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Whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans); marine turtles and sturgeon are protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, known as the ‘Habitats Regulations’. This is because they considered vulnerable to decline throughout European waters. This information is focused on marine EPS licensing in Wales and is not a comprehensive review of their ecology or the law.

Cetaceans in Welsh waters include:

  • Harbour porpoise, Phocoena phocoena
  • Bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus
  • Short-beaked common dolphin, Delphinus delphis
  • Risso’s dolphin, Grampus griseus
  • Minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Other marine EPS include a fish and five marine turtles:

  • Sturgeon, Acipenser sturio
  • Loggerhead turtle, Caretta caretta
  • Green turtle, Chelonia mydas
  • Kemp’s Ridley turtle, Lepidochelys kempii
  • Hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata
  • Leatherback turtle, Dermochelys coriacea

Cetaceans can be affected by a range of activities including marine developments, research and survey work, water craft, and recreation. For information on how to conduct your work or leisure interests without breaking the law, see the document ‘Sea Wise Code’.


Under the Habitats Regulations, it is an offence if you:

  • Deliberately capture, injure or kill any wild animal of an EPS
  • Deliberately disturb wild animals of any such species
  • Deliberately take or destroy the eggs of such an animal, or
  • Damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal

Disturbance is defined as that which is likely:

  • to impair their ability –
    • To survive, to breed or reproduce, or to rear or nurture their young, or
    • In the case of animals of a migratory species, to migrate; or
  • to affect significantly the local distribution or abundance of the species to which they belong

Defra and the Welsh Government will soon be publishing a joint guidance document on the disturbance of marine EPS.

There are other offences relating to possession, transport and sale. See ‘Possession and Sale of Protected Species’ for information on this.


NRW issues licences under Regulation 55 of the Habitats Regulations to allow you to work within the law. We issue them for specific purposes stated in the Regulations, if the following three tests are met:

  • The purpose of the work meets one of those listed in the Habitats Regulations
  • That there is no satisfactory alternative
  • That the action authorised will not be detrimental to the maintenance of the population of the species concerned at a favourable conservation status (FCS) in their natural range

Licensing purposes

The Habitats Regulations permits licences to be issued for a specific set of purposes including:

  • Include preserving public health or public safety or other imperative reasons of over-riding public interest including those of a social or economic nature and beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment (including development)
  • Scientific and educational purposes
  • Ringing or marking
  • Conserving wild animals

Scientific or Educational

You will need a licence to take or disturb a marine EPS, in order to carry out any kind of research or detailed survey, including photo-identification. For more information on survey licences, see ‘General information on applying for a licence from NRW’ and ‘Cetacean application form’. We can also issue licences for more invasive survey methods including marking animals or taking samples.


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