Protection of species of wild birds

United Kingdom legislation provides general protection for all wild birds, and prohibits the killing, injuring, taking, or selling, of any wild bird or their nests or eggs. This legislation applies to land (including land covered by water) and territorial waters. However, the level of protection for bird species varies. An authorised person may kill, take or injure (in an attempt to kill), certain species of the more common birds listed on the appropriate Schedule, at all times. Authorised persons are the owners and occupiers of the land, and any person authorised by the owner or occupier of the land, on which the wild bird is located or by the appropriate local authority, or other specified body, although such authorisation does not confer right of entry onto land. Such action is not permitted in Scotland on Sundays or Christmas Day.
 
Certain species of birds are provided with special protection, some at all times of the year and others only during the close season, and the offence of killing, taking and injuring a wild bird or damaging or destroying that bird's nest or eggs, is subject to special provisions. For these bird species, it is an offence to disturb any bird or their young during the breeding season of that species. In Scotland, such protection is extended for certain specified bird species in relation to their next sites at all times of the year, and also prohibits the disturbance of certain bird species at their lek sites.
 
Bird species listed on the appropriate Schedule (quarry species) may be killed, taken or injured (in the attempt to kill it), at certain times of the year, outside the close season for that species. However, such action is not permitted in Scotland on Sundays and Christmas Day. The appropriate Minister may vary the close seasons and can declare periods of protection not exceeding 14 days, after consultation with persons representing shooting activities.
 
It is not an offence to take a disabled protected bird species for the purpose of tending to it and returning it to the wild or to kill such a bird if there is no reasonable chance of recovery.
 
Certain methods of killing or taking wild birds are prohibited, namely the use of any springe, trap, gin, snare, hook and line, electrical device, poisonous, stupefying substance, net, bird-lime or similar substance. However, it is a defence to show that the action was the incidental result of using these methods for the taking of other wild animals, if this was otherwise lawful and was for the purpose of public health, agriculture, forestry, fisheries or nature conservation, and that all reasonable precautions to avoid harm to birds was taken.
 
Any person who uses any bow, crossbow, explosive, automatic or semi-automatic weapon, certain shotguns, device for night shooting, artificial lights, mirrors, gas, smoke, chemical wetting agent, sound recorders or live animal as a decoy, or mechanically propelled vehicles (used to for immediate pursuit), for the purpose of killing or taking a wild bird will be guilty of an offence. In Northern Ireland, it is also an offence to use muscle-relaxing substances to cause bodily harm to a wild bird and any arrow, spear, metal bar, axe, hatchet, cudgel, club or hammer to kill or take a wild bird.
 
The selling of wild bird species dead or alive or any part of, or anything derived from a wild bird, is prohibited, apart from the sale of dead wild birds of the 'quarry' species, and wild birds that are alive and were ringed and bred in captivity, and are species which are listed on the appropriate Schedule.
 
Certain species of captive birds must be ringed and registered in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State in Great Britain and by the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland. These captive bird species are protected by provisions which require caged birds to be kept in cages that are sufficient in height or breadth so the bird can stretch its wings freely. This does not apply however if the bird is in the course of conveyance, undergoing examination or treatment by a veterinary surgeon or is being displayed for public exhibition or competition.
 
The appropriate authority is able to grant licences which allow for the taking, killing, destroying, disturbing, injuring or selling of any wild birds listed on the appropriate Schedules for purposes of science, education, conservation and photography or to preserve public health or safety, to prevent the spread of disease or to prevent serious damage to livestock, crops, growing timber or fisheries.
 
In Great Britain, the appropriate authority for the issue of licences for scientific or conservation purposes, or for ringing or marking, is the appropriate Minister or the appropriate statutory nature conservation agency, (Natural England (formally English Nature) in England, Scottish Natural Heritage in Scotland and the Countryside Council for Wales in Wales). The agencies are also responsible for issuing licences for the purpose of photography. The authority responsible for issuing licences for the purposes of bird collections, falconry, agriculture, taxidermy and sale is the appropriate Minister. The authority responsible for issuing licences relating to public health or safety, to prevent the spread of disease, or to prevent serious damage to livestock, crops, growing timber or other property or fisheries is the agriculture Minister. In Northern Ireland, the Department of Environment and the Environment and Heritage Service are responsible for the granting of all licences in relation to wild and captive birds.
 
The appropriate Minister can add species of wild birds to, and remove species of birds from, the Schedules. In Northern Ireland, the power to add or remove any species of birds to or from the Schedules lies with the Department of the Environment, who must consult the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside before changes are made.
 
Areas of Special Protection for the protection of birds can be established as sanctuary areas for birds, where it is prohibited to kill, take, disturb or damage birds or their nests or eggs at all times of the year, unless a licence is granted that states otherwise or if an authorised person takes or kills the bird for purposes of public health or safety, to prevent spread of disease or prevent serious damage to livestock, crops or fisheries.
 
The legislative provisions in Great Britain for the protection of wild birds are contained primarily in the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, Sections 1-7. The wild bird species that are protected by special provisions at all times are listed on Schedule 1 Part I, and those birds which are protected during the close season are listed on Schedule 1 Part II. Bird species which can be taken or killed outside the close season (quarry species) are listed on Schedule 2 Part I, and Part II of that Schedule lists the bird species that may only be taken or killed by authorised persons at all times. Schedule 3 lists the bird species that may be sold, and Schedule 4 lists the captive bird species which must be registered and ringed. Sections 16-27 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 contain the licensing and enforcement provisions for wild bird protection. In England and Wales, enforcement provisions were extended by the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000, Section 81 and Schedule 12, while, in Scotland, the legislation was amended by Section 50 and Schedule 6 of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. In Northern Ireland, the legal provisions are similar to those in Great Britain and are provided by the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985 (Amended 1995), Articles 4-9 and 18, and the protected wild birds are listed on Schedules 1-4.
Review of Schedule 4 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981
In August 2002, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Welsh Assembly initiated a public consultation on the future of Schedule 4 in England and Wales in order to ‘to reduce the regulatory burden on keepers as far as is practicable whilst ensuring that populations of indigenous wild birds can be sustained’. Following the public consultation on the bird registration scheme (completed in November 2002), Ministers from Defra and the Welsh Assembly invited JNCC to establish and apply scientific criteria for listing birds under Schedule 4 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act.  This review is the outcome of that process.

JNCC has collated information on conservation designations for UK taxa, and the list is available to download as a spreadsheet.