Schedule 1 Licensing

********************* PLEASE REMEMBER *********************
Kingfishers and Barn Owls are just two of the relatively uncommon species afforded the highest degree of legal protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. If you “intentionally or recklessly” disturb a Kingfisher, Barn Owl or any other bird listed in Schedule 1 whilst trying to photograph it “in, on, at or near” the nest or whilst it has dependent young, and without the necessary Licence from Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England or other licensing authority, you may be committing a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £5,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 6 months.

Throughout the 10 years or so prior to moving to Highland Perthshire in early 2015 I held various Schedule 1 Licences from Natural England to photograph such species as Kingfishers, Barn Owls and Avocets at several nest sites, though I should emphasise that such licences are site specific.

Since I first started publishing some of my Kingfisher images on the internet (on various birding, wildlife and photography websites) and elsewhere, I have received a steady stream of requests - now approaching 200! - for information on how/where to find Kingfishers and how to photograph them. Several people have even invited themselves to accompany me on visits to some of the Kingfisher nestsites I know of and apparently without any thought what so ever of the potential impact that my allowing such visits might have on my Schedule 1 Licence status!

It seems that many non-specialist bird/wildlife photographers and others with a general interest in wildlife are simply unaware that a number of species of birds and other creatures are afforded special protection under the UK's wildlife protection laws which, in effect and without the appropriate licence from Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England or other licensing authority, make it a criminal offence to "intentionally or recklessly" disturb certain birds for the purpose of photography (or any other purpose) whilst they are "in, on, at or near their nest" or whilst they have dependent young - see the red reminder at the top of this page.

The legislation concerned is contained within the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and Schedule 1 to that Act contains the full list of bird species given special protection - see

The Licensing authorities under the legislation include Scottish Natural Heritage (for Scotland), Natural England (for England) with different licensing authorities for Wales and Northern Ireland and licences are issued on a strict quota system and only to those experienced photographers who can demonstrate their knowledge of the breeding ecology of the species concerned and the necessary photographic skills and fieldcraft to enable them to undertake nest photography without causing undue disturbance to the birds - for more detailed information on the procedure see -
for Scotland -
for England -

The Licence application procedure is considered by some to be quite onerous but, in my view and with the increasing interest in wildlife photography in this digital age, it forms an essential part of the measures required to protect our rarer species from nest disturbance by photographers and others who lack the fieldcraft and/or simply don't know enough about the behaviour of their intended subjects to be able to photograph them without the risk of excessive disturbance. See here for the Licence application form -
for Scotland -
and for England -

Offences against the legislation are often investigated by the RSPB's Investigations Unit and I am told by a member of that Unit that reports of disturbance offences are certainly on the increase. Where an offence is considered to have been committed the matter is usually referred to the Police for further investigation and possible prosecution, with most County Police forces now having their own Wildlife Crime Officer.

Unfortunately, for many general photographers a Kingfisher or Barn Owl now seems to be just another subject and, whilst I always like to be helpful when asked for help or advice, I'm afraid I do take the view that if someone needs to ask how or where to find Kingfishers then they probably do not have anything like sufficient knowledge of the species to be able to photograph it without causing disturbance. Kingfisher nests can be very difficult to locate and, during the breeding season, it is all too easy for someone to cause disturbance at a nest site without even knowing that they are doing so!

My standard response to such requests is that as with ALL wildlife photography the wellbeing of the subject must always come first and that before attempting to photograph anything other than common or garden species it is worth conducting some research into your intended subject's habits and behaviour. Oh, and if you're going to photograph a Schedule 1 species 'at or near' its nestsite (other than from a publicly accessible hide on a nature reserve) do please get yourself the necessary Licence!