Marine wildlife licensing

Wildlife licences are only issued for specific purposes, which are set out in legislation. They can only be issued where DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division is satisfied that there is no satisfactory alternative and that the activity will not be detrimental to the maintenance of the population of the species concerned.

Who is responsible?

From 8th May 2016 the new Department responsible for wildlife licensing is the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).  Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) remains responsible for wildlife licences for the protected species of terrestrial animals, birds and plants.

When is a licence issued?

A wildlife licence may be issued to authorise what would otherwise be an offence under the nature conservation legislation. A licence will only be granted where the activity satisfies the requirements of the relevant legislation. In all cases it is recommended that mitigation should be used in the first instance in order to reduce the risk of an offence. A wildlife licence should be considered as a last resort to enable the activity to take place.

Marine Protected Species

The species which are afforded protection through wildlife licensing are listed in the schedules to the following nature conservation legislation:

The degree of protection depends on the particular species. In some cases the protection applies only within specific sites and for others, particularly mobile species, it applies wherever they are found.

The table below provides details of the marine species which are currently protected, together with the offences committed through deliberate or reckless acts. 

Species Group Marine Species Legislation Offences
European Protected Species

All whales, dolphins and porpoises

All marine turtles

Habitats Regulations - Schedule 2

Kill, injure, disturb, take, transport, trade

Seals

 

Common (Harbour) seals

Grey seals

Habitats Regulations - Schedule 3

Wildlife Order - Schedules 5, 6 & 7

Kill or take by specific methods

Kill, injure, disturb, take, transport, trade

Sharks

 

Basking shark

Angel shark

Wildlife Order - Schedules 5, 6 & 7

Wildlife Order - Schedule 5

Kill, injure, disturb, take, transport, trade 

Kill, injure, take, (within coastal waters – 6 nautical miles)

Skates

 

Common skate

Wildlife Order – Schedule 5

Kill, injure, take, (within coastal waters – 6 nautical miles)

Seahorses

 

Short snouted seahorse

Spiny seahorse

Wildlife Order – Schedules 5, 6 & 7

Kill, injure, take, transport, trade

Lobster

 

Spiny lobster

 

Wildlife Order – Schedule 5, 6 & 7

Kill, injure, take, transport, trade

Mussels

 

Fan mussel

 

Wildlife Order – Schedule 5, 6 & 7

Kill, injure, take, transport, trade

Sea urchin

 

Common sea urchin

Wildlife Order - Schedule 7

Transport or trade

In addition to the offences set out in the table it is also an offence to deliberately or recklessly provide false information for the purposes of obtaining a Wildlife Licence or to breach any licence condition. It should also be noted that under both the Wildlife Order and the Habitats Regulations that the offence is deemed to have been committed in the place where the offender is found or is first brought after committing the offence.

Activities for which a wildlife licence may be granted

Regulation 40 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended) allows the Department to issue wildlife licences for the following activities:

  • introducing them to particular areas
  • protecting any zoological or botanical collection
  • preserving public health or public safety or other imperative reasons of overriding public interest including those of a social or economic nature and beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment
  • preventing the spread of disease
  • preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, pasture or any other form of property or to fisheries

Similarly, Article 18 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (as amended) enables the Department to issue wildlife licences for the following:

  • scientific, research or educational purposes
  • photography (includes still images and filming)
  • preventing the spread of disease
  • preserving public health or public safety
  • ringing or marking, or examining any ring or mark on, wild animals
  • conserving wild animals or introducing them to particular areas
  • protecting any zoological or botanical collection
  • preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, pasture or any other form of property or to fisheries

Types of wildlife licence

Marine and Fisheries Division will provide advice and guidance on individual cases in response to any requests.  However, it is the responsibility of the applicant to assess the risk of committing an offence when carrying out a proposed activity and whether a wildlife licence is required.

Science, research and education

Most wildlife licences are issued to researchers and scientists in order to carry out activities/experiments for the purposes of furthering the knowledge and conservation of protected species. Examples of this type of activity would include taking samples of a particular protected species for genetic analysis or tagging.

Wildlife tourism

Wildlife licences may be issued for wildlife tourism to enable the taking of both still images and filming of protected species where alternatives are not available. This may also be done in connection with research and scientific studies.

Marine construction

Some large developments may require a wildlife licence to permit temporary disturbance to cetaceans (European Protected Species) from noise emitted during construction, for example, the acoustic disturbance generated during the construction of offshore wind turbines. Such projects also require a Marine Licence, which includes a requirement to provide mitigation for environmental impacts. The application of mitigation techniques to reduce the risk of a wildlife offence to negligible levels would be considered to be the most appropriate course of action. Consequently, a wildlife licence will be granted only as a last resort and for reasons of overriding public interest.

Preventing serious damage to fisheries

In some limited circumstances it may be necessary to issue wildlife licences which permit the killing or relocation of protected species. For example, licences may be issued to allow the killing of seals in order to protect fish stocks in marine commercial fish farms. However, this will be dependent on the protected species being in ‘favourable conservation status’. Where a protected species is in decline or in ‘unfavourable conservation status’, a wildlife licence will not be granted.

Possession of specimens, parts or derivatives of protected marine species

Dead animal specimens, parts or derivatives may need to be kept. This may be for scientific purposes, educational purposes, protecting any zoological collection or for personal collection. A wildlife licence must be applied for, to keep possession of these protected species.

Application process

Applicants can decide when to make their first approach to Marine and Fisheries Division but early communication is strongly recommended. Where a wildlife licence is associated with a major plan or project (a relevant project under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive), this is particularly useful at the scoping stage of any environmental impact assessment (EIA). For more complex cases it is anticipated that, where pre-application discussions occur early in the process the application stage would be shorter.

Marine and Fisheries Division will acknowledge receipt of a formal application within five working days. Following receipt of a full application, including all the relevant information necessary to make a determination, they will endeavour to make a decision as to whether a licence will be granted or refused within six weeks (30 working days).

The Marine Conservation Officer will consult with the Marine Strategy and Licensing team and the local Marine Rangers if applicable. This is to ensure that all interested parties are kept informed of proposed activities in their area and to invite any comment/advice they may have on current local issues.

It will be the responsibility of the Marine Conservation Officer to lead the consultation process and manage the responses from all consultees. All issues will be discussed with the applicant to ensure that all views are taken into account when the decision is made.

Information requirements

The information required in support of an application will depend on the nature of the activity and the risk of an offence occurring. However, it is likely to include a scientific report and an assessment of the environmental risks associated with the proposal, together with details of any alternatives or mitigation.

If the applicant provides insufficient or inaccurate information, the Marine Conservation Officer will contact the applicant and advise them of the need to submit additional or corrected information. The application will be kept open for a maximum of six months from the date that the further information is requested by the Marine Conservation Officer.

If the information is not received and there has been no further contact from the applicant, the application will be deemed void and withdrawn. If the applicant still requires a licence a new application will have to be submitted which should include all the information that had been requested previously.

If the further information is submitted within six months the application will be treated as the same case, assessed by the same officer and will retain the same reference number.

Application forms

References

All applications must be submitted with at least one, and preferably two, references. A separate form for references should be completed and submitted along with the application:

The purpose of the wildlife licence is to permit an activity that would otherwise be illegal – so they are designed to prevent an offence being committed by the licence holder. The Department must therefore be satisfied that the activity is necessary and/or unavoidable and that the applicant is capable of undertaking the activity in accordance with the conditions on the licence.  

The references are a way of demonstrating that the applicant has the necessary skills or experience, or have undertaken similar activities which might include other authorisations such as previous wildlife licences, firearms licence, a dealer licence or marine licence.

All information provided in references will be managed in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.

Withdrawal of applications

The applicant may withdraw an application at any stage by contacting the Marine Conservation Officer who is assigned to their case. The applicant must provide a reason why the application is being withdrawn for monitoring purposes.  

Wildlife licence decision

Once the application has been determined and granted the applicant will receive a Wildlife Licence Certificate either via email or post. The applicant must then confirm receipt of the licence and acceptance of any conditions within 10 working days of the licence being issued.

Once the wildlife licence has been accepted, the licensee may undertake the licensed activity, subject to any conditions including the time period allowed by the licence. If the application is refused, the applicant will be provided with the reasons for refusal on request.

End-of-licence report

The licence holder must complete an end-of-licence report form once the licence has expired.  This report must be completed even if no action is taken and must be returned to Marine and Fisheries Division no later than one month after the expiry of the licence. If the applicant is applying for another licence to continue an existing project, this end-of-licence report should be submitted at the same time as the new application.  

Failure to complete and submit an end-of-licence form is a breach of the licence and may result in future applications being refused.

Emergency licences

In exceptional circumstances it may be necessary for a wildlife licence to be issued within a few days. Marine and Fisheries Division understands that during exceptional circumstances the applicant may need to provide the required information via telephone. Such cases will be dealt with as a one-off emergency application and the wildlife licence will be granted for a short time period until a full assessment can be made.

Further information and guidance

Marine and Fisheries Division will provide assistance and guidance on individual cases, where possible, in response to any queries. However, it is the responsibility of the applicant to assess the risk of committing a wildlife offence when carrying out a proposed activity and also the need for a wildlife licence application.

Contact DAERA Marine Wildlife Licensing.

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