Key protections for at risk species lost

More than 30 conservation NGOs issue an open letter to oppose a review of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which could undermine decades of work to restore and protect threatened species

Schedules 5 and 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) lay out protections for our vulnerable wildlife, at risk due to persecution, population decline and other threats.  

Recently, a review led by the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) has laid out proposed changes to the eligibility criteria of species listed and therefore afforded protection. These changes could have a devastating impact on our wildlife.

Only those animals or plants that are in imminent danger of extinction will be included, unless a strong case can be made for inclusion. Some of our most iconic and loved wildlife, like water voles, adders, hedgehogs, red squirrels and mountain hares, would have their existing or potential protections removed, and could be at serious risk if these changes come into force.

Removal of protection means:

  • It will no longer be illegal to kill them – paving the way for persecution
  • It would become legal to trade wild-caught British species
  • We remove the opportunity to prevent species decline in the first place, and only act in response to a catastrophic species decline

In the year that the UK are hosting COP26, it is unthinkable that we are stripping away protections from wildlife. And yet here we are. This is a step backwards that we just cannot afford to take.

Along with other conservation NGOs, we have written an open letter, which you can read below, calling for a public consultation on the decision to change the eligibility criteria. 

We must stand up for nature. 

Open letter to JNCC, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Nature Scot, regarding the 7th Quinquennial Review of Schedules 5 and 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).

We are writing this open letter to you in response to the decision by the QQR Review Group (consisting of JNCC and the three country nature conservation bodies and representatives of the non-governmental sector) to change the eligibility criteria for which species will be included on Schedules 5 and 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.  This change means that an animal or plant species will only be protected when it is in imminent danger of extinction as defined by the highest categories in the IUCN red listing process, or those identified as European Protected Species.  This decision has been made without due consultation and to date has not considered concerns raised by NGOs.  In fact the NGO’s that have raised concern about the changes have been told that the decision has been made and can’t be questioned.  It also fails to consider the consequences of such changes to the eligibility criteria which would mean that large numbers of species will now no longer be protected against killing and sale by law. 

We have numerous serious concerns regarding this decision and the decision making process. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Removal of protection will mean that these species will legally be allowed to be killed. This will enable building developments to take place with no consideration of the impacts on formerly protected species such as slow worms and water voles if a case cannot be made to keep them listed.  It also means that it will once again be legal to persecute adders, pine martens and mountain hares – despite all of the costly efforts to try and conserve these vulnerable species.
  • Removal of protection will mean it would become legal to trade wild-caught British species including amphibians and butterflies – which as well as directly causing population declines would also pose a huge biosecurity risk, since this could result in wild animals being moved around, and entering into captive collections alongside animals imported from elsewhere in the world. This is of particular concern for widespread amphibians that are at serious risk from Chytrid and Severe Perkinsea Infection which have wiped out populations of amphibians worldwide and have both been found in captive collections in the UK.
  • Whilst very valuable, the GB IUCN red listing process is not suitable for this purpose. It is complex and requires high levels of evidence of population trends.  This in turn requires high level species surveys and analysis of the data to determine population trends at a national scale.  There has been no provision made as to how this will be resourced and an assumption that NGO’s will take on the burden of this work.  IUCN guidance specifically identifies automatic use of Red List categories in policy as an "inappropriate use" of the Red List; and the IUCN Red List category "Vulnerable" is a "Threatened" category, which means it is "facing a high risk of extinction in the wild".
  • The changes that have been decided by the QQR Review Group remove the opportunity to prevent species decline.  Under the changes outlined we will only be reacting to catastrophic species declines.

We would like to formally request that the QQR Review Group carry out a public consultation on the decision to change the eligibility criteria before proceeding with the planned timetable. 

We await your response. 

Yours Sincerely, 

The Froglife Trust 
People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) 
Amphibian and Reptile Groups of UK (ARG UK) 
Glasgow Natural History Society 
Trees for Life 
Black2Nature 
Biological Recording in Scotland (BRISC)
British Hedgehog Preservation Society
Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT) 
Bat Conservation Trust 
Sussex Wildlife Trust 
Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) 
Marine Conservation Society 
The Wildlife Trusts 
Freshwater Habitats Trust 
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) 
Friends of Glasgow’s Local Nature Reserves 
Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Citizen Zoo 
Scottish Badgers 
Wildlife and Countryside Link 
Scottish Environment LINK 
Bumblebee Conservation Trust
Scottish Wild Land Group 
Rewilding Britain 
Badger Trust 
Wales Environment Link 
RSPB 
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL)

*Additional signatories added after the letter was first sent: 
Butterfly Conservation
British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA)
Scottish Wildlife Trust
CPRE Kent, the countryside charity