ARCHIVE: Legal framework
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It is illegal to allow any animal which is not ordinarily resident in Great Britain, or is listed on Schedule 9 to the Act 1981, to escape into the wild, or to release it into the wild without a licence. It is also illegal to plant or otherwise cause to grow in the wild any plant listed on Schedule 9 of the Act. Offences carry penalties of up to £5,000 fine and/or 2 years imprisonment. See domestic legislation for more detail.
The Government has published new guidance on section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. For more information please see Guidance to section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The issue of invasive non-native species has had an increasing international profile over recent years, primarily through the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Bern Convention European Strategy on Invasive Alien Species. The UK is a Contracting Party to European and global conventions:
- The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, (the Bern Convention), which states under Article 11(2)(b) that each Contracting Party to the Convention undertakes to ‘strictly control the introduction of non-native species’. See Bern Convention European Strategy on Invasive Alien Species
- The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), states under Article 8(h) that each Contracting Party undertakes to ’prevent the introduction of, control or eradicate those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or species’. See also a Brief Introduction to the CBD.
- 2010 Biodiversity Target. Contracting parties to the CBD also agreed to ‘achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level’.
The Birds and Habitats Directives carry obligations to ensure that deliberate introduction of non-native species into the wild is regulated (and if necessary prohibited) so as not to prejudice natural habitats or wild native flora and fauna.
- Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora (EC Habitats Directive), Article 22. This also requires Member States to study the desirability of reintroducing specified native species where this might contribute to their conservation status.
- Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (EC Birds Directive), Article 11.
- The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 can be viewed in its original, unamended form on the JNCC website Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 or the Office of Public sector Information websites, both of which list or provide the amending Acts.
- Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006
- Sector-specific legislation includes The Import of Live Fish (England and Wales) Act 1980, The Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932, and Orders under those Acts. The 2001 Review of Non-native Species Legislation and Guidance (PDF 675 KB) gives a guide to the range of legislative controls on non-native species in the UK.
The key legislation controlling the release (and escape) of non-native species in Great Britain is section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Section 14: Introduction of new species
Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person releases or allows to escape into the wild any animal which:
Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person plants or otherwise causes to grow in the wild any plant which is included in Part II of Schedule 9, he shall be guilty of an offence.
Offences under section 14 carry the following maximum penalties:
- on summary conviction (i.e. at Magistrates’ Court) a £5,000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment;
- on indictment (i.e. at Crown Court) an unlimited fine and/or 2 years imprisonment.
However, section 14 does not apply to anything done under and in accordance with the terms of a Section 16 licence granted by the appropriate authority. Natural England is the licensing authority for England, except for the release of non-native biological control agents into the environment in England (the use of natural predators instead of chemicals to control pests in agriculture or the environment), which is licensed by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA).
The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 inserted section 14ZA into the 1981 Act to add the power to make an Order to prohibit the sale of invasive non-native species in England and Wales. It also inserted section 14ZB of the 1981 Act, to enable the Secretary of State to issue or approve codes of practice relating to species covered by Section 14. An approved code is then admissible in evidence in any court proceedings and must be taken into account by the court where it appears to be relevant to the case.
The NERC Act also amended the 1981 Act to improve the enforcement powers available.
Act has been amended for Scotland by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.
Page last modified:
29 March 2010
Page published: 23 October 2008