The red squirrel benefits from legal protection under Schedules 5 and 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) (The Wildlife & Countryside (Northern Ireland) Order 1985), 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 and Article 10 of the W(NI) Order it is an offence to:
- Intentionally kill, injure or take (capture) a red squirrel [S9(1)]
- 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 [S9(4)]
- 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. [S9(2)]
- Sell, or offer for sale, a wild red squirrel or any part of a wild red squirrel. 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.
The grey squirrel is included in Schedule 9 of the WCA and the W(NI) Order. This means
that it is illegal to release a grey squirrel into the wild, or allow one to escape, even if it was
taken into captivity for welfare reasons.
Licences to permit the release of grey squirrels for specific purposes can be issued by government departments. Under the Grey Squirrels (Prohibition of Importation and Keeping) Order 1937, issued under the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932, it is illegal to keep grey squirrels in captivity. This order is still in force.
For more information please refer to the Forestry Commission’s advice note.