The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is the primary legislative protection for wildlife in the UK. In recent years, crimes against wild birds have increased and the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Birds receives more than 500 reports of wild bird crime each year. The increase in offending has led to specialist police officers who are dedicated to deal with wildlife crime issues.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act all birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law and it is an offence to:
- Intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird.
- Intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.
- Intentionally take or destroy the egg of any wild bird.
- Have in one’s possession or control any wild bird, dead or alive, or any part of a wild bird.
- Have in one’s possession or control any egg or part of an egg.
- Use traps or similar items to kill, injure or take wild birds.
- Have in one’s possession or control any bird unless registered.
- Intentionally or recklessly disturb any wild bird while it is nest building, or at a nest containing eggs or young, or disturb the dependent young of such a bird.
Some of the common defences to these offences include:
- That the taking, killing or possession of the animal pre-dates the relevant provision.
- That the actions were taken in order to comply with a legal requirement or order.
- That the destruction or disturbance of an animal’s shelter took place inside a dwelling house (Note the limitation in respect of bats).
- That the taking of an animal was due to injuries in order to tend to these.
- That an animal was killed due to a serious injury from which it could not recover and to put the animal out of its misery.
- Any action which was an inevitable result of and incidental to any lawful operation (note the limitation in respect of bats).
- That the actions were taken to protect livestock, crops or fisheries.
For each of the above defences, these are for the accused to prove on the balance of probabilities (i.e. that it is more likely that not that the defence applies in all the circumstances).
Many species under the Act are afforded high levels of protection; however, there are those which can be kept in captivity so long as they are captive bred and not wild caught.
Whilst it is generally the accepted practice for wild species bred in captivity to be ringed, microchipped and hold an ‘Article 10’ certificate to allow it to be sold, it is not an offence to keep a bird without these. It is, however, necessary for owners of such species to show that any animal was acquired legally, is not being used for commercial gain and is lawfully in captivity. It is, therefore, imperative to retain any documentation or evidence which demonstrates that birds were purchased legally.
Prosecutions can be brought by either the Crown Prosecution Service or the RSPCA and the offences are summary offences which means that they can only be dealt with in the magistrates’ court. The maximum sentence the court can impose on conviction is a 6-month prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine.
More and more people are being prosecuted for these offences with few solicitors having the expertise and knowledge to deal with them. Wheldon Law are experts in this field and have a dedicated team to assist you.