Understand and apply for 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.

Marine wildlife licences

A wildlife licence authorises activities which would otherwise be unlawful under wildlife legislation. You must have a marine wildlife licence if you want to carry out certain activities effecting a protected species. A licence will only be granted where the activity satisfies the requirements of the relevant legislation.

You may also require a marine licence for certain activities taking place within the UK marine area.

Call us on 0300 123 1032 or email: before you start your activities if you are uncertain if you need a wildlife licence or whether your activities may cause an offence.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is responsible for wildlife licensing of activity in English waters.

Natural England is responsible for wildlife licensing in other parts of England. Outside of England, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) licenses activity in Welsh waters, Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland (for seals) licenses activity in Scottish waters, and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) licenses activity in Northern Irish waters.

Wildlife licensing process

You can apply online using the marine and wildlife licensing online application system. If it is the first time you are applying you should register on MMO’s online system and set up your online account. You can then use your online account to submit a wildlife licence application to obtain a wildlife licence. You can also request a variation to a wildlife licence.

The wildlife licence application requires the following details and documents:

  • applicant details;
  • proposed wildlife licence start and end dates;
  • activity location(s) description including specific location coordinates in WSG84 format;
  • species and number of individuals potentially affected;
  • activity details e.g. methodology, purpose of activity and why it is necessary;
  • whether there is any satisfactory alternative to the proposed activity;
  • reference form – this provides a statement on the skills and experience of the applicant and named agents (others partaking in the proposed activities requiring a wildlife licence), to ensure they have adequate knowledge and qualifications to complete the activities to a satisfactory standard and according to wildlife licence requirements.

After we receive your application we will need to validate it. We will check that:

  • you need a wildlife licence for the activities you propose;
  • the MMO can issue a wildlife licence for the activities. Wildlife licences are only issued for specific purposes which are set out in legislation. They can also only be issued where the MMO is content that there is no satisfactory alternative to the activity;
  • the application and any supporting documents are complete and all relevant information is provided.

Once an application is validated we start to process it. Applications take approximately 8 weeks to process. This includes consulting with our statutory nature conservation bodies (Natural England and Joint Nature Conservation Committee) and sometimes specialist advisors such as Cefas for four weeks, depending on where your activity is located.

Once consultation is complete we make a licence determination. When determining an application, we either:

  • grant the licence subject to conditions; or
  • refuse the application.

Conditions will often be used to mitigate adverse impacts on the protected species. Failing to comply with a licence condition or required mitigation is a breach of your licence.

Wildlife licence application reference form

As part of the wildlife licence application you must submit a reference form. The references are a way of demonstrating that the applicant and named agents have the necessary skills or experience to undertake the activities, or have undertaken similar activities such as for previous wildlife licences. Use the form below to submit referees to accompany an online wildlife licence application.

Wildlife licence application reference form

Request an accessible format.
If you use assistive technology (such as a screen reader) and need a version of this document in a more accessible format, please email Please tell us what format you need. It will help us if you say what assistive technology you use.

Report a wildlife crime

A wildlife crime includes offences like killing or disturbing protected species or damaging their habitat, and illegally trading in endangered species. In England, the police and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) are the main wildlife crime enforcement bodies. Further information on of wildlife crimes.

In the marine or coastal area If you witness a suspected wildlife crime in action, please contact your local MMO office and the police on 999.

For a list of wildlife offences per species in the marine area please see:

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 choose to provide them. 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.

When reporting a wildlife crime give information on the following if possible:

  • what happened and what is still happening;
  • exact location (a map reference or local landmark can be useful);
  • date and time of the incident;
  • who’s involved (e.g. number of people, clothing worn, tools carried or any dogs);
  • make, colour and registration number of any vehicle/vessel/boat;
  • if safe to do so take photos for evidence and remember to ask the police/organisation for an incident reference number or a call reference number.

Contact information

Marine Conservation Team

0300 123 1032

Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 2 March 2021 + show all updates
  1. Amends

  2. Updating page content as per guidance

  3. adding CTA

  4. Removal of reference to now closed Marine Plan consultation

  5. added in new information about Wales

  6. Application for a wildlife licence form added

  7. Telephone number changed

  8. First published.