If you’re looking for help with an animal which might generally be considered vermin, the main take away from this article is that there are legal restrictions on helping some species so always check a rescue’s policies when calling about an unpopular species. If you struggle to find help, our volunteers (who all believe that life is life no matter what species it happens to be) will be happy to help if you contact us via our helpdesk.
We hear quite a bit of talk about ‘vermin’. Usually in the context of a bird or animal not being worthy of help, needing to be killed, or struggling to find help because they are ‘classed as vermin’. It’s something which undoubtedly leads to a great deal of unnecessary suffering so we wanted to take the opportunity to dispel some myths.
First and foremost, it is important to clarify that NO birds or animals are classed as vermin. Vermin is a purely subjective term – what one person considers to be vermin will be different to another. Vermin is a term with NO legal meaning. You can see for yourself in this record of a discussion in the House of Lords.
That said, certain species are mentioned in articles of legislation which can mean that they can or must be treated differently. The main legislation here is Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA) which states that a person is guilty of an offence if he releases or allows to escape into the wild an animal which is not ordinarily resident in or a regular visitor to Great Britain or which is listed in Part 1 of Schedule 9. It is important to note the term ‘ordinarily resident’ – this is not the same as native. Some species may not have originally been native to the UK but are now well established and considered resident so there is no longer any restriction on their release. We have tried to summarise the position of commonly considered ‘pest’ species below. Disclaimer: we are not legal experts and advise you clarify the legislation for yourself before taking any potentially illegal actions.
Canada Geese #
It is illegal to release Canada Geese without a license as they are listed in Schedule 9 of the WCA. In practice, they are commonly treated and released by most wildlife rescues. We recommend you check the policies of any rescue you approach for help with a goose.
The Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932 forbids the release of Non-indigenous rabbits. This does not include the European Rabbit which is the species commonly found in the UK. You should generally find it straightforward to find help for a rabbit casualty.
It is illegal to release mink as they are listed in schedule 9 of the WCA and covered by the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932. They can be kept in captivity with a license. You will likely struggle to find help with an injured mink as they are quite dangerous animals and difficult to keep.
Muntjac deer #
It is illegal to release muntjac as they are listed in Schedule 9 of the WCA. It used to be possible to apply for a license to release them but this changed in December 2019. Wildlife rescues are now forced to either permanently house or cull any such animals brought to them. If you need help with a muntjac, please contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk for bespoke advice.
Grey Squirrels #
It is illegal to release Grey Squirrels as they are listed in Schedule 9 of the WCA. It used to be possible to apply for a license to release them but this changed in December 2019. Wildlife rescues are now forced to either permanently house or cull any such animals brought to them. If, like us, you think this is abhorrent, please help Urban Squirrels campaign for a change to the law. If you need help with a grey squirrel, please contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk for bespoke advice.
It is important to note that the species listed in Section 9 of the WCA is Rattus Rattus – the black rat. The species commonly found in the UK is Rattus Norvegicus or the Brown Rat. Although not native, they have been here since the early 1700s so are considered ‘ordinarily resident’. Therefore it is not illegal to treat or release them. However, they have probably the worst reputation of any UK wildlife and there is some concern about rats being infected with potential zoonotic diseases (those which can be passed from animals to humans) such as leptospirosis and hantavirus which means that many rescues won’t care for them.
Although house mice (mus musculus) are technically non-native, they are well established and not listed under Schedule 9 of the WCA. Long tailed field mice and yellow necked mice are native. There are therefore no legal restrictions on the treatment or release of mice and most rescues will treat them in our experience.
Perhaps the most misunderstood species. We often hear of rescues and vets refusing to treat them because they are a ‘pest’ or ‘vermin’ and to do so would be illegal. There are no legal restrictions on the treatment and release of pigeons. They are a native species and have broadly the same legal protections as other species of bird. Most rescues will now accept pigeons though not all, sadly, give them the same priority as other birds. It’s worth asking the rescue you contact what their approach is before surrendering a pigeon to them.
As for pigeons, these birds have a bad reputation but there is no law against caring for and releasing them. In fact, some species are listed as vulnerable and have extra legal protections so are in need of all the help they can get.