come across a badger in a snare.

If we do find a snare where it is not legal to place them then we should report the snare to the police (and wildlife investigators). If an animal has been snared illegally we should also call the police but also call a wildlife rescue or the RSPCA.

Any snares found in Wales – where snares are banned – should be reported to the police (and the same will be true when Scotland enacts a snare ban).

A free-running snare is a wire loop that relaxes when the animal caught in it stops pulling. In other words the snare is intended to be a ‘restraint device’ and not kill an animal outright. In practice an animal will rarely stop trying to escape and will keep pulling the snare tighter or become entangled.

In law a snare is “free-running” if:

  • it is not self-locking.
  • it is not capable (whether because of rust, damage or other condition or matter) of locking.
  • the noose of the snare is able at all times freely to become wider or tighten (and is not prevented from doing so whether because of rust, damage or other condition or matter other than the stop).

Snares are still legal in England (and Northern Ireland) because they are largely used by gamekeepers on shooting estates.

Government after government has decided that shooting live animals for ‘sport’ is a legitimate practice. Shoots want to eradicate predators (especially foxes), so snaring has been permitted to continue.

In other words, snares are legal so that the shooting industry can ‘protect their birds’ long enough for them to be sold off to shooters to be killed.

Common sense and any modern understanding of wild animal sentience would tell you that snares should be banned.

In March 2024 Holyrood passed the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill which included a full ban on the use of snares making itan offence to use a snare to trap a wild animal, or in any way that is likely to injure a wild animal”. 

In Scotland previous restrictions and conditions on the use of snares were introduced by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2007, and the Snares (Scotland) Order 2010. The Wildlife & Natural Environment (Scotland) Act (WANE) became law in 2011, making accreditation and training of all snare users a legal requirement, following the enactment of The Snares (Training) (Scotland) (No.2) Order 2012. Once accredited, snare operators must apply with their certificate to their local police station for an individual ID number which must be tagged onto every fox and rabbit snare.

Under the WANE Act record keeping became a legal requirement from April 2013. Snare users need to record the location of every snare currently set; the location of every snare set in position by the operator within the past two years (not applicable to snares prior to ID issue); the date on which each snare was set; the date on which each snare was removed; the type of animal caught and the date it was found.

The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act (2006) affect all use of traps and snares. This Act makes the operator responsible for avoiding the unnecessary suffering of any captured animal.

Before the full ban came into force:

  • It was illegal to use ‘self-locking’ snares.
  • Snares used for foxes must have an effective safety stop 23cm from the running end.
  • Snares used for rabbits must have an effective safety stop 13cm from the running end
  • Snares must not be set where animals might hang themselves or become entangled or close to water where they could drown.
  • Snares must only be set at sites likely to be used by a fox or rabbit. They must never be placed on or near to an active badger sett (or on the runs radiating from it), or where livestock could be caught.
  • Snares must not be used in areas regularly and legitimately used for the exercise of domestic animals, near public footpaths or housing.
  • Snares must be inspected as soon after sunrise as is practicable, and should again be inspected near dusk. During the summer months snares must be inspected before 09:00 and a further inspection carried out in the evening.
  • The snare operator must be the landowner or have the landowner’s permission (eg is a gamekeeper employed by a shooting estate with instructions to use snares).
  • Non-target animals must be released unharmed and immediately (unless so injured that release would be inhumane).
  • Snares should not be used if forecasted weather conditions are likely to cause poor animal welfare or prevent daily inspection. Excess heat as well as cold/wind/rain/snow, etc. must be considered.

In June 2023 the Welsh Senned voted overwhelmingly to ban snare use, making it the first country in the UK to fully ban snares.The legislation (which also banned glue traps) is expected to receive royal assent in a few months time.

The Senned had previously come close to banning snares in 2017 but caved into shooting industry pressure and opted instead for further reviews and assurances from the shooting industry that snares would be used ‘legally from now on’.

Snaring in Northern Ireland was set to be banned but intense lobbying by the likes of the Countryside Alliance saw regulations put in place instead which allowed snaring to continue.

Snaring is most recently covered by The Snares Order (Northern Ireland) 2015 (which was initially withdrawn in 2015 after calls for a full ban) but reintroduced and passed after lobbying by (especially) the Countryside Alliance in 2016.

A 2015 Ipsos Mori poll revealed that 74% of those surveyed in Northern Ireland thought snares should be banned.)

 

The Order lays out the following:

Setting and using snares

2. A snare is to be treated as having been used in a manner which constitutes an offence under Article 12(2F) of the 1985 Order if it is used or caused or permitted to be used otherwise than in accordance with regulations 3 to 6.

 

Check that snares are free-running.

3.—(1) Any person who sets a snare in position must, while it remains in position, check that it is free-running or cause it to be checked at least once every day.

(2) Any person who, while carrying out such a check, finds that the snare is not free-running, must remove the snare or restore it to a state in which it is free-running.

(3) In this paragraph a snare is “free-running” if—

(a) it is not self-locking;

(b) it is not capable (whether because of rust, damage or other condition or matter) of locking; and

(c) subject only to the restriction on such movement created by the stop fitted in accordance with regulation 4(2) and (3), the noose of the snare is able at all times freely to become wider or tighten (and is not prevented from doing so whether because of rust, damage or other condition or matter other than the stop).

 

Snare stops and swivels

4.—(1) A person who sets in position or otherwise uses a snare must ensure that the snare is fitted with a stop which complies with this regulation.

(2) The stop must be capable of preventing the noose of the snare closing beyond the stop.

(3) Where the person intends to use the snare to catch foxes, the snare must be fitted with a stop which is capable of preventing the noose of the snare reducing in circumference to less than 23 centimetres.

(4) A person who sets in position or otherwise uses a snare must ensure that the snare incorporates a swivel to facilitate twisting by any animal caught by the snare.

 

Snare anchors

5.—(1) A person who sets a snare in position must—

(a) stake it to the ground, or

(b) attach it to an object,

in a manner which will prevent the snare being dragged by an animal caught by it.

 

Location of snares

6. A person must not set a snare in a place or in such manner where an animal caught by the snare is likely to—

(a) become fully or partially suspended, or

(b) drown.

 

The Order also makes provision about the use of snares.

Regulation 2 specifies that it is an offence under Article 12(2F) of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 to set or use, or cause or permit a snare to be set or used, otherwise in accordance with the requirements specified in regulations 3 to 6.

Regulation 3 requires someone who sets a snare to check or cause it to be checked that it remains free-running every 24 hours. Anyone who finds that the snare is not free-running must remove it or fix it to ensure it is free-running.

Regulation 4 requires a stop to be fixed to a snare before it is used and stipulates the necessary technical requirements. The Regulation also requires all snares to be fitted with a swivel.

Regulation 5 requires a snare to be staked in place or attached to another object to prevent it from being dragged.

Regulation 6 specifies that a snare is to be treated as having been set in such a manner which constitutes an offence under Regulation 2 if it is set in a location where a snared animal could become suspended or drown.

Snares have been found all year round.

The National Anti-Snaring Coalition says that on pheasant shoots “the most common time to find snares are July, August and September” when reared birds are in, or are about to go in, their release pens. On grouse moors the Coalition says that “snares are often set in spring and early summer” when foxes are moving onto moorland to hunt.

Snares will often be closed up on shoot days or when fox hounds are in the area.

Snares are most frequently used on shooting estates to trap foxes and on farms to trap rabbits, but have also been used to catch rats, Grey Squirrels and mink.

It is the responsibility of the the snare operator (the person who places the snare) to ensure that the snare is lawful, laid correctly and humanely, and that snaring is carried out with the respect for other wildlife and countryside users.

That means that it is the snare operator and not their employer, supplier, or the snare manufacturer that is open to prosecution for malpractice.

Section 11B of the Wildlife and Countryside Act is clear that the operator (the person who lays the snare) must inspect every snare they place at least once a day, check whether an animal has been caught, and check that the snare is free-running.

As Wales has now banned snares and Scotland is (as of late 2023) examining snare use under its own legislation, the following would appear to apply just to England:


11B Snares: duty to inspect etc.

(1)Any person who sets a snare in position must while it remains in position inspect it or cause it to be inspected, at least once every day at intervals of no more than 24 hours, for the following purposes—

(a)to see whether any animal is caught by the snare; and

(b)to see whether the snare is free-running.

(2)Any person who while carrying out such an inspection—

(a)finds an animal caught by the snare must, during the course of the inspection, release or remove the animal (whether it is alive or dead); and

(b)finds that the snare is not free-running must remove the snare or restore it to a state in which it is free-running.

(3)Subject to the provisions of this Part, any person who—

(a)without reasonable excuse, contravenes subsection (1); or

(b)contravenes subsection (2),

is guilty of an offence.

(4)For the purposes of this section, a snare is “free-running” if—

(a)it is not self-locking;

(b)it is not capable (whether because of rust, damage or other condition or matter) of locking; and

(c)subject only to the restriction on such movement created by the stop fitted in accordance with section 11(1A)(a) or (b), the noose of the snare is able at all times freely to become wider or tighten (and is not prevented from doing so whether because of rust, damage or other condition or matter other than the stop).

Snares can be set anywhere on a shoot or shooting estates.

On lowland shoots most snares will be set near pheasant release pens, perhaps anchored to trees or logs. Snares are also set across animal runs that go near the pen, across entrances to stink pits (see What are Stink Pits?), in field margins (especially if these are used as cover crops for birds reared to shoot), or along fence lines.

On moorland (where there is far less tree cover) snares are more typically set along fence lines, across holes in walls, and across entrances to stink pits. Again, snares are often anchored to logs.

All of these usages are currently legal, but operators must NOT set snares near rivers where there are Otters, near Badger setts (or along badger runs), or where animals might hang themselves or become entangled or close to water where they could drown.

There is no legal limit on the number of snares a shooting estate can lay.

While shooting lobbyists might argue that the various codes of practice suggest some sort of restraint, the truth was laid bare in the national press when Llangibby Castle gamekeeper Roy Jones, accused of laying 600 snares on the 3500 acre estate, admitted to around ‘160’ and stressed that nothing he was doing ‘broke the law’.

Jones went on to say that, “I am not saying that wiring (snaring) is not cruel. It is. But there is a lot of things in life that are cruel.”

A gamekeeper should know about cruelty of course, but that doesn’t make snare use inevitable or excusable.

Rabbits are considered pests under the Pests Act 1954 and are not given any specific protection so it is legal to kill or take them by lawful methods at any time of year.

It is an offence though to cause unnecessary suffering to a rabbit caught in a trap or snare. Operators can also use cage traps, drop box traps or spring traps, but must check traps and snares once a day and humanely despatch any rabbits caught.

No licences are issued to snare Mountain Hares in Scotland.

In a review of snaring published in February 2022, the government in Scotland stated the following:

“The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 added mountain hares to Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which provides protection to the species and they can now only be controlled under a licence issued by NatureScot for limited, specified purposes.

Following concerns raised with NatureScot over the welfare impacts of snaring hares to the effect that it is difficult to advise on a method of snaring that does not cause unnecessary suffering in that they cannot be used effectively as a ‘killing’ trap because animals take too long to die and are not effective as a restraining means because there is too high a risk of killing or injury. The lack of any apparent means or guidance to avoid this means that NatureScot do not intend to issue licences that allow for the snaring of mountain hares unless the contrary can be evidenced.”

Because setting and using snares is (currently) considered a ‘lawful activity’, anyone damaging, removing, or taking away a legally-set snare could (if caught) be charged with criminal damage or theft.

If the snare is being used illegally (eg is being operated incorrectly, is set on land where snaring is not allowed, or is clearly nothing more a ‘homemade’ noose) it should be reported to the police.

Police Scotland say that “If a snare is found not to be free running it should be removed or repaired” but does not clarify whether that applies only to removal by the snare operator (ie the individual that set the snare) or to anyone finding an illegal snare.

  • Police action has been taken against activists caught with ‘pocketed’ snares, but – and we are not suggesting testing or breaking the law here – to our knowledge no one has been charged with simply tightening the noose on a snare (without damaging or removing the snare) so that it can’t trap animals.

It is very difficult to know just how many animals are killed in snares as operators (mostly gamekeepers on shooting estates) are not required to keep accurate data – and even if they were it would be an impossible requirement to enforce.

The shooting industry has expanded hugely since, but in 2012 a UK government study found that only around a quarter of the animals caught in snares were the intended targets (normally foxes) – but based on that long outdated research snares may be trapping up to 1,700,000 animals every year.

Defra guidelines (in an admittance that snares are not always as ‘humane’ as the industry likes to portray them) state that “Unless the animal is badly injured and has to be killed on humane grounds, it must be released immediately. It should be remembered that if humane despatch is deemed to be appropriate then the snare user may be called upon to justify their actions in a court of law.

They go on to say that, “Releasing non-target animals from snares can be difficult but the following course of action should be followed. The animal’s struggles should be limited by shortening the wire so that it can then be cut at the noose in order to ensure that no part of the snare remains on the animal. The wire must never be cut anywhere else in the hope that the noose will fall off later.

In reality there is a high risk that a trapped and frightened animal will bite or scratch a rescuer (especially a rescuer not used to handling wild animals), and the best advice is to call the RSPCA (on 0300 1234 999) or a local animal rescue immediately. There is no guarantee of an immediate response, of course, but they will always try to do what they can.

  • It’s important to note that snares are legally someone’s property and – unlikely as it sounds – if caught damaging or removing them an individual could face charges and court.

It is always illegal to snare a badger. Note though that badgers are very strong with powerful jaws, and are unused to being handled. They may bite so unless very experienced with handling badgers the advice is NOT to try to release the animal ourselves.

If the snared badger is alive call the police on 999. Contact the Badger Trust (online or via their downloadable app) and call the RSPCA’s 24-hour national cruelty and advice line on 0300 1234 999 immediately.

If the badger is dead, take photographs or video and leave the body exactly as found so that evidence can also be fully recorded by investigators or the police .

It is always illegal to snare a badger. Note though that badgers are very strong with powerful jaws, and are unused to being handled. They may bite so unless very experienced with handling badgers the advice is NOT to try to release the animal ourselves.

If the snared badger is alive call the police on 999. Contact the Badger Trust (online or via their downloadable app) and call the RSPCA’s 24-hour national cruelty and advice line on 0300 1234 999 immediately.

If the badger is dead, take photographs or video and leave the body exactly as found so that evidence can also be fully recorded by investigators or the police .

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 we might need to re find a remote location.
  • It is important to record if at all possible whether we are on or near public land as this will determine the type of police response.
  • Never put ourselves in danger, but can we see who is involved and what they look like (e.g. number of people, their gender(s), age(s), the clothing worn, tools being carried)? Can we hear them – if so what are they saying, are they using any names etc?
  • If any dogs are involved how many are there, what colour are they, do we know what breed they are (even information like ‘terriers’ or ‘lurcher-types’ can be very useful).
  • The make, colour and registration number of any vehicle (we can take photos of a car if we think it is being used or might be used to commit a crime). Does it have any obvious dents, branding or markings, spotlights, bullbars etc.

 

DO 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.

Several organisations and groups keep data on snares to track their use, largely using information supplied by the public. Data is typically submitted via website forms and held in complete confidence.

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

Read more about the extensive use of snares on shooting estates at Snares and the Shooting industry.

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.