Understand marine wildlife licences and report an incident

Why you need a marine wildlife licence if you are going to disturb a protected species, how to apply and how to report an incident.

During the current health emergency, the Marine Management Organisation is continuing to provide vital services and support to our customers and stakeholders. Marine wildlife licence applications continue to be actioned, with officers available to help with queries related to wildlife licensing or to respond to incidents. Please contact us by email on or call 0300 123 1032. Further information on other assistance available to businesses and individuals at this time can be found on our guidance for the marine development sector.

Marine wildlife licences

You must have a marine wildlife licence if you want to carry out an activity that would affect a UK or European protected species.

Call us on 0300 123 1032 or email before you start you activities if you are uncertain if you need a wildlife licence or whether your activities may disturb a protected species, result in an offence, or both.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) licenses activity in English waters and Welsh offshore waters, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) licenses activity in Welsh waters, and Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland (for seals) license activity in Scottish waters.

You can apply online using the marine licensing online application system.

Your application will take about 8 weeks to process. This includes consulting with Natural England, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, or both, depending on where your activity is located.

Changes to protected species licensing in the Welsh offshore region

From 30 November 2017, the responsibility for protected species licensing in the Welsh offshore region under the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 transferred to the Welsh Ministers. This transfer of function to the Welsh Ministers followed a commitment from the UK Government to devolve further nature conservation powers to Wales.

The MMO agreed to administer species licence applications in the Welsh offshore region on behalf of the Welsh Ministers until 31st March 2018, when the responsibility for the administration of applications will transfer to NRW, who will be acting on behalf of the Welsh Ministers.

If you have submitted an application to the MMO prior to 1 April 2018, this will continue to be determined by the MMO. Once the licence application has been determined, if there are any post licence requirements, such as monitoring or discharge of conditions, these will be considered by NRW. Any protected species licence enforcement would be undertaken by the Welsh Government.

If you make an application after 1 April, this will need to be made to NRW, which can be contacted by phoning 0300 065 4974 or 0300 065 4921 or by email (English) or (Welsh).


You must have a wildlife licence if you are diving and intending to do something likely to disturb seahorses. This could be taking photographs, filming or surveys. Both seahorse species found in UK waters –spiny (Hippocampus guttulatus) and short-snouted (Hippocampus hippocampus) – are protected. Intentionally disturbing seahorses in the absence of a wildlife licence could lead to enforcement action.

MMO will consider applications for licences for scientific or education purposes to allow seahorses to be photographed using flash photography on a case-by-case basis. An independent scientific review concluded that flash photography at high levels can disturb seahorses, especially when combined with other activities. It may be possible to reduce the effects using conditions on licences issued. MMO will update their advice if new evidence and scientific knowledge becomes available.

MMO recommends following diver protocols to reduce the likelihood of committing an offence as a result of incidental encounters with seahorses. See the divers’ protocol (available from Dorset Wildlife Trust or The Seahorse Trust) for seahorses and sea grass and the Wildlife Safe (WiSe) guidelines for taking part in research or filming (PDF, 58KB, 3 pages).

Report an incident

In England and Wales, the police and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) are the main wildlife enforcement bodies.

In the marine or coastal area

Please contact your local MMO office.

On land

If you witness a suspected wildlife crime in action, call 999 immediately.

For all other enquiries call 101 to speak with your local police force. Many forces have wildlife crime officers – their contact details may be on the force’s website.

You don’t have to provide your details but they will remain confidential.

If you want to report a crime anonymously, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

You can read further guidance on how to report a stranded whale or dolphin.

Wildlife licence reference form

Use the form below to submit referees to accompany an online wildlife licence application.

Application for a wildlife licence form

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Contact information

Marine Conservation

0300 123 1032

Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 2 June 2020 + show all updates
  1. adding CTA

  2. Removal of reference to now closed Marine Plan consultation

  3. added in new information about Wales

  4. Application for a wildlife licence form added

  5. Telephone number changed

  6. First published.