Squirrels and the law

Red Squirrels
Grey Squirrels

The red squirrel is included in Schedules 5 and 6 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) which means that it is a protected species.

This legislation has subsequently been amended, most recently by the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW) for England and Wales.

The inclusion of the species in Schedule 5 means that, under Section 9 of the WCA it is an offence to:

  • Intentionally kill, injure or take (capture) a red squirrel.
  • Intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy any structure or place a red squirrel uses for shelter or protection or disturb a red squirrel while it is occupying such a place.
  • Possess a dead or live wild red squirrel, or any part of a red squirrel, unless you can show that the animal was taken legally.
  • Sell, or offer for sale, a wild red squirrel or any part of a wild red squirrel.

A drey

A drey

Under Section 11 of the Act, it is also illegal to:

  • Set in place a trap, snare, electrical device for killing or stunning or any poisonous, poisoned or stupefying substance; use a decoy, gas or smoke, bows or cross-bows, explosives, automatic weapons or mechanically propelled vehicles which are of such a nature and so placed as to be calculated to cause bodily injury to a red squirrel.

Advice Note – Red Squirrels and the Law 2004 by UK Red Squirrel Group

Grey squirrel control is a legal activity which does not need to be licensed.

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) Schedule 9 – makes it illegal to release, or to allow to escape, to the wild any captive grey squirrel.

Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 – makes it illegal to subject grey squirrels to wilful acts of cruelty or abuse.

Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932 – makes it an offence to keep a grey squirrel in captivity, except under licence.

Grey squirrel by Richard Bowler

Grey squirrel by Richard Bowler

Basic provisions of the legislation are that:

  • It is illegal to release a trapped grey squirrel into the wild and it is also illegal to keep a grey squirrel in captivity.
  • Any grey squirrel caught must be humanely destroyed.
  • Drowning is an inhumane method of despatch.
  • When trapping for grey squirrels, traps must be visited once every 24 hours, but, where there is a risk of catching red squirrels or other non-target species it is a legal requirement that traps are checked twice daily.

This is not intended as a definitive guide to the legislation; please refer to the original legislation for more details.