Modernising the legal framework for protecting and managing wildlife

The law regulating wildlife is spread over a collection of Acts dating back to 1831. Much of the older legislation is out of step with modern requirements, and there is duplication between the principal modern Act – the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 – and Regulations made with a view to implementing EU law obligations. The result is a legal landscape that is out of date, confused and sometimes contradictory.

In a report published today we are recommending that the patchwork of existing legislation be replaced by a single statute. The new statute brings together the law governing the protection, control and management of wildlife to make it more consistent, easier to understand and simpler to use. Reflecting relevant EU directives and international conventions as well as national wildlife policy, the statute provides a regulatory framework organised around schedules listing protected and controlled species and prohibited conduct.

Existing protections for wild animals, birds and plants are maintained but a statutory procedure for amending the schedules is introduced, allowing for more strategic management of species. The current dependency on criminal law is reduced by introducing an appropriate mix of regulatory measures such as guidance, advice and civil sanctions. But the penalty for the most serious wildlife crimes will be extended from six months to two years in prison.

Nicholas Paines QC, Law Commissioner for public law, said today: “Our reforms sweep away the confused and contradictory patchwork of existing legislation to provide a balance between the needs of the people who manage wildlife and those who want to protect it.

“We are recommending a modern, flexible regulatory framework that will allow for the strategic, long-term management of wild animals, birds and plants and their habitats. What we are recommending does not alter the levels of protection currently offered to wildlife but it will help people understand what their obligations and duties are in respect of wildlife, what they can and cannot do, and what to expect should they break the rules.”