Chapter 9 Protected species and development

Nationally Protected Species: Birds


England and Wales

The Wildlife and Countryside Act also gives blanket protection to all wild bird species, making it an offence, with certain exceptions, to intentionally:

  • Kill, injure or take any wild bird species
  • Take, damage or destroy the nest of any bird included in Schedule ZA1*
  • Take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while the nest is in use of being built
  • Take or destroy an egg of any wild bird

* The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 inserted a new schedule, ZA1, into the Wildlife and Countryside Act for birds whose nests are protected even when not in use. Currently the schedule includes only golden eagle, white-tailed eagle and osprey. In addition, the Natural Environmental and Rural Communities Act 2006 provides a legal definition of ‘wild bird’. Some species, listed in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, have additional protection, making it an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb them at the nest or disturb dependent young. Schedule 1 includes species such as the barn owl and kingfisher.


The Wildlife and Countryside Act also provides protection for wild birds in Scotland. The protection is similar except that it has been amended independently for Scotland to include ‘reckless’ offences for all birds including those listed on Schedule 1. The amendments for Scotland also include additional offences of (i) interfering with a nest of any wild bird, even when it’s not in use, for certain species of bird; (ii) obstructing or preventing any wild bird from using its nest; and (iii) disturbance of lekking Schedule 1 species at the lek.

Northern Ireland

The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 provides the protection for birds in Northern Ireland. The original Order contained the same offences as those set out in the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It has subsequently been amended, through the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, with the addition of ‘reckless’ offences for all birds including those listed on Schedule 1.


All wild birds receive protection in Ireland, under the Wildlife Act 1976 as amended; the original exceptions in the Third Schedule of the Act all now receive protection as a result of amendments in 1980 (bullfinch) and1985 (all the others). The law prohibits hunting (with exceptions); injury; wilfully taking, removing, destroying or mutilating eggs and nests; and wilfully disturbing protected species of birds on or near a nest containing eggs or young. Furthermore, Section 40 of the Act prohibits, with certain exceptions, the cutting, grubbing, burning or destruction of vegetation on uncultivated land between 1st March and 31st August, which covers the nesting and breeding season for the majority of birds. A defence in the legislation which allows capturing or killing birds if it is urgently necessary to prevent damage does not apply to birds of prey. The law also includes a specific defence for those constructing a road or carrying out any other building and construction work, meaning that unintentional (NB this word was introduced in the 1985 amendment) killing, injury, etc of any bird species is not an offence if it occurs as a result of such activity.

Chapter 9 Protected species and development