Common questions about wildlife law

Wildlife law is complex but it exists to protect nature. Getting to grips with the relevant acts and instruments of legislation can be a challenge but in simple terms - with very few exceptions - all British native wildlife enjoys a measure of protection, and even those  classed as 'pests' must be treated humanely.

We don't employ any lawyers at the Trust, so this shouldn't be taken as legal advice. Please obtain qualified legal advice if you are seeking to avoid prosecution or intending to bring a prosecution.

Is it illegal to prune a hedge in spring?

Pruning work should be carried out in January and February, as this is when hedges have less to offer our wildlife. The berries will have been eaten by the birds over the winter period and the nesting season will not have started yet. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to intentionally destroy a birds nest which is in use, which is normally taken to mean under construction, or with eggs, chicks or birds using it regularly. Therefore you should avoid carrying out work which will disturb birds nests during the breeding season, roughly from the beginning of March to the end of July. Good weather can occasionally cause birds to start nesting earlier in the year or attempt an additional brood into September, so you should always inspect the hedge for birds nests before undertaking any work.

Are the badgers that visit my garden protected?

For many people, having badgers visit the garden is a delight but there’s no escaping the fact that their antics – however engaging – can sometimes be destructive. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 protects all badgers and their active setts from harm, no matter where they are.  By law, any sett is deemed to be inhabited unless it can be shown beyond all doubt that it isn’t.

Can I pick wildflowers?

We want everyone in Sussex to be able to experience our wonderful wildlife, so encourage you to leave plants for other people and wildlife to enjoy. By leaving flowers to bloom and set seed it means that the flower can function as nature intended and a host of other wildlife will benefit from its presence in the ground rather than in a vase on your coffee table. It is against the law to uproot any wild plant without the landowner’s permission. Since 1998, through the listing of the native bluebell on Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), it has been illegal for anyone to collect native bluebells from the wild for sale. This legislation was designed specifically to protect the bluebell from unscrupulous bulb collectors who supply garden centres. Just as is the case for animals, there are some plants – many of Britain’s rarest – which merit special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Who can give me further advice on wildlife law?

Your own solicitor should be able to help but as this is such a complex and refined area of law, you’re often better off talking to a specialist. Many police forces have Wildlife Officers, whilst statutory bodies such as Defra and Natural England may also be able to help. If you are concerned about the legal implications of any activity you are planning to undertake, we would always encourage you to seek professional legal advice.

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