England and Wales

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) is the principal legislation dealing with non-native species. The WCA has been amended in relation to England and Wales by various pieces of legislation, including the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (Variation of Schedule 9) (England and Wales) Order 2010, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Section 14(1) of the WCA makes it illegal to release or allow to escape into the wild any animal which is not ordinarily resident in Great Britain and is not a regular visitor to Great Britain in a wild state, or is listed in Schedule 9 to the Act. It is also illegal to plant or otherwise cause to grow in the wild any plant listed in Schedule 9 to the Act. The Schedule 9 list of animal and plant species has been amended by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (Variation of Schedule 9)(England and Wales) Order 2010. Offences under section 14 carry a maximum penalty of a £5,000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment on summary conviction (i.e. at Magistrates’ Court) and an unlimited fine (i.e. whatever the court feels to be commensurate with the offence) and/or 2 years imprisonment on indictment (i.e. at Crown Court). Guidance on Section 14 of the WCA gives further information. Here you can also find a list of species in Schedule 9 of the WCA for England and Wales.

Section 14ZA of the WCA, as inserted by section 50 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006, creates an offence of selling, offering or exposing for sale, or possessing or transporting for the purposes of sale, non-native species that are listed in Schedule 9 to the WCA and are specified for the purposes of this section by the Secretary of State through secondary legislation.

Section 14 ZB of the WCA, as inserted by section 51 of the NERC Act allows the Secretary of State to issue or approve codes of practice on animals which are not ordinarily resident in and are not regular visitors to Great Britain in a wild state and animals or plants included in Schedule 9 to the WCA (e.g. Horticultural Code of Practice). The codes alone cannot be used to prosecute but must be taken into account by a court in any case in which they appear to the court to be relevant.

Section 18D of the WCA, as inserted by section 52 of the NERC Act provides that a wildlife inspector may, at any reasonable time, enter and inspect any premises (which excludes dwellings) for the purpose of, amongst other things, ascertaining whether an offence under section 14 is being, or has been, committed on those premises. Section 18E further provides that a wildlife inspector may, for the purpose of ascertaining whether a section 14 offence is being, or has been, committed in respect of any specimen, require any person who has the specimen in his possession or control to make it available for examination, and may require the taking of a sample from a specimen found during an inspection.


Import of Live Fish (England and Wales) Act 1980

This Act gives the relevant Minister the power to make Orders to prohibit or licence the import into, or the keeping or release in any part of England and Wales of live fish, or the live eggs of fish, of a species which is not native to England and Wales and which might harm the habitat of, compete with, displace or prey on any freshwater fish, shellfish or salmon. This Act also allows the courts upon conviction of an offence under this Act to order the forfeiture and destruction of illegally stocked specimens of certain fish or fish egg species.

The Prohibition of Keeping or Release of Live Fish (Specified Species) Order 1998, made under the Import of Live Fish (England and Wales) Act 1980, prohibits the unlicensed keeping or release of 47 species of non-native live fish.

The Prohibition of Keeping of Live Fish (Crayfish) Order 1996 is a further Order made under the Import of Live Fish (England and Wales) Act 1980. This Order aims to prevent the spread of non-native crayfish, and prohibits the unlicensed keeping of all non-native crayfish species in England and Wales (there is an exception to the prohibition in respect of crayfish of the species named “signal crayfish”.

To find out more about legislation on fish and shellfish disease visit the Aquatic Animal Health and Movements pages of the Defra website. Also see the Cefas website for further information.


Plant Health Act 1967; Plant Health (England) Order 2005; Plant Health (Wales) Order 2006; Plant Health (Scotland) Order 2005; Plant Health (Forestry) Order 2005; Plant Health (Forestry) (Phytophthora ramorum)(Great Britain) Order 2004; Plant Health (Phytophthora ramorum)(England) Order 2004; Plant Health (Phytophthora ramorum)(Wales) Order 2006

The Plant Health Act 1967 provides the regulatory framework for the control of pests and diseases injurious to agricultural or horticultural crops or to trees and bushes. Various European obligations including Directive 2000/29/EC, provide protective measures against the introduction into and spread within the EU of organisms harmful to plants and plant products. The Forestry Commissioners are the competent authority (for making subordinate legislation) for England and Scotland as regards the protection of forest trees and timber; and the Secretary of State and the Scottish Ministers are the competent authority for England and Scotland respectively for the protection of all other plants. The Welsh Ministers are the competent authority for Wales for the protection of forest trees and timber and all other plants.


The Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932

This Act restricts the import and keeping of certain destructive non-indigenous animals including Muskrat Ondata zibethicus, Coypu Myocastor coypus, Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis , Mink Mustela vison and 'non-indigenous' rabbits. The appropriate authority (Natural England in England, the Natural Resources Body for Wales in Wales) may licence imports for research or exhibition purposes.


The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976

This Act was introduced in response to public concern about the keeping of dangerous animals as pets by private individuals, and the possibility that they might escape into the wild. Licences are required for any animal which appears on a schedule to the Act. These are issued by the relevant local authority, and can only be granted if the authority is satisfied that it would not be contrary to the public interest on the grounds of safety or nuisance; that the applicant is a suitable person; and that the animal is kept in adequate and secure accommodation. The local authority is entitled to specify where and how an animal is kept.


Environmental Protection Act 1990

This Act has very limited provisions for non-native species, but is included here due to the potential classification of soil and other waste containing viable propagules of invasive non-native plant species as controlled waste. This has been applied to Japanese Knotweed Fallopia japonica, with the result that waste containing this species must be disposed of in accordance with the duty of care set out in section 34 of the Act. The Environment Agency have issued guidance which will be of use in complying with the duty of care.


The Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975

Section 30 of this Act makes it an offence to introduce or possess with the intention to introduce any fish or spawn of fish into inland waters without the permission of the Environment Agency in England and the Natural Resources Body for Wales in relation to Wales. As well as covering non-native species, this Act also prohibits the introduction of native species outside their natural ranges.


The Bees Act 1980

This Act gives Ministers the power to make Orders to prevent the introduction into Great Britain (or their spread within the country) of pests and diseases affecting bees. An Order made under this Act may include measures such as prohibiting or regulating the importation of bees and combs, bee products, hives, containers and other appliances used in connection with the keeping or transporting of bees and of any other thing which has or may have been exposed to infection with any pest or disease to which an Order applies.


The Zoo Licensing Act 1981

This Act requires the inspection and licensing of all zoos, and requires suitable precautions to be taken against the escape of any captive species.


The Pet Animals Act 1951

This Act provides for the licensing by local authorities of pet shops, and other premises from which a similar trade is carried out. To obtain a licence a person must comply with reasonable standards of animal husbandry. The local authorities may authorise their officers to inspect any premises which have been licensed under this Act.


The Animal Welfare Act 2006

The Animal Welfare Act makes owners and keepers responsible for ensuring that the welfare needs of their animals are met. These include the need:

  • for a suitable environment (place to live)
  • for a suitable diet
  • to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • to be housed with, or apart from, other animals (if applicable)
  • to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease

Anyone who is cruel to an animal, or does not provide for its welfare needs, may be disqualified from owning/keeping animals, fined up to £20,000 and/or sent to prison.


The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986

This Act requires the inspection and licensing of premises where experiments falling within the scope of this Act are being carried out. Premises must conform to high standards, and are inspected regularly by Home Office inspectors.


Useful references:

Review of Non-native Species Legislation and Guidance, Fasham and Trumper (2001). This report reviews domestic legislation and guidance.

Scope Options for EU Action on Invasive Alien Species (2006). This report assesses the EU's legal and policy framework related to invasive alien species.



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