Conservation of Seals


Conservation of Seals Act 1970

Seals are a protected animal under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970. However, this legislation does not outlaw killing seals but regulates the way in which they are killed.

Under the Seals Act, there are certain guidelines which state:

#1 The ways in which seals can be killed
Under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970, it is a criminal offence to attempt to use or actually use a poisonous substance to injure, take or kill a seal. Furthermore, a firearm cannot be used unless it has a muzzle energy of 600 foot pounds or more and a bullet that is no less than 45 grains.

#2 The Season
Seals can only be killed at certain times of the year. There is a yearly season for grey seals (the Halichoerus grypus species) which runs from the 01st September through to 31st December.
The season for common seals runs from 01st June through to 31st August (the Phoca Vitulina species).
A criminal offence is committed for wilfully injuring, killing or taking a seal during the closed season or to make any attempt to do so.

#3 Prohibiting Orders
The Secretary of State has the power under The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 has the power to prohibit killing, injuring or taking a seal in an area where there is an order in place to conserve seals.

Since this Act was introduced in 1970, there have been multiple orders approved by the Secretary of State to protect seals in certain places.

Breaching or attempting to breach these orders is a criminal offence.

Conservation of Seals

Suitable Defences

Where an individual has been charged with an offence under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970, the following defences would be acceptable:

If the individual has taken or has attempted to take a seal which is disabled and the individual had the intention of caring for it until it was recovered and ready to be released back into its natural environment.

When injuring or killing the seal was unavoidable as a direct result of a lawful act

  • Where the attempted or actual killing of a seal was undertaken to prevent it from damaging fishing nets or fishing tackle in the possession of the individual or it was in the possession of an individual who made a request to attempt or actually kill the seal. However at the time, the seal must have been in the vicinity of the net or tackle at the time.
  • If an individual kills a seal which is so seriously disabled and there was no reasonable chance of recovery
  • Where a licence has been granted to an individual permitting the act to be carried out

Police Powers and the Conservation of Seals Act 1970

When this legislation was introduced it assigned a number of powers to the police. Under this Act, the police have the ability to stop and search any boat or vehicle where they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the individual is committing an offence under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970. Furthermore, if the individual fails to cooperate by refusing to provide their name and/or address the police are able to arrest the individual.

Furthermore, the legislation also enables the police to sieze any seal skin, seal, firearm, poisonous substance or ammunition which they find during the course of their investigation.

If the case proceeds to court, the Courts can issue a fine to the defendant who is found guilty. They can also order that the individual forfeits the seal or seal skin in relation to the offence in addition to any poisonous substance, fire arm, ammunition or seal which has been discovered during the investigation.

Additional Powers

In addition to the above, the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 provides the Secretary of State with other powers including:

Licences – A licence can be issued to an individual which provides them the authority to commit an act which would otherwise be prohibited.

Licences can be issued to carry out the following activities:

  • To undertake educational or scientific research
  • For the purpose of creating a zoological garden or collection
  • In an attempt to prevent damage to fisheries
  • To reduce seal populations for more effective management
  • To use surplus seals as a resource
  • In an attempt to sufficiently protect flora or fauna

Entry on Land – The second power that can be granted under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 enables the Secretary of State to authorise an individual to access any piece of land in order to collect information in relation to seals and to kill or take seals for the purpose of preventing or reducing damage to fisheries caused directly by seals.

About the author:

This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team and posted by Lloyd Barrett. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.

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