The Law Commission is seeking views on how wildlife laws should be modernised, as part of a new consultation.

Current laws regulating wildlife are spread over a collection of acts dating back to 1831. The original purpose of many of the laws was to govern activities such as hunting and fishing, including poaching.

However, over the years, laws have expanded to conserve certain species, ensure the welfare of wildlife and protect local biodiversity from invasive species.

The result, according to the Law Commission – an independent body created to review legislation, is a legal landscape that is “out of date, confused and often contradictory”. For example, the hunting, management and welfare of pheasants is governed by four separate statutes.

Much of the older legislation is out of step with modern requirements, and the principal modern act, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, has been amended to such a degree that it is difficult for any non-specialists to use, said the commission.

“We are seeking to achieve a balance between the needs of those people who want to manage wildlife and those who want to protect it.”
Frances Patterson QC, Law Commission

Therefore, the commission is aiming to simplify the existing complex framework, placing wildlife law into a single statute.

The new regime would reduce the current dependency on criminal law, by allowing an appropriate mix of regulatory measures such as guidance, advice and a varied and flexible system of civil sanctions – such as fines and bans.

Frances Patterson QC, who is leading the project for the Law Commission, said: “We are seeking to achieve a balance between the needs of those people who want to manage wildlife and those who want to protect it.

“What we are proposing does not alter the levels of protection currently offered to wildlife but it will help people understand what their obligations and duties are and what they can and cannot do, and ensure they are properly licensed to do it.”

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