Wildlife Terms & Offences


Note: The below summaries of common wildlife offences are in no way intended as a definitive guide, for more details of the offences please read the relevant legislation.


This covers a wide range of offences created by a number of acts of parliament some dating back to the nineteenth century (like the Night Poaching Act 1828), probably the most important aspect of poaching is the entry onto land as a trespasser i.e. without the land owners’ permission. Hare coursing

This trespass must be in pursuit of game. The definition of game varies slightly from act to act but most of the animals normally understood to be game i.e. hares, pheasants, partridges, grouse, rabbits are included. The game is wild (Note: if it were owned by the landowner it would be theft).

The land (or water) the game is pursued and taken on must be private, so that those taking it are trespassers i.e persons who have entered the land without permission.

So even though the animals pursued may only be wild rabbits (widely regarded as a pest species), if there is no permission to be on the land, those pursuing the rabbits are poachers.

The Deer Act

Wild deerThe Deer Act 1991 creates offences of poaching specific to deer, again the poaching offences involve entering land without consent in pursuit of deer.

There are however further offences of taking/killing deer at night, taking/killing deer in the close season and taking/killing deer with prohibited weapons, that do not necessarily involve trespass or poaching.

Fish poaching

Dead fish
Fish poaching is actually covered by the Theft Act 1968 and involves the taking of fish from private water or where there are private rights of fishing

(This is an offence even if you have a rod licence).


Lamping involves the use of powerful lamps to identify and hunt nocturnal animals. Once an animal is located with a beam of light it is shot or dogs are released.

Lamping is associated with poachers but can be a perfectly lawful activity if done with the landowner’s permission.

The use of dogs may contravene the Hunting Act 2004 (see later) depending on species being hunted.

Badger Baiting

Badger baitingThis is where a badger is forced to fight dogs.

It generally ends in the death of the badger and serious injury to the dogs. The dogs used are normally terriers and they will often carry the scars of previous encounters with badgers particularly noticeable around the face.

Badger baiters will often be in groups with a number of dogs and carry digging equipment.

Badgers are protected by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 which makes it unlawful to kill, injure, take or possess a badger and to dig, damage, obstruct, or send a dog, into a sett.

Eggers or Egg CollectorsA nest with eggs in

These are people who collect wild birds’ eggs. This is unlawful, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to take or destroy the egg of any wild bird and to possess an egg or part of an egg of a wild bird.

Egg collectors can be extremely determined and will climb trees and geographical features in order to get at the eggs of wild birds, particularly the eggs of endangered and protected species. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act the simple possession of an egg collection could be unlawful depending on how it was acquired.


The banning of fox hunting has been well publicised over the last few years and most people know that the traditional form of hunting i.e. on horse back with a pack of hounds, in pursuit of foxes, was made unlawful by the Hunting Act 2004.

The Act actually makes it unlawful to hunt a wild mammal with a dog and this has obviously made traditional fox hunting unlawful.© Northumbria Police

There are legal exemptions that allow dogs to be used to flush out animals to guns (or falcons) and there are exemptions with regard to hunting rabbits and rats with dogs provided it’s on the hunters land, or land the hunter has been given permission to be on.

Hare Coursing, is included specifically within the Hunting Act. A hare coursing event is a competition in which live hares are used to assess the skill of dogs to hunt hares.

It is unlawful to participate in, attend, or set up a hare coursing event or allow one to take place on your land. It is unlawful to enter a dog, allow a dog to be entered, or to control a dog at such an event.

Other Offences:

People often don’t realize the protection that is afforded to wildlife and believe that actions taken within the bounds of private property are their private business. However birds and animals receive varying degrees of protection depending upon species and this protection is not confined to public places.

So birds must not be disturbed when nesting and their nests cannot be interfered with, a tree or bush in a private garden can not be cut back whilst birds are nesting in it if it disturbs the nesting bird.

Similarly if bats are roosting in the roof space of any building including a private house it is unlawful to attempt to move them or to block the access to their roost.

Wildlife and wildlife habitat must be considered when carrying any type of work on land, so ponds can not simply be filled in as they may contain a protected species like the great crested newt.

There are a number of acts of parliament that protect animals and their habitat so in many cases a survey to assess the impact on wildlife would be required prior to any work starting.

The release into the wild of certain species not native to this country, like grey squirrels or American signal crayfish, is unlawful, as is causing certain plants like Japanese knotweed to spread. If you see a grey squirrel caught in a trap and release it, you commit an offence.

Endanger Species – Wildlife Crime also encompasses the trade in endangered species and the products derived from them, like elephant ivory ornaments, oriental medicines derived from endangered species like the tiger, or taxidermy specimens of endangered and protected species, it is unlawful to trade in such species or articles derived from them without a licence.

Many such offences have an international element and enquiries into them can be complex and long running.