Legal framework

On this page:

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.

International Conventions:

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:

European legislation

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.

Domestic legislation

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:

  • is of a kind which is not ordinarily resident in and is not a regular visitor to Great Britain in a wild state; or
  • is included in Part I of Schedule 9, he shall be guilty of an offence.

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

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