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European protected species


The Habitats Regulations 1994 external site (as amended in Scotland) provide the protection afforded to European protected species (EPS) of animals and plants (those species listed on Annex IV of the Habitats Directive whose natural range includes Great Britain).  These Regulations apply across the terrestrial environment and Scottish inshore waters (up to 12nm from the shore). 

  • EPS are listed on Schedules 2 (animals)  PDF document   and 4 (plants)  PDF document  of the Habitats Regulations 1994 (as amended).  These Regulations have been amended many times since 1994 including in 2007, 2008(a), 2008(b), 2009, 2011 and 2012.  Only some of the species listed on Schedules 2 and 4 are found in Scotland.   Please go to our protected species table  PDF document to identify which.  The Scottish Government produced explanatory guidance on the 2007 amendments which introduced key changes to the law.

The following notes give some guidance on the current protection given to EPS. This summary is not a legal document.  If legal detail is what you require, you should check the actual text of the Habitats Regulations 1994 (as amended in Scotland).

For animals:

It is an offence to deliberately or recklessly:

  • capture, injure or kill such an animal;
  • harass an animal or group of animals;
  • disturb an animal while it is occupying a structure or place used for shelter or protection;
  • disturb an animal while it is rearing or otherwise caring for its young;
  • obstruct access to a breeding site or resting place, or otherwise deny the animal use of the breeding site or resting place;
  • disturb an animal in a manner that is, or in circumstances which are, likely to significantly affect the local distribution or abundance of the species to which it belongs;
  • disturb an animal in a manner that is, or in circumstances which are, likely to impair its ability to survive, breed or reproduce, or rear or otherwise care for its young;
  • disturb an animal while it is migrating or hibernating;
  • deliberately or recklessly take or destroy its eggs (in Scotland this would be only relevant to great crested newt and natterjack toad);
  • disturb any dolphin, porpoise or whale (cetacean).

It is an offence of strict liability to:

  • damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal.  Also, these sites and places are protected even if the animal is not there (thus, for example, great crested newt ponds are protected even when there are no newts present, provided that it can be demonstrated that the newts use them some of the time).

All of the above offences apply to all stages of the animals life to which they apply. However, animals bred and lawfully held in captivity are not protected.

Protecting animals using Scottish inshore waters can be especially challenging and so Marine Scotland has produced guidance on the protection of marine EPS from injury and disturbance external site .

For plants:

It is an offence to deliberately or recklessly pick, collect, cut, uproot or destroy any such plant.

This applies to all stages of their biological cycle.

For both plants and animals:

Generally, the possession, control, transport, selling, exchange, etc. of all animal or plant specimens listed on Annex IV to the Habitats Directive (i.e. including European protected species) is illegal.  This applies to live or dead specimens or their derivatives. These offences may not apply if:

  • it can be proven that they were taken 'lawfully' from the wild (i.e. taken legally from an EC Member State before 10 June 1994 (or the accession date of the EC country concerned), or taken legally from another country outside the EC); 
  • it is a species listed on Schedule 2A or other particular population listed in Regulation 39(9).

Importantly, the legislation means that individuals, museums or schools for example, which keep specimens of European protected species acquired since 10 June 1994 will now need a licence to do so.


In common with other law, it is possible to carry out certain actions which would otherwise be illegal under licence.  For EPS, Scottish Natural Heritage issue licences for the majority of cases.  Marine Scotland is the licensing authority for marine casework.  A licence can only be issued under very strict conditions:

1. the reason for the licence must relate to one of several specified purposes listed in Regulation 44(2);

2.  there must be no satisfactory alternative;

3.  the proposed action must not be detrimental to the maintenance of the species at 'favourable conservation status'.

Last updated on Monday 10th October 2016 at 11:53 AM. Click here to comment on this page