Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Butterfly Collectors

There have been a few instances in recent years where Butterfly Conservation volunteers have encountered collectors suspected of acting illegally and have asked how they should deal with such situations. The following note provides some guidance on what the law is with regard to collecting and how to handle such encounters.

The law
Not all collecting is illegal and use of a net may be fully legitimate. It is a legal offence intentionally to kill, injure or take any species listed on schedule 5 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. Currently, these are the only species legally protected from being collected.
Large Blue Maculinea arion Barberry Carpet Pareulype berberata
Large Copper Lycaena dispar Black-Veined Siona lineata
Heath Fritillary Mellicta athalia Essex Emerald Thetidia smaragdaria
High Brown Fritillary Argynnis adippe Fiery Clearwing Bembicia chrysidiformis
Swallowtail Papilio machaon Fisher’s Estuarine Gortyna borelii
Marsh Fritillary Eurodryas aurinia New Forest Burnet Zygaena viciae
Reddish Buff Acosmetia caliginosa
Sussex Emerald Thalera fimbrialis

Note that a further 19 species [see Collecting Code] listed under the NERC Act as being partially protected (for sale only) are not protected from collecting, but a licence is needed for selling. The Large Blue is also a European Protected Species, which introduces an offence of possession if a licence is not in place.
It is legal to collect all species apart from the fully protected ones, unless byelaws specifically prohibit collecting – for example:
1) National Trust sites which have signs up displaying the byelaws state that:
“No unauthorised person shall on Trust Property knowingly take, molest or wilfully disturb, injure, or destroy any living creature or the eggs of any living creature or spread or use any net or set or use any snare or other engine, instrument, lamp, lure or other means for the taking, injury, or destruction of any such living creature or its eggs whether in on or above Trust Property.”
2) Forestry Commission land which is covered by byelaws that state:
“No person shall in or on the lands of the Commissioners: catch or net for the purposes of any collection any butterfly, moth or dragonfly”.
In both cases, permits are needed to conduct any collecting. Other sites such as Local Nature Reserves may also be covered by byelaws, but the wording would need to be checked locally.
There is a little tested part of the recent Countryside and Rights of Way Act which relates to Third Party damage on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). For this to be relevant, the person collecting needs to know it is an SSSI and the SSSI notification documents have to mention butterflies or moths as a specific interest feature.
Please note that collection of livestock from private land usually requires permission of the landowner.

What to do if you see someone you suspect of collecting illegally

1) What you should do depends on the circumstances and it is quite possible that the person is bona fide, so you need to ascertain the facts.
2) Approach them and politely ask the purpose of their collecting, what species they are collecting, and whether they have a license.
3) If they are collecting protected species, and do not have a licence, walk calmly away and phone the police by dialling 999. Do not take any direct action yourself in case this puts you at risk.
4) If you are on land covered by byelaws that prohibit any collecting, ask if they have a permit. If they do not, suggest that they stop collecting and seek permission from the relevant authorities. If they continue, walk calmly away and phone the police by dialling 999.
5) If they are collecting on a SSSI, politely inform them the site is an SSSI and that they may be contravening the law by causing damage to a notified feature within the SSSI citation. Again if they persist report the incident to the Police as above.
6) Always keep calm and consider your own safety. Do not take any direct action yourself in case this puts you at risk. Try not to get drawn into arguments about the pros and cons of collecting. It is best to let the police handle the situation from then on.
7) The police will want to know your name, address, location and details of the incident and description of the person. Pay particular attention to their physical characteristics (height, build, hair and skin colour) rather than just clothing. If the person has a vehicle, make a note of the make, colour and registration number. When making a 999 call, you will need to explain clearly what the problem is because the operator will likely have little idea about wildlife offences. Ask for and write down the police incident number that the call is being logged under. Suggest that allocation to a Wildlife Crime Officer may be appropriate. If they chose to investigate immediately, you may be asked to stay on site to meet a police officer. Make a written note as soon as possible of all details and ensure these notes are stored in a safe place. Photographs, (if they can be taken safely) of people and/or vehicles, may provide useful evidence, especially if they are dated
8) After reporting the incident to the police, make a full report to Butterfly Conservation Head Office as soon as possible.. Either telephone 01929 400209 or email, or both. For incidents involving a SSSI, you should also contact the relevant government agency: Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, or Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
9) Other incidents involving collecting species that are not fully protected and on sites not covered by byelaws or notified as SSSIs are lawful, but you may still want to approach the person to ask politely what they are collecting and why. If they are reasonable about this inquiry, and if you feel that their activity may be harming the conservation of the species on the site, you could explain the case. Of course, if they are collecting for bona fide research or for some education purpose, that may be entirely reasonable. If they are not, you could refer them to the BC Code on collecting, which explains our position in further detail. It can be found under the Conservation section of the website: Position Statements.
10) Report all such incidents to Head Office, again with as much information as possible so that we can get a better idea of the extent of the activity.
11) Alert key members of your local Branch, but do not make any public allegations or press statements. Remember that any suspect is innocent until proved guilty and the facts will be sub judice if there is a police investigation or prosecution.

For fuirther information please visit the Butterfly Conservation wesite at