Ferreting and the law.

The Code of Good Ferreting Practice

The countryside doesn’t run itself. It needs help from all those who work the fields, the woodlands, rivers and those who manage and control the many pests that inhabit our countryside.

Fishing shooting and hunting help our rivers, hedgerows and woods to thrive. The benefits to all the wild birds, mammals, flora and other fauna from these pursuits is too long to mention, but this is easily forgotten by those who find it convenient to forget.

There are many more pieces to the jigsaw, some not as high profile as fishing, shooting or hunting but never the less they have their place, for without them the balance of nature would be upset.

Ferreting provides an environmentally friendly pest control service, the chance to look at the countryside and learn about nature, field craft and responsibility towards animals. It also provides an abundance of organic free range meat that has more protein and less fat content than pork, beef, lamb or chicken.

Ferreting is becoming ever more popular. To the ferreter, the ferret is as vital as the hound is to the huntsman, the gun and dog to the shooter and the fishing rod to the fisherman. But ferreting is often overlooked and forgotten about; we must never get complacent about the future of ferreting.

Like all other country pursuits it is under constant scrutiny  in today’s society and we must develop and promote it appropriately and conduct it to the highest standards. The code of good ferreting practice unites these standards to make them easily available to all those who ferret and promote ferreting, showing the utmost respect for the quarry and environment.

The code requires that ferreters, those who promote ferreting and ferret for sport or their livelihoods have a duty to abide by and remind others of the provisions of the code.

The sponsoring organisations expect all ferreting in the UK to be provided and conducted to the letter and spirit of the code. Observation of the code will be a major factor in the enjoyment of ferreting as well as protecting its future. Breaches of the code may lead to the expulsion of those responsible from participating organisations

Rules to remember.

  1. Treat your ferret with respect and provide first aid and veterinary care when necessary.
  2. Ferrets are used to help control the rabbit population in an environmentally and economic manner, no action must bring this into disrepute.
  3. Do not obtain a ferret without knowing how to care for it properly.
  4. Promote ferreting in a responsible manner.
  5. Use an electronic ferret finder when appropriate and use all reasonable efforts to avoid losing ferrets.
  6. Ferreting must at all times be conducted within the law with the utmost respect for the rabbit, especially if using dogs in conjunction with the ferrets. Ensure the rabbit is despatched as quickly and humanely as possible
  7. Ensure you leave the countryside as you find it, fill in any holes dug, restore any work done to hedges etc, remembering it isn’t just you but the whole of ferreting you are representing.

Ferreting behaviour

Ferreting and those who participate will be judged by the way participants and providers behave. All those who are involved in ferreting must act as ambassadors for ferreting by complying with the code and encourage those who ferret to do the same.

Always seek to help and support those who represent and promote your sport or livelihood.

Responsible ferreting

When ferreting you must take into account the publics reaction and maintain the highest standards at all times.

Ensure that you have public liability insurance. Membership of certain sporting organisations carries such benefits as well as helping to ensure the continuation of ferreting as one of our traditional pastimes and livelihoods.

Ferreting only to be carried out with the permission of the farmer/landowner/agent and if possible have the permission in writing or a telephone contact number to produce for inspection whenever required.

The welfare of the ferret is essential; work only fit and healthy ferrets and transport in a suitable carrying box to protect the ferret.

Ferreting and the law

The laws on the following pages are designed to be of help when ferreting or looking to gain ferreting permission and can be used as an excellent bargaining point or dropped into a conversation to give the impression of professionalism. The laws not only affect what and how we hunt but also how we treat animals in general, whether it is the rabbit, dog or ferret. Remember, that whilst you are out ferreting or looking to gain new permission, it is the whole of the ferreting community you are representing and not just yourself.

Firearms legalisation: All guns used in connection with ferreting must comply with the relevant firearms law and must be held on the relevant firearm or shotgun certificates.

The Ground Game Act 1880

This gives every occupier of land a limited right to kill and take rabbits and hares concurrently with the right of any other person entitled to do so on the same land. An occupier may use any legal method to kill rabbits, such as gassing, trapping, ferreting, shooting, snaring, netting, and, with the exception of shooting, he may authorise other persons to assist him. The Ground Game Act exempts an occupier, and persons authorised by him to kill rabbits, from the need to hold a game licence. There is no close season for rabbits or prohibited time of taking with the exception of the provisions of the Ground Game Act 1880 and 1906, relating to the taking of rabbits on moorland and on unenclosed land. 

Protection of animals Act 1911

This Act protects animals from suffering any form of cruelty.

Agriculture Act 1947

Under section 98 any person having the right to do so may, by written notice, be required by the minister to take such steps as may be necessary for the killing, taking or destruction of certain animals or birds (or their eggs) for the purpose of preventing damage to crops, pasture, animal or human foodstuffs, livestock, trees, hedges, banks or any works of land. The notice may specify time limits for any action, the steps to be taken and the land on which they are to be taken.

Animals that may be specified in the notice are rabbits, hares, other rodents, deer, foxes and moles. These are powers to add other animals to add other animals to the list. The birds that may be specified are all wild birds not protected by schedule 1 or the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Under section 98(7) (added by Section 2 of the Pest Act 1954) an occupier may be required by written notice to destroy or reduce breeding places or cover (e.g. scrub) for rabbits or to prevent rabbits from spreading or doing damage elsewhere.

Under Section 99 occupiers of land may be required to take steps to prevent the escape of animals from land on which they are kept in captivity, but only if the animals are agricultural pests or animals which might damage banks or land works. Dangerous animals are not included-they are the responsibility of local authorities. 

Pest Act 1954

Rabbit Clearance Orders (under section1)

Rabbit Clearance Order no. 148 issued in 1972 made the whole of England and Wales a rabbit clearance area (excluding the city of London, the isles of Scilly and Skokholm island.)


Occupiers Responsibilities in Rabbit Clearance Area (under section 1)

All occupiers have a continuing obligation to control rabbits living on, or resorting to, their land unless they can establish that it is not reasonably practical for them to do so, when they must prevent the rabbits from doing damage, e.g. by fencing them in with rabbit-proof fencing. Local authorities have an obligation to control rabbits on their own land.


An occupier within a rabbit clearance area has unrestricted rights to kill rabbits on his land by any lawful means except by shooting. 

Spread of myxomatosis (Under Section 12)

It is illegal to use an infected rabbit to spread myxomatosis.

The Abandonment of Animals Act 1960

An Act to prohibit the abandonment of animals: and for purposes connected therewith.

The 1953 Dogs (protection of livestock) Act & 1970 Animals Act

This act requires dogs and ferrets to be kept under control.

Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 Under this act it is an offence to intentionally inflict unnecessary suffering, as specified by the Act, on any wild mammal. This legalisation may need to be considered where the destruction of occupied warrens and burrow systems is being contemplated. This Act plugs a loophole that existed in wildlife legislation, where non-captive wild animals had little or no protection. It made it an offence to mutilate, kick, beat, impale, stab, burn, crush, drown, drag or asphyxiate any wild animal with intent to cause unnecessary suffering. Exemptions allowed pest control and shooting to be carried out providing that the animal is killed swiftly. This eliminates drowning as a means of dispatching trapped animals.

The Specified Animal Pathogens Order 1998(S.I.1998/463) prohibits the introduction into an animal of the live virus causing vital haemorrhagic disease (VHD) of rabbits, except where such introduction is undertaken under the authority of a license. These prohibitions mean that the deliberate spreading of myxomatosis or VHD cannot be used as a legal method of controlling rabbits.

Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002

The following exemption means that it is legal to hunt rabbits with dogs on land where permission has been granted

  1. Meaning of expressions
    1. In this Act “wild mammal”
  • 1 (b) does not include a rabbit

The Hunting Act 2004 – Despite what many non-rabbiting people may think, the Hunting Act 2004 did not ban the use of dogs for hunting rabbits.
Part 1 (Offences) of the act states:
1 Hunting wild mammals with dogs
A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog, unless his hunting is exempt.
2 Exempt hunting
(1) Hunting is exempt if it is within a class specified in Schedule 1.
Schedule 1 (Exempt Hunting), section 4 clearly states:
The hunting of rabbits is exempt if it takes place on land—
(a) which belongs to the hunter, or
(b) which he has been given permission to use for the purpose by the occupier or, in the case of unoccupied land, by a person to whom it belongs.
You will note that there is no requirement for permission to be in writing.

S.68 CJPO Act 1994;S.5 PO Act 1986;S(1) Criminal Damages Act 1971; Breach of the peace and Common Law)

In England and Wales, where saboteurs trespass upon private land (including water, footpaths, towpaths, bridleways and byways) with the intention of disrupting, obstructing or intimidating, each saboteur commits an offence. 

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