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Monday, 13 July 2015

Bushcraft and the Law: Protected Species

For anyone involved in activities in the countryside it is a good idea to have a basic idea of species protection legislation. As ‘bushcrafters’ (is that a word?) we rely upon the natural world to provide us with resources, whether it be food or materials, for most of the activities we undertake. One of the purposes of legal protection is to ensure species or habitats are not over-harvested or exploited, which in extreme cases can lead to extinction. Cultures which many now consider to be primitive had and still do have an intimate understanding of sustainable harvest which would ensure a continuing supply of resources - this was one reason hunter gatherer communities were so transient, to ensure they did not exhaust supplies in a single area.

Another reason of course is to prevent those who actively seek to destroy or harm species, normally animals. In this I am not talking about a responsible harvest of animals to provide food. Protective legislation attempts to regulate hunting usually through ‘close seasons’ - periods during which species cannot be lawfully hunted - normally coinciding with the breeding season. But there are circumstances where additional protective measures are applied to prevent persecution or inhumane treatment, the best example in the UK probably being the Badger Act (1992) specifically brought out to combat problems with Badger baiting and other persecution.

The subject of The Badger Act seem completely at home in this video but the Act was brought in to protect them from unwarranted persecution and cruelty

Protection can be applied with a very broad brush or very specifically depending on circumstances, ranging from ‘all birds’ to single species of invertebrate. It is common practice all across the world to legislate for the protection of rare or threatened species or habitats.

I only intend here to consider the bits of legislation most relevant to bushcrafters, as there are literally reams of regulations which are highly unlikely to affect most people who enjoy these sort of activities.

One general note I will add before I delve into some specifics - there is a difference between illegal and inappropriate or inadvisable. Many things which are inadvisable or inappropriate are not illegal - that does not mean we can or should do those things as responsible users of the natural world. There may also be a few activities which seem perfectly harmless and maybe even natural which we are prohibited from doing because it is illegal - regardless of how daft the rules may seem, they are the rules.

We often hear, or at least I do, that ‘it’s illegal to pick wild flowers!’
In reality it is a lot more complicated than that, but actually it isn’t… illegal that is... not always.

It is illegal to ‘uproot’ wild, unprotected plants (i.e. not specifically protected, and therefore most plants) without the landowner's permission. Picking however is OK, as is picking of fruits, leaves etc for food. When you start into the territory of material harvesting technically the same rules apply but ‘wood’ is the property of the land owner. The best case scenario, whether picking for food or material, is always to have landowner permission no matter how little you are harvesting just to ensure continuing good relationships - picking a handful of blackberries or a few wild apples won’t end up in a custodial sentence though!

A few wild mushrooms for your own consumption in fine but if you start harvesting and selling them without permission then you have broken the law. 

However, if a plant is protected i.e. specifically named on the appropriate Schedule of the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981) (C&WA) - Schedule 8 in this case, it is illegal to ‘intentionally pick, uproot or destroy’ a specimen of that species, regardless of where it is or what land owner you have permission from.

Floating Water-Plantain a protected species under European Law; Christian Fischer [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I have no intention of reproducing an entire list of the plants of the UK and their protection status here - there are plenty of books and websites which cover such information but to mention just one specifically, the JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Council) is a government body and therefore their lists of protected species should be up-to-date and (in theory at least) definitive.  

Protection of animals is a little more complicated and rightly so. Again I have no intention of going into great detail on individual species protection conditions, it would take too long and it would bore both you reading it but more importantly me writing it! I will consider birds and mammals separately here because the rules are significantly different.

Essentially all wild birds in the UK are ‘protected’ from ‘killing, injuring, taking or selling’ which includes the birds themselves and their nests and eggs. Exceptions to this general rule allow for the taking and killing of certain species (as listed in the respective schedules of the C&WA: schedules 1 - 7).

Depending on the species these exceptions will dictate dates between which they can be killed (season), some can be killed all year round, and the methods of killing which are legal. Also for some species specific reasons for the killing of the birds which make it appropriate i.e. damage to crops etc. Landowners permission will always be required.

See this page on the JNCC website for more information.

Mammals do not have the same general protection which birds do, but many species are subject to some protective legislation. The Deer Act (1963; amended 1991) for example dictates appropriate seasons during which the various deer species can be killed, as well as the legal methods. Even species with no specific protection, Rabbits for example, are subject to general rules regarding humane killing of wild animals.

For those animals which are specifically protected  the same protection as birds applies (i.e. no ‘killing, injuring, taking or selling’) with the added provision that ‘damage, destruction or obstruction of access to any place which an animal uses for shelter, protection or breeding’ is illegal. Schedules 5 - 7 and 9 - 12 of the W&CA (1981) are relevant for the legislation regarding mammals.

Again, see this relevant page on the JNCC website for more information.

In cases were exceptions to the rules need to be made, work can only take place under licence from the relevant statutory conservation body (Natural England in England; Scottish Natural Heritage in Scotland; Countryside Council for Wales in Wales). Typically these licences are granted for purposes of science, conservation, education or photography (i.e. wildlife filmmaking) only. With plants certain disturbances or damages are allowed under the provision that it is unavoidable in the undertaking of necessary and otherwise lawful activity. With animals that defence won’t necessarily stand.

See previous posts in the ‘Bushcraft and the Law’ series for more info on subjects such as access to land, and legal methods of trapping or shooting which tie into this subject.

As a final note, in this ‘rules gone mad’ world we live in these days different people have many different opinions regarding how controlled our lives are. Despite what personal opinion you or others you know may have about the appropriateness of the legislative protection detailed here, they are there for a reason and therefore we must comply with them - people ignoring these rules will only make the situation worse by forcing the hand of enforcement bodies to tighten rules and increase punishments in an attempt to reduce wildlife crime. These protective measures are laws and breaches of them are therefore criminal - bear that in mind.

If you would like additional information please see the links to the JNCC website above, along with other information which can be found elsewhere on the website.

I hope this blog has been informative.


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