Some species of fish in Wales are protected because they are rare or vulnerable to certain activities. One rare visitor, the Sturgeon, is an EPS because it has declined throughout Europe.

UK legislation

Fish species that are protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) are listed on the page ‘Fish’. The legislation protects them for a distance of up to 12 nautical miles from the Welsh coast.

For details of their various levels of protection, see legally protected fish in Wales. Offences given in Section 9 include combinations of the following:

  • Intentionally kill, injure or take,
  • Damage or destroy any place of shelter or protection,
  • Disturb whilst occupying a place of shelter or protection
  • Obstruct access to a place or shelter or protection
  • Sell, offer or expose for sale

The Basking shark has a unique section in the Act, that ‘if any person intentionally or recklessly disturbs….a basking shark, he shall be guilty of an offence’.

Natural Resources Wales issues licences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act for specific purposes, to enable you to work within the law. These include:

  • Scientific and educational purposes
  • Ringing or marking
  • Conservation
  • Photography

European legislation

The Sturgeon is protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (known as ‘the Habitats Regulations’). This is because it has declined throughout Europe in recent decades.

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 hibernating or migratory species, to hibernate or migrate; or
  • To affect significantly the local distribution or abundance of the species to which they belong

There are other offences relating to the possession, transport, sell or exchange a protected species.

Natural Resources Wales 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 (see below);
  • 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 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;
  • Scientific and educational purposes
  • Ringing or marking
  • Conserving wild animals

For more information, see Marine European Protected Species Licensing

When you can apply for a licence

Find out who can apply for a protected species licence

Apply for a protected species licence

If you cannot avoid disturbing protected species, or damaging their breeding sites and resting places, you can apply for a licence for a range of different activities:

Contact us

You can contact us for help at any time before or during your licence application.

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