British Softbills & The Law  


The legislation that we as British Bird keepers must follow is quite complex, it generally all falls

under the Wildlife & Countryside act, but legislation such as the Habitats Directive & of course Animal Welfare can also effect the hobbyist..


The Wildlife & Countryside Act:


This forms the bulk of the legislation we have to follow, it is well overdue for review & hopefully this is now happening.

There have been several breakthroughs over the last couple of years to push this along and some positive moves to help us!

But it is slow going in negotiations with Defra & far from concluded!

One important and unusual aspect of this legislation is the fact that we have a reverse burden of proof against us, in other words - we as bird keepers are considered guilty of having a wild bird - unless we are able to prove differently, the onus is on us to prove a bird is captive bred & so keeping records & some documentation, I am afraid is a must!


The legislation has basically has been split into several schedules (lists of birds) that effect us & each list is treated slightly differently:


Schedule 3:

This is the common birds, such as Dunnocks, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Starlings:-


Species listed on Schedule 3 part 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act are permitted under legislation to be offered for sale or competitively shown if ringed in accordance with ringing regulations.

This means that the bird is Captive Bred and ringed with the correct size ring issued by the B.B.C. or I.O.A.


Birds that are not UK bred & are imported from Europe are not considered rung in accordance with ringing regulations, require a licence issued by Natural England to be offered for sale or to be shown!

These application forms  WML A20 & WML A21 can be found here:




In theory the application should be straightforward & NE cannot expect any paperwork to prove the bird is captive bred, as it is not necessarily required on the continent, but of course some form of receipt or record of who you purchased the bird from would always be useful!


Schedule 4:


This is for much more protected species & for these birds you need a licence from DEFRA & the birds have to be registered & rung with Defra Rings - fortunately for us, most softbills were removed from this a few years ago (for instance Bearded Reedlings were once on schedule 4) - so now it is only the very specialist & rare birds that appear on it and it does not really effect us any more!


Non Schedule:


Yes -  this is where the vast majority of our softbills fall, they are not actually listed on a DEFRA schedule, as they were not included when it was collated - but we are now allowed to keep them under a General Licence!  Slightly Different general licences are issues by the goverment bodies of England, Scotland & Wales

(hence the desperate need for a complete overhaul of the legislation)

So we are allowed to keep the birds under these General licences: All users of these General Licences should make themselves fully aware of the conditions of the licences they use!






permits the competitive showing of species not listed on Schedule 3 part 1 subject to conditions of this licence.    



permits sale of species not listed on Schedule 3 part 1 provided conditions of the licence are met. 



The main requirements  / conditions of these licences is the necessity for each bird you possess to have a "proof of captive breeding" document.

This documentation should be a signed declaration by the breeder that states the parents ring numbers, when it was bred and his contact details.

In addition to this, the bird should of course be closed rung with the "recommended" ring size as per BBC or IOA ring lists.


It sounds complicated, but to be honest, if we all just ensure we have some paperwork with each bird we have as proof of captive breeding, then we are meeting the requirements & should have no issues proving a bird is legally captive bred.

The BBC have a pro-forma declaration form & I suggest we all use the same format ! : 


British Bird Council Downloads






With the recent issue and review of their General licences - you DO NOT need documentary evidence!

GL 08/2021


Permits the competitive showing of species Not listed on Schedule 3 part 1 subject to conditions of this licence. 


GL 10/2021


Permits the sale of species Not listed on schedule 3 Part 1 provided the conditions of the licence are met. 




In Wales we do still need documentary evidence, very similar to England




Permits the sale of species Not listed on schedule 3 Part 1 provided the conditions of the licence are met.




Permits the competitive showing of species Not listed on Schedule 3 part 1 subject to conditions of this licence.