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.
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.
|Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981|
|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 extent||England & Wales; Scotland|
|Amended by||The Environment Act 1995 (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 1996|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Revised text of statute as amended|
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.
The Act was repealed and replaced by the Protection of Birds Act 1954.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.
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).
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.
From 1981 several acts have passed as UK legislation to comply with the European Directive on the Conservation. 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:
1982- The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was implemented.
1985- The UK ratified the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (1979). Adopted in Bonn, 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:
Part I includes sections 1 to 27 of the Act. The legislation contained in these sections covers:
Part II includes sections 28 to 52 of the Act. The legislation contained in these sections covers:
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 includes sections 67 to 74 of the Act. The legislation contained in these sections covers:
The Act contains 17 schedules.
Schedules 1 to 10 relate to powers under the "Wildlife" part of the Act. Schedule 1 lists over forty species of birds that are protected by special penalties. Schedule 2 lists Huntable birds and their close seasons.
Schedules 11 to 13 relate to powers under Part II of the Act
Schedules 14 to 16 relate to powers under Part III of the Act
Schedule 17 lists previous legislation that was repealed in favour of this Act.
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.
A secretary of state can add or remove species at any time.
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.
1991- Amendment making it an offence to knowingly cause or permit to cause actions listed in sections 5 and 11.
1995- Restricts licenses issued to control wild birds in order to reduce damage to crops, livestock, etc.
1998- Variation of schedules 5 and 8; for example, Flamingo Moss (Desmatodon cernuus) was added to schedule 8 as well as 17 other species.
1999- Variation of schedule 9; several species of deer were added to schedule 9.
2004- Minor amendments of various words.
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.
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.
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:
Similar responsibilities to Natural England, but responsible in Wales and Scotland.
Within the police there are several aspects to regulating wildlife crime; intelligence, enforcement and prevention.
The police are responsible for enforcing part I of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, often advised by Natural England 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.
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.
Local authorities (e.g. Southampton City Council) are responsible for regulating public rights of way and enforcing rights of way legislation. Issues such as obstructions and misleading signs are usually reported by members of the public and then are dealt with by the local authority.
Tried with regards to each separate animal/site involved. If multiple organisms or sites are involved then defendant tried per animal/site involved:
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:
All sick and injured birds and animals which are being cared for must be registered with DEFRA.
Provided below is a list - probably incomplete - of documents modifying the W&C Act 1981.
Blow's Down is a 33.1 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Dunstable in Bedfordshire. It was notified in 1989 under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and the local planning authority is Central Bedfordshire Council. The site forms around half of the 62.3 hectare Blow's Downs nature reserve, which is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.The site has varied habitats with a large area of unimproved grassland, a scarce survival of this important habitat. Cattle help to maintain the pasture. Features include a disused quarry and medieval cultivation terraces. It has a rare plant, Bunium bulbocastanum, and beetle odontaeus armiger.There is access from Jardine Way.Chailey Common
Chailey Common is a 169 hectare (417.4 acre) biological site of Special Scientific Interest in the East Sussex. It is close to the village of North Chailey to the west of Newick. The site was notified in 1985 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is also a Local Nature Reserve.The site consists of various heath communities which themselves support important invertebrate and bird species, including various butterflies which are rare in the county.Chanctonbury Hill
Chanctonbury Hill is a 82.7-hectare (204-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest west of Steyning in West Sussex. Part of it is Chanctonbury Ring, an early Iron Age hillfort which contains two Romano-Celtic temples and which is a Scheduled Monument.This site on the steep slope of the South Downs is mainly woodland with some areas of chalk grassland. A dewpond has great crested newts, a species protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. More than sixty species of breeding birds have been recorded, including meadow pipits, corn buntings and green woodpeckers.Coates Castle SSSI
Coates Castle SSSI is a 7.7-hectare (19-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest west of Pulborough in West Sussex.This site consists of three separate areas near Coates Castle. They contain the entire known population in Britain of Gryllus campestris, a field cricket which is protected under the Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. There are an estimated 200 individuals.The site is private land with no public access.Cooper's Hill, Bedfordshire
Cooper's Hill is an 18.1 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Ampthill in Bedfordshire. It was notified under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in 1984, and the planning authority is Central Bedfordshire Council. A smaller area of 12.7 hectares is also a Local Nature Reserve, Part of the site is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.The site is described by Natural England as the best surviving example in Bedfordshire of heathland on the thin acidic soils of the Lower Greensand Ridge. It also has areas of marsh and woodland.There is access from Alameda Road and Station Road.Dropshort Marsh
Dropshort Marsh is a 2.7 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Toddington in Bedfordshire. It was notified under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in 1985, and the local planning authority is Central Bedfordshire Council. The site is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.This marsh has a variety of habitats, including a scarce quaking bog. Many species are now uncommon due to changes in agricultural practices. it has several springs, with floating sweet-grass and brooklime and areas dominated by rushes. Species in drier areas include field woodrush, and there are also mature hedges and pollarded willows.There is access from Dunstable Road, opposite Dropshort Farm.Elsenham Woods
Elsenham Woods is a 44.4 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest east of Elsenham in Essex. It was notified under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and the local planning authority is Uttlesford District Council.The site comprises two separate areas, the larger Eastend Wood and the smaller Plegdon Wood. They are both ancient mixed woods on chalky boulder clay. There are also damp grass rides and ponds which provide additional habitats for invertebrates and birds.The site is private land with no public access.Fancott Woods and Meadows
Fancott Woods and Meadows is a 13.3 hectare Site of Special Scientific Interest near the hamlet of Fancott in Bedfordshire. It was notified under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and the local planning authority is Central Bedfordshire Council. The site is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.Felmersham Gravel Pits
Felmersham Gravel Pits is a 21.6 hectare Site of Special Scientific Interest between the villages of Felmersham and Sharnbrook in Bedfordshire. It was notified under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in 1986 and the local planning authority is Bedford Borough Council. The site is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.The site has flooded gravel pits which were worked until about 1945. Other habitats are neutral grassland, scrub and broadleaved woodland. It is one of the best sites in Bedfordshire for dragonflies and damselflies.The road called Causeway goes through the reserve, which is open at all times.Flitwick Moor
Flitwick Moor is a 59.8 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest between Flitwick and Greenfield in Bedfordshire. It was notified under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in 1984 and the local planning authority is Central Bedfordshire Council. The site is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.This is a rich valley mire, and the largest area of wetland in Bedfordshire. Eight species of sphagnum bog moss have been recorded, including one which is nationally rare. The site has areas of woodland as well as wet grassland. The area managed by the Wildlife Trust is 66.6 hectares: it includes Folly Wood, which was added to the site in 2007.There is access from Greenfield Road, which bisects the site.Hadena irregularis
The Viper's Bugloss (Hadena irregularis) is a species of moth of the family Noctuidae. It is found in Europe.
The wingspan is 32–36 mm. The moth flies from July to August depending on the location.
The larvae feed on Silene otites and Gypsophila species.
In 1998 the United Kingdom government removed Hadena irregularis from schedule 5 (animals) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 as it is believed to be extinct. The cause of extinction has been hypothesised to be destruction of habitat, primarily the food source, which in the United Kingdom was limited to Spanish catch-fly (Silene otites).Hockering Wood
Hockering Wood is a 89.5-hectare (221-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest east of Dereham in Norfolk.This is one the largest areas of ancient, semi-natural woodland in the county. It has many rare species, especially of bryophytes, and there are ponds which have populations of great crested newts, a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.The site is private with no public access.Kings and Bakers Woods and Heaths
Kings and Bakers Woods and Heaths is a 212.8 hectare Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) between Heath and Reach in Bedfordshire and Great Brickhill in Buckinghamshire. The site is mainly in Bedfordshire but includes Rammamere Heath in Buckinghamshire. It was notified in 1984 under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and the local planning authorities are Central Bedfordshire Council and Aylesbury Vale Council. Part of it is a National Nature Reserve, and part of it is a nature reserve managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. it is also a Nature Conservation Review site.The site has the largest remaining area of woodland in Bedfordshire, together with lowland heath, acidic grassland and some small ponds. There are a number of rare plant species, including great woodrush, wood vetch and saw-wort. There are also abundant birds and insects, including white admiral butterflies and tree pipits.There is parking in Stockgrove Country Park, which is partly in the SSSI.Little Hallingbury Marsh
Little Hallingbury Marsh is a 4.5 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest adjacent to the River Stort, west of Little Hallingbury in Essex. It was notified under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and the local planning authority is Uttlesford District Council.The site is unimproved wet grassland and fen, which contains uncommon and declining swamp plant species. The wettest part is dominated by Reed Sweet-grass, and the ditches by branched reed-bur. The site is also of interest for over-wintering birds and aquatic insects, especially dragonflies.The site is private land with no public access, but it can be viewed from the River Stort towpath.Lordswell Field
Lordswell Field or Lord's Well Field is a 3.2 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Eriswell in Suffolk. It is a Nature Conservation Review site, Grade I.This area of calcareous Breckland heath has a rich variety of flora including two nationally rare plants, spanish catchfly and perennial knawel, the latter of which is protected under Section 13 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. There is also an area of lichen heath.There is access from the B1112 road.Patmore Heath
Patmore Heath is a 7.6 hectare (18.8 acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in East Hertfordshire, 2 kilometres north-east of Albury, Hertfordshire. The site was notified in 1985 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Patmore Heath is home to a large amount of dry grass, as well as marshy-areas. Lots of the turf throughout the SSSI is dominated by Deschampsia, as well as occurrences of Anthoxanthum odoratum.The site is managed by the Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. It is accessed by a path from Albury Road and is open at all times.Peter's Pit
Peter's Pit or Peters Pit is a 28.7-hectare (71-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest north-east of Snodland in Kent. It is a Special Area of ConservationThis was formerly a chalk quarry and it has an undulating terrain. There are many ponds, some of which have populations of the great crested newt, a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The site has two reptiles, grass snakes and common European adders.A footpath from Old Church Road goes through the site.Stevington Marsh
Stevington Marsh is a 7.5 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Pavenham in Bedfordshire. It was notified in 1987 under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and the local planning authority is Bedford Borough Council.The site is marshland along the banks of the River Great Ouse. The river, marshes and pastures form varied habitats. The marshes are floristically rich, with the largest one being dominated by great horsetail. The wetland communities and Jurassic limestone grassland are rare habitats in eastern England.There is access by a footpath from Mill Lane.Wilmington Downs
Wilmington Downs is a 209.8-hectare (518-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest north-west of Eastbourne in East Sussex. The site includes a Scheduled Monument, the Long Man of Wilmington, a turf cut figure which may be of prehistoric origin.This site is mainly chalk grassland on the steep slope of the South Downs. It is important for invertebrates, including two protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, the wart-biter grasshopper and the snail Monacha cartusiana. There are also several unusual species of lichens and mosses.
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