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Wild birds have certain protections and it is illegal to -
  • kill, injure or take any wild bird;
  • take, damage or destroy the nest of a wild bird 
  • take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built
  • take or destroy an egg of any wild bird,
The penalties, if convicted, are imprisonment and/or a fine. If you know someone who is stealing wild birds' eggs then contact your local police force and speak to the wildlife officer who will be able to help you.


In order to shoot birds in your garden you would require a licence from the Department for Food Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The licence is only granted for specific purposes and there are many different types of licences. Please see the website for DEFRA Bird Licences (in Related Information) for a full explanation of these licences.


All birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This Act makes it illegal to cause harm or suffering to any bird, or to damage/destroy nests, eggs, or chicks. Some species of birds are afforded extra protection under the Act, prohibiting any disturbance whatsoever.

For more information relating to the laws protecting particular species of bird, you should contact the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). A link to the RSPB website is listed in related information.

If you think a wildlife crime is being committed you can report it to your local Police Wildlife Crime Unit  or by calling 101.

You can also report wildlife crime anonymously to Crimestoppers .


'Birds of prey' are large, predatory birds that have hooked bills, sharp talons, and strong feet.

Birds of prey must be ringed, marked and registered in order to be kept in captivity. If you suspect that your neighbour's bird of prey is wild, or has not been registered, please contact your local police force's wildlife officer for assistance.

See Related Information for contact details for your local force.


It is an offence to cut down a hedge or tree intentionally or recklessly whilst there are birds nesting in it.

Reckless is a term often used in legal definitions. In this context it means that if you cut the tree down knowing there was a chance that birds were nesting there and you didn't check, then you would have been reckless and therefore guilty of the offence.

The penalties are imprisonment and/or a fine. If there is more than one bird, nest or egg then each case will be treated as separate criminal offences.


Care should be taken in buying animals or birds from adverts in the newspapers or online. Below are examples of steps that should be taken with respect to particular birds and animals.

Barn Owl - it is illegal to sell a barn owl that is not captive bred and close ringed. If you are thinking of buying a barn owl then it must be accompanied by an Article 10 certificate (issued by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) (DEFRA). The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) do not advocate the buying of owls as they do not make good domestic pets.

Bird of Prey - the same applies as with barn owls, the bird of prey must be ringed and accompanied by the Article 10 certificate. If the bird of prey is a Honey Buzzard, Golden Eagle, White Tailed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Osprey, Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon or Merlin they must also be registered with DEFRA.

Tortoise – Depending on the species of tortoise you may again require an Article 10 certificate. If you are going to buy a tortoise make sure it is from a reputable breeder and a certificate (if required). Buying a tortoise is not as simple as it may appear as some are now endangered species. Please see the Tortoise Trust website in the related information, for further information on buying and caring for tortoises.


Wild unmarked mute swans belong to the Crown. As such this means that taking a swan could amount to theft. Killing or injuring a swan could also amount to criminal damage or a wildlife related offence. Offences committed against swans have been successfully prosecuted in recent years.
If you see an injured swan then contact the RSPCA. Do not approach as swans can attack and you may injure yourself or further distress/injure the bird.
RSPCA helpline - 0300 1234 999
If a swan is found in the road and is causing an obstruction on a carriageway, the traffic police should be informed as this situation poses a risk to the animal and road users.


DEFRA have issued guidance for members of the public with regards to when it is appropriate to contact them with regards to concerns about avian flu. If there is,

  • one or more dead wild swans, geese or ducks or
  • 3 or more dead wild birds of the same species or
  • 5 dead birds of different species

You should contact the DEFRA helpline on 08459 33 55 77 (Mon to Fri, 8:30am to 5pm).

If there is only one dead wild/garden bird in your garden then you should not contact DEFRA but either leave it alone or follow their advice for disposal on the website which can be found at Please be aware that the guidance may change quickly if there are cases of avian influenza.

Contact your local police force

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