Marine European Protected Species licensing

Whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans); marine turtles and sturgeon are protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, known as the ‘Habitats Regulations’. This is because they considered vulnerable to decline throughout European waters. This information is focused on marine EPS licensing in Wales and is not a comprehensive review of their ecology or the law.

Cetaceans in Welsh waters include:

  • Harbour porpoise, Phocoena phocoena
  • Bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus
  • Short-beaked common dolphin, Delphinus delphis
  • Risso’s dolphin, Grampus griseus
  • Minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Other marine EPS include a fish and five marine turtles:

  • Sturgeon, Acipenser sturio
  • Loggerhead turtle, Caretta caretta
  • Green turtle, Chelonia mydas
  • Kemp’s Ridley turtle, Lepidochelys kempii
  • Hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata
  • Leatherback turtle, Dermochelys coriacea

Cetaceans can be affected by a range of activities including marine developments, research and survey work, water craft, and recreation. For information on how to conduct your work or leisure interests without breaking the law, see the document Sea Wise Code.

Update to offshore marine species licensing

From 30 November 2017, the responsibility for protected species licensing in the Welsh offshore region under the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 transferred to the Welsh Ministers. This transfer of function to the Welsh Ministers followed a commitment from the UK Government to devolve further nature conservation powers to Wales.

The Marine Management Organization (MMO) previously issued offshore marine species licenses in the Welsh offshore region; as of 1 April 2018 the responsibility for the administration of applications has transferred to Natural Resources Wales, who will be acting on behalf of the Welsh Ministers.

If you have submitted an application to the MMO prior to 1 April 2018, this will continue to be determined by the MMO. Once the licence application has been determined, if there are any post licence requirements, such as monitoring or discharge of conditions, these will be considered by NRW. Any protected species licence enforcement would be undertaken by the Welsh Government.


Under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 , it is an offence if you:

  • Deliberately capture, injure or kill any wild animal of an EPS
  • Deliberately disturb wild animals of any such species
  • Deliberately take or destroy the eggs of such an animal, or
  • Damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal

Disturbance includes, but is not limited to, any disturbance which is likely:

  • to impair their ability –
    • To survive, to breed or reproduce, or to rear or nurture their young, or
    • In the case of animals of a migratory species, to migrate; or
  • to affect significantly the local distribution or abundance of the species to which they belong

Defra and the Welsh Government will soon be publishing a joint guidance document on the disturbance of marine EPS.

There are other offences relating to possession, transport and sale.


NRW issues licences under Regulation 55 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 to allow you to work within the law. We issue them for specific purposes stated in the Regulations, if the following three tests are met:

  • The purpose of the work meets one of those listed in the Habitats Regulations
  • That there is no satisfactory alternative
  • That the action authorised will not be detrimental to the maintenance of the population of the species concerned at a favourable conservation status in their natural range

Licensing purposes

The Habitats Regulations permits licences to be issued for a specific set of purposes including:

  • Include preserving public health or public safety or other imperative reasons of over-riding public interest including those of a social or economic nature and beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment (including development)
  • Scientific and educational purposes
  • Ringing or marking
  • Conserving wild animals

Scientific or Educational

You will need a licence to take or disturb a marine EPS, in order to carry out any kind of research or detailed survey, including photo-identification. We can also issue licences for more invasive survey methods including marking animals or taking samples.

When you can apply for a licence

Please note that the application forms below apply to both inshore (0 to 12 nautical miles) and offshore (more than 12 nautical miles) marine areas.

Find out who can apply for a protected species licence

Method statement

If you are carrying out any development work, you will need to complete a method statement. The method statement forms part of your licence application:

Development licence method statement

Apply for a protected species licence

If you cannot avoid disturbing protected species, or damaging their breeding sites and resting places, you can apply for a licence for a range of different activities:

Contact us

You can contact us for help at any time before or during your licence application.

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