The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).
This is the primary piece of legislation in England and Wales for protecting wildlife. All birds and a variety of other plant and animal species are protected under this Act, BUT NOT ALL. The Act also includes sections relating to Sites of Scientific Interest, National Parks and countryside access and rights of way.
This legislation makes it an offence to deliberately take, kill or injure a protected wild animal, or to intentionally, or recklessly, disturb such an animal in its place of shelter, or to damage, destroy or obstruct access to its place of shelter. It is also an offence to be in possession of a protected animal, live or dead.
However the Act also includes various defences. Some are discussed below, under Schedules, but the important ones, as they relate to wildlife rehabilitation, is Part 1, Section 4 (2) a and b for birds and Part 1, Section 10, (3) a and b for other animals, as listed on Schedule 5 of the Act.
Wildlife and Countryside Act, Part 1, Section 4:
(2) Notwithstanding anything in the provisions of section 1 or any order made under section 3, a person shall not be guilty of an offence by reason of—
(a) the taking of any wild bird if he shows that the bird had been disabled otherwise than by his unlawful act and was taken solely for the purpose of tending it and releasing it when no longer disabled;
(b) the killing of any wild bird if he shows that the bird had been so seriously disabled otherwise than by his unlawful act that there was no reasonable chance of its recovering;
Wildlife and Countryside Act, Part 1, Section 10:
(3) Notwithstanding anything in section 9, a person shall not be guilty of an offence by reason of—
(a) the taking of any such animal if he shows that the animal had been disabled otherwise than by his unlawful act and was taken solely for the purpose of tending it and releasing it when no longer disabled;
(b) the killing of any such animal if he shows that the animal had been so seriously disabled otherwise than by his unlawful act that there was no reasonable chance of its recovering;
These defences allow anybody to pick up and treat a protected wild animal for the purposes of tending and releasing it, or, to euthanase it to prevent further suffering.
Another important section for rehabilitators to be aware of the Section 14, which prohibits the release of certain animals into the wild:
Wildlife and Countryside Act, Part 1, Section 14. Introduction of new species etc...
(1) Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person releases or allows to escape into the wild any animal which—
(a) is of a kind which is not ordinarily resident in and is not a regular visitor to Great Britain in a wild state; or
(b) is included in Part I of Schedule 9,
he shall be guilty of an offence.
The Act contains a number of Schedules, relating to particular sections of the Act. The following are of direct interest to the rehabilitator.
Schedule 4 lists species of birds that must be registered and ringed if kept in captivity – this includes rehabilitation. There are General Licences that allow certain people to keep these birds for a certain period of time, e.g. a vet may keep such a bird for six weeks, before he is required to register it.
Schedule 5 lists the species of animals, other than birds, that are protected by the Act.
Schedule 9 lists animals that are thought to be living in the UK, but whose release would be an offence under Section 14, unless you have a licence to do so.
Licences may be issued under Section 16 of the Act for a variety of purposes; for instance it is possible to apply for a licence to release a rehabilitated grey squirrel, but you may not necessarily be permitted to do so, depending on where you live etc. The licences are issued by the statutory nature conservation organisations (SNCOs), such as Natural England, Welsh Assembly Government, Countryside Council for Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage.
Licences come with specified conditions; any breach of these conditions is an offence, so if you should obtain a licence for an activity, ensure that you read all the conditions attached to it.
General Licences allow certain activities to be undertaken that would otherwise be unlawful and rehabilitation is one example. They cover a variety of activities that are considered to be low risk and where the likelihood is that any application for a licence would be granted. This therefore reduces the bureaucratic workload.
No application is required for a General Licence, they can just be downloaded from the appropriate website. General Licences also come with conditions which must be strictly adhered to. They are reissued every year, and are subject to revision, so the BWRC would recommend that you check the website to see if a licence has been updated, before you undertake any activity covered by such a licence.
Examples of General Licenses for the rehabilitator are: