Guidance

Protected species: when to apply for a licence to survey, film or photograph them

You may need a licence if you can’t avoid disturbing protected birds and animals to survey, film or photograph them.

You don’t need a licence to survey, film or take photographs of protected birds or animals if you don’t disturb them.

Surveying, filming or taking photographs of protected species should:

  • only be carried out by experienced people
  • be carefully planned to avoid disturbance

Surveying protected species includes activities to:

  • detect the presence of species
  • identify behaviour to:
    • see how a site is used
    • locate breeding sites

How to avoid disturbance

It’s possible to avoid disturbance by:

  • walking through habitats to observe, record, film or photograph at a distance
  • installing trail, remote or infra-red cameras when birds or animals are away from their nests or resting places
  • using camouflage or hides put up when birds or animals are away from their nests or resting places

When you’ll need a licence

You’ll need a licence if you can’t carry out the activities above. This includes surveying, filming or taking photographs in a way that affects their normal behaviour by:

  • interfering with an occupied badger sett, otter holt or water vole burrow (eg using probes to record inside tunnels and setts)
  • catching any protected bird or animal
  • changing or blocking a shelter or refuge used by a protected animal
  • using torches, acoustic lures, mist-nets or traps near a known bat roost
  • using repeated sound recordings to lure species to a filming site (acoustic lures)
  • using overhead unmanned aerial vehicles (drones)

Disturbing protected birds

You’ll need a licence if you can’t avoid disturbing birds listed in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 when they’re:

  • nest building
  • rearing young

You’ll need to apply for a licence to:

You should also report your actions taken under these licences to Natural England following the guidance on the report form.

There’s a limit to the number of licences issued each year for photographing Schedule 1 birds when nesting. Natural England will only issue extra licences for exceptional circumstances. Check whether you’re likely to get a licence by contacting Natural England.

Ringing or marking any birds to record breeding success

You’ll need to apply for a schedule 1 permit to disturb Schedule 1 protected birds for ringing or marking for science from the British Trust for Ornithology.

The form should be returned by email to ringing.schedule1@bto.org.

Disturbing protected animals

Only certain animals are protected from disturbance, such as European Protected Species and those listed in Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 when they’re occupying shelters or places of refuge.

See Survey, research or conservation licences for protected species for details of which animals this includes and how to apply for the correct licence to carry out your activity lawfully.

You need to use a separate survey application form for:

You must return a report of action taken under these licences to Natural England following the guidance on the form page.

Contact Natural England

If you’re not sure if you need a licence, contact Natural England wildlife@naturalengland.org.uk to make sure you can carry out your activity without committing an offence.

Published 17 November 2015