There are several laws in the UK that concern reptiles and amphibians. The most important are the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, 1976, and the Endangered Species (Import & Export) Act 1976.


This legislation, which follows on from the Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975, provides some degree of protection for wild reptiles and amphibians. The Act of 1981 has been amended several times, and it is possible that species may be removed or added to it in the future.

The act makes it a criminal offence to trade in any native species of amphibian or reptile without appropriate licensing. Captive bred animals are exempt, but the legal definition of 'captive bred' is stricter than that applied by many hobbyists. 'Captive bred' refers to animals which result from a mating between parents which are themselves captive bred or captive reared. Therefore, if either of the individual's parents are wild caught, the offspring is regarded as 'captive reared', rather than 'captive bred'.

'Trade' includes any type of barter or exchange, whether or not cash is involved. This applies to foreign specimens of native species, as well as those originating in the UK.

The species prohibited from trade are:

In addition, all native reptile species are protected from deliberate killing or injuring.

The species prohibited from killing or injury are:

Further protection is offered to the rarest species. Any form of deliberate or reckless disturbance to these species is a criminal offence, as is possession of these species at any life stage. Licences may be granted for the handling of these animals, for scientific or conservation purposes.

The species offered full protection are:

The Act also makes it an offence to deliberately release any non-native species into the wild. This includes releasing any of the non-native species already established in the wild in the UK.

A number of species are listed in a schedule to the act as being established in the wild. Release of these species is an offence in the same way as release of any other alien species. These taxa are:

The Wildlife and Countryside Act also offers some protection to habitats in which reptiles and amphibians may occur. Valuable wildlife sites may be designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and damage to a site of this type is an offence.

The Government department responsible for wildlife law is the Dept for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Their wildlife and countryside website can be found here, and they have a guide to the UK wildlife law here.

Licences relating to any part of the act are granted by English Nature. There is currently a general licence effective for the common amphibians, which allows trade in adult specimens within certain limits:

The EC Habitats and Species Directive, 1992, which can be read here, requires EC states to protect a variety of species considered endangered across Europe. The only reptile or amphibian species native to the UK is:

The UK already protects this species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, so no further law was needed for species protection. The Directive also requires states to designate Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for protected habitats and species. The UK SACs are listed here.


This act regulates the keeping, by private keepers, of animals which are regarded as dangerous. An individual wishing to keep any of these species must apply to their local authority for a licence. Inspection by a vet will almost certainly be required, and an annual fee will be payable. The licence will apply to a specific number of animals, and offspring of any breeding will also have to be licensed. Pet shops and zoos are exempted from this Act, as they are licensed under other systems.

A schedule to the act lists the species controlled, and this list may be updated at any time. All vipers and pit vipers are included, as are all members of the cobra family (Elapidae). A number of venomous typical snakes (Colubridae) are also regarded as dangerous. The adder is thus covered as a member of the viper family.


This law implements the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) into UK legislation. This controls the movement of endangered species, live or dead, part or whole organism, across international borders.

This act has been amended and added to many times, and there are many laws now covering import and export of reptiles and amphibians. All but a very few species are controlled by some form of import or export law. Any controlled species to be brought into this country will require an import licence granted by DEFRA. These licences are usually only granted where an export licence from the country of origin is already held. Licences may be subject to annual quotas on species, and/or country of origin. Some species may be completely prohibited from trade.


Anyone wishing to observe amphibians and reptiles in the wild must be aware that it is illegal to disturb or capture the four rarest species for any reason. It is also illegal to injure or kill any native reptile species.


Anyone wishing to maintain UK species of reptile or amphibian in captivity must be aware that the four rarest species are totally protected, that no species can be offered for sale without a licence, and that the adder cannot be kept without a dangerous wild animals licence. In addition, if animals are to be collected from the wild, it is an act of theft to take an animal without the landowner's permission.


Anyone maintaining exotic species of reptile or amphibian should be aware that it is against the law to release these species into the wild, where they may have a negative effect on the environment.

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