Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

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Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Long title An Act to repeal and re-enact with amendments the Protection of Birds Acts 1954 to 1967 and the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975; to prohibit certain methods of killing or taking wild animals; to amend the law relating to protection of certain mammals; to restrict the introduction of certain animals and plants; to amend the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976; to amend the law relating to nature conservation, the countryside and National Parks and to make provision with respect to the Countryside Commission; to amend the law relating to public rights of way; and for connected purposes.
Territorial extentEngland & Wales; Scotland
Other legislation
Amended byThe Environment Act 1995 (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 1996
Status: Amended
Text of statute as originally enacted
Revised text of statute as amended

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom implemented to comply with European Council Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds. In short, the act gives protection to native species (especially those at threat), controls the release of non-native species, enhances the protection of Sites of Special Scientific Interest and builds upon the rights of way rules in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The Act is split into 4 parts covering 74 sections; it also includes 17 schedules.

Contents

The legislation has strength; few amendments have been made to it, and it has acted as a foundation for later legislation to build upon. The compulsory 5 year review of schedules 5 and 8 make it dynamic in terms of the species which it protects.

History

Wild Birds Protection Act 1902

The Wild Birds Protection Act 1902 (2 Edw 7 c. 6) was an Act of Parliament of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, given the royal assent on 22 July 1902 and repealed in 1954.

It provided that where any person was convicted of an offence against the Wild Birds Protection Acts 1880 to 1896 (the 1880, 1881, 1894 and 1896 Acts), the court was empowered to dispose of any bird or bird's egg in respect of which the offence had been committed. [1] [2]

The Act was repealed and replaced by the Protection of Birds Act 1954. Bird Sanctuary Orders (BSOs) under this Act were replaced by Areas of Special Protection (AoSPs) under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. [3]

Birds Directive

The 1979 Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats covered the natural heritage of Europe, as well as in some African countries. It encouraged European co-operation in protecting natural habitats; and the conservation of flora and fauna, including migratory species and particularly endangered species.

The convention became open for signature on 19 September 1979 as a binding international legal instrument; it came into force on 1 June 1982. The UK ratified the convention and adopted the European Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (among other directives). [4]

European Directive 79/409/EC on the Conservation of Wild Birds was adopted on 2 April 1979. The main provisions included: protection of vulnerable species; classification of Special Protection Areas, protection for all wild birds; and restrictions on killing/selling/keeping wild birds. [5]

From 1981 several acts have passed as UK legislation to comply with the European Directive on the Conservation. [6] The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 strengthened protection of SSSIs introduced by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The pre-dated acts:

were repealed by the passing of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. [7]

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 came into force in 1982. In 1985 the UK ratified the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (1979). Adopted in Bonn, West Germany in 1979 and coming into force in 1985, the Bonn Convention worked to conserve migratory species and their habitats. Listed in Appendix I are species which are endangered, Appendix II contains species which would benefit from international cooperation.

Appendix 1 migratory species listed in the convention were amended into the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Further UK legislation to comply with the European Directive on the Conservation include:

Overview

Part I: Wildlife

Part I includes sections 1 to 27 of the Act. The legislation contained in these sections covers:

Part II: Nature Conservation, Countryside & National Parks

Part II includes sections 28 to 52 of the Act. The legislation contained in these sections covers:

Part III: Public Rights of Way

Part III includes sections 53 to 66 of the Act. Building on the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 which required local authorities to draw up maps defining public rights of way.

Part IV: Miscellaneous & General

Part IV includes sections 67 to 74 of the Act. The legislation contained in these sections covers:

Schedules

The Act contains 17 schedules.

Amendments

There have been a few simple amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Act, such as word changes, increase in fines, etc. Every 5 years the JNCC coordinates a compulsory review of schedules 5 and 8 to add new species that may need protection. [9]

A secretary of state can add or remove species at any time. [9]

Main amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

  • 1985: Makes it necessary for local authorities to use Countryside Commission guidelines in deciding whether area with natural beauty are important to conserve. Amendments were made to SSSI documentation, notification periods and maintenance of registers. [9]
  • 1991: Amendment making it an offence to knowingly cause or permit to cause actions listed in sections 5 and 11. [10]
  • 1995: Restricts licenses issued to control wild birds in order to reduce damage to crops, livestock, etc. [10]
  • 1998: Variation of schedules 5 and 8; for example, Flamingo Moss (Desmatodon cernuus) was added to schedule 8 as well as 17 other species. [9]
  • 1999: Variation of schedule 9; several species of deer were added to schedule 9. [9]
  • 2004: Minor amendments of various words. [9]

Amendments from following legislation

  • 1990: The Environmental Protection Act 1990 established English Nature and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. JNCC made responsible for producing guidelines for SSSI selection.
  • 1994: Conservation Regulations 1994. Built on Part I protecting habitats and species by implementing the requirement to assess plans/projects that will impact on European Protected Species.
  • 2000: The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 strengthened protection of SSSIs; by increased English Nature's enforcement power (allowed to combat neglect, prevent damaging activity, make public bodies responsible for conservation and enhancement of SSSIs) and increasing penalties for damage to a maximum of £20,000 per offence (along with court power to order restoration if damage occurs). Improved public rights of way giving people access to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land.
  • 2006: The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 merged English Nature and the Countryside Agency to create Natural England. Introduced new offences involving the intentional and reckless damage of SSSIs.
  • 2009: The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 allowed the creation of marine conservation zones and with the consent of the secretary of state, the creation of SSSIs below mean low water mark. [11]
  • 2011: The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 made some major amendments with regard to control of non-native species, the protection of birds, protection of hares and rabbits and associated poaching.

Regulators

Regulated by Natural England

As well as being a regulator of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Natural England acts as an advisor (to individuals, companies, government, etc.) in relation to nature conservation. Additionally Natural England helps with land management through grants, projects and information.

Legally responsible for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and enforce law when necessary. Damage, destruction or disturbance of SSSI habitats and features can lead to the following actions by Natural England:

Regulated by Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage

Similar responsibilities to Natural England, but responsible in Wales and Scotland, respectively.

Regulated by the police

Within the police there are several aspects to regulating wildlife crime; intelligence, enforcement and prevention. [13]

The police are responsible for enforcing part I of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, often advised by Natural England [12] and will investigate wildlife offences; usually performed by wildlife crime officers (WCOs).

The National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) is a law enforcement unit which helps agencies with enforcement. Wildlife crime investigations, statistics and intelligence are provided.

Regulated by the Environment Agency

The Environment Agency deal with reports from the public in relation to wildlife crime; under duties to prosecute environmental crimes, offences such as damage to habitats and wildlife are included. The EA work closely with the RSPB and wildlife crime officers. [14]

Regulated by local authorities

Local authorities (e.g. Southampton City Council) are responsible for regulating public rights of way and enforcing rights of way legislation. [9] Issues such as obstructions and misleading signs are usually reported by members of the public and then are dealt with by the local authority. [15]

Monitored by

Offences

Land owners and occupiers

Public bodies/industry

Any person

Penalties

Tried with regards to each separate animal/site involved. If multiple organisms or sites are involved then defendant tried per animal/site involved:

Exemptions

Exemptions to Part 1: Wildlife

There are various exemptions applied to part one providing protection for wildlife, thus no lawful act or offence will be committed, if:

  • an authorised person for example by obtaining a licence from Natural England or DEFRA kills or takes a wild bird, damages or destroys the nest of a bird and damages or removes eggs from the nest.
  • an authorised person for example has obtained a licence for killing or injuring an animal in schedule 5 and can provide sufficient evidence stating it was necessary to prevent damage and protect livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber and fisheries.
  • a wild bird or animal has been taken if injured and that person's intention is to tend and return the bird or animal to the wild when fully recovered. If it is so severely injured beyond recovery then it can be killed in the most humane way possible.

All sick and injured birds and animals which are being cared for must be registered with DEFRA.

  • it can be shown that the destruction of a nest, egg, bird, animal or an animal's shelter was accidental from a lawful operation and could not have been avoided.
  • an individual can provide evidence showing it was necessary to kill or injure a protected animal or bird in order to protect livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber and fisheries. [9]

Variations

Provided below is a list - probably incomplete - of documents modifying the W&C Act 1981.

Related Research Articles

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References

  1. The Public General Acts Passed in the Second Year of the Reign of His Majesty King Edward the Seventh. London: printed for His Majesty's Stationery Office. 1902.
  2. Chronological table of the statutes; HMSO, London. 1993.
  3. "Protected areas designations directory". Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  4. Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, Council of Europe, (2011) [Accessed: 24 March 2011]
  5. JNCC, 2010
  6. JNCC, 2010a
  7. Naturenet, 2009
  8. DEFRA Cross Compliance Handbook for England, 2006 edition
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Text of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk .
  10. 1 2 Animal welfare law- fifteen years of progress, RSPCA, (2004) [Accessed: 27 March 2011]
  11. SSSI legislative timeline, Defra (2009) [Accessed: 27 March 2011].
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 SSSI Enforcement Policy, Natural England, (2007) [Accessed: 23 March 2011].
  13. IEEM, 2010
  14. 1 2 Regulators and Agencies, Environmentlaw, (2010) [Accessed: 27 March 2011]
  15. 1 2 Maintaining Public Rights of Way, Southampton City Council, (2009) [Accessed: 27 March 2011]
  16. Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime, Defra, (2011) [Accessed: 27 March 2011]
  17. RSPB, 2011