New rules on tagging invasive birds equate to death sentence, warns expert

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has told its members they must avoid tagging invasive species such as the Egyptian goose, following new legislation which prevents them from being released after capture, effectively equating to a death sentence for the bird, according to an environmental campaigner.

Bird ringing involves tagging a bird’s leg or wing to enable individual identification and help track its movements over the course of its life. The BTO is the body in charge of issuing licences for bird ringing activities on behalf of DEFRA, including tagging birds considered invasive species. Invasive non-native species harm native biodiversity and cost the British economy around £1.8bn every year, according to DEFRA.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to release any plant or animal into the wild which does not reside in, or is a regular visitor to, Great Britain, including a subset of established invasive species such as the Egyptian goose. Bird ringers have historically been granted an exception from this rule and allowed to release these birds back into the wild once they had been caught and re-released.

But last week the BTO warned its members in an email that they should stop intercepting certain invasive bird species due to new legislation that came into force across the UK between April and December, as they will not be able to release them back into the wild.


The Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019 (SI 2019/527)

In force/
England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, UK, Wales
22 Mar 2019

Compliance Dates

01/10/2019 Comes into force



Land and development Wildlife and conservation


OPSI (Office of Public Sector Information)

Affected Sectors

Cross-sector Agriculture Animal Boarding and Pest Control Transport Offices Real Estate and Public Administration Public Sector Education and Research Conservation Land Management and Landscaping

The Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019 (SI 2019/527)

Document Status: Draft/Forthcoming

Scope: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, UK, Wales


01/10/2019 Comes into force

The Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019 applies to England and Wales Only introducing new fines and prison sentences for the worst breaches of invasive species controls designed to prevent their release into the environment. In both countries bird ringers will no longer be able to release the Egyptian Goose, Ruddy Duck, Sacred Ibis, Indian House Crow back into the wild. 

The BTO’s message was made public by environmental campaigner Mark Avery yesterday.

“The new law effectively means that any birds such as the Egyptian goose that are ringed will afterwards need to be killed, kept at home in your avery for the rest of your life, or breaking the law by releasing them,” said Avery.

“I’m not agreeing one way or the other about DEFRA’s enforcement approach but this will be an issue for some people,” he added. 

The BTO wrote that it was trying to clarify with DEFRA what would happen should an “accidental capture” occur. According to the letter, it expected DEFRA to clarify its position within the week. 

To view the BTO’s letter in full click here.

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