Logo: National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU)

In May 2019, the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) launched a new social media crime prevention campaign titled Undisturbed calling on all UK wildlife photographers and drone operators to ensure the welfare of wild animals while photographing or filming them. The NWCU are posting a message on their twitter account (@ukwildlifecrime) every Friday providing advice and information on law and behaviour concerning a different species. The initiative runs until 1st November.

As digital camera equipment becomes ever ‎more affordable, photographers are approaching wildlife without knowledge of the animal's behaviour or the field craft to prevent disturbance. Elsewhere, "honey pot" wildlife sites can become overcrowded with photographers which may disrupt, and risk causing detrimental effects to, the animals concerned.

National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU)
National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU)

While many natural wildlife visitor attractions are carefully ontrolled and monitored by conservation organisations, concern has been raised by some of the UK's leading wildlife photographers ‎with regard to unmanaged areas.  Incidents of disturbance are often caused by

photographers approaching too close to animals forcing them into a sudden and involuntary change in behaviour to escape.  Examples include causing seal colonies to stampede into the sea, seabirds fleeing cliff ledge nests, dolphins changing behaviour due to vessels and raptors lifting from nests due to human presence.  Such incidents can risk injury to animals or predation of young.

Drone operators can equally cause disturbance by flying their craft too close causing animals to panic.  While operators need to fly drones in accordance with Civil Aviation Authority guidelines (, they

also need to be aware of wildlife crime legislation when in the vicinity of protected species.

Much of the UK’s wildlife is protected through legislation.  The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and Conservation (Natural Habitats &c) Regulations 1994 (as amended) create offences around the intentional or reckless harassment or disturbance of protected species. Maximum sentences on conviction can reach to £5,000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment. 

Leading photographer Laurie Campbell has over 40 years’ experience in photographing wildlife and has seen a gradual increase in the number of wildlife disturbance incidents by members of the public with cameras.

Laurie offers the following advice:

“As far as possible, one should always research the species of bird or mammal in advance and to determine its protected status within law before attempting to photograph it. Recognising the signs of stress and being aware of any changes in the natural behaviour of any animal is vital, both to judge how close you may approach safely, and when to back away. Regardless of whatever the protected status of the species may be, its welfare must always come before the desire to photograph it.”

National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU)
National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU)

Management of wildlife is a devolved power across the UK and licences to cause disturbance for the purposes of photography can be applied for from the relevant management authority.  These are available for protected species of wildlife and photographing within the terms and conditions of a licence safeguards the photographer from committing an offence if the animal is disturbed.

Chief Inspector Lou Hubble, Head of the NWCU, said, “Wildlife is amazing!  It is a real privilege to see animals and birds in their natural habitat.  We have such a diverse range of species throughout the UK and it is only natural to want to get close to them. 

However, this initiative serves to remind people that disturbance could be a criminal offence.  Please be responsible when photographing or filming wildlife and birds and allow others to enjoy the experience as you have.”

The campaign is supported by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime in England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively and incidents of disturbance should be reported to the Police by dialling 101. Follow the Undisturbed campaign by following the

NWCU twitter account at @ukwildlifecrime.

If you have a flair for photography, why not consider entering CJS Photo Competition. Find out more here

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