Protected species licensing

Licences are issued by government agencies to permit activities that would otherwise be illegal. For example, licences may be issued to allow disturbance to species or damage to their habitats. However, the licences are not generally issued to allow the killing and injury of protected species that are of conservation concern.

Licences may be required for survey work involving protected species, and development activities that will affect protected species. The different nature of these two kinds of action, and the level of protection (i.e. European or UK), has important implications for the licensing process.

Licensing authorities

The licensing authority for survey work and to facilitate development is different in each of the devolved administrations of the UK and in Ireland. They are as follows:

  • Natural England (and in some cases the Marine Management Organisation)
  • Countryside Council for Wales
  • Scottish Natural Heritage (and in some cases Marine Scotland)
  • Northern Ireland Environment Agency
  • Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service

Licences for survey work

Under the legislation, it may be an offence to cause disturbance to or capture a particular species. For those wishing to undertake a survey for that species using techniques involving direct contact with the animal or using traps, an individual can apply for a licence from the appropriate licensing authority. Applicants for survey licences must show a suitable level of knowledge of the subject species and experience in relevant survey techniques. The licence allows the protected species to be disturbed or caught legally. It is usually a condition of the licence that any animals caught are released shortly after capture and in the same location.

Licences for development

For most protected species, including all European protected species and badgers, it is possible for the developer to apply for a licence allowing the development activities to go ahead whilst remaining within the law. The licensing process is different depending on whether the species is covered by European or national legislation, and on the level of protection afforded to the species in question.


Thomson Ecology Handbook

This online version of the Thomson Ecology Handbook provides a general overview of current wildlife legislation* and is aimed at helping project managers understand and plan for ecology from the start.

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