Natural England - Game birds

Game birds

Advice, licensing and legislation relating to game birds.

Grey partridge
Grey partridge (male) Perdix perdix © www.flickrexternal link

Legal definition

Game birds are defined under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) as any pheasant, partridge, grouse (moor game), black (heath) game or ptarmigan. 

Close seasons

Game birds can only be killed or taken at certain times of year.

The periods during which they may not be killed or taken (the so-called close seasons) were established in England and Wales by the Game Act 1831. This made it an offence to kill or take game birds between the following dates:

Game bird
(common name if different from that cited in legislation)
Close seasons
(dates between)
Black game (black grouse)10 December - 20 August
(10 December - 1 September for Somerset, Devon and New Forest)
Grouse (red grouse and ptarmigan)10 December - 12 August
Partridges (grey partridge and red-legged partridge)1 February - 1 September
Pheasants1 February - 1 October

It is also an offence to take or kill game on Sundays and Christmas Day (in England and Wales).

The following species are normally considered to be game birds, but were not included in the nineteenth century game legislation. Close seasons for these species are set by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), and in England and Wales are:

Game birdClose seasons
(dates inclusive)
Capercaillie*1 February - 30 September
Snipe, Common1 February - 11 August
Woodcock**1 February - 30 September

Please note the following:

  • *Capercaillie are now fully protected in Scotland;
  • **The close season for woodcock is different in Scotland (1 Feb to 31 Aug);
  • The two Acts of Parliament define the period of the close seasons differently (i.e. "dates between" or "dates inclusive").

Shooting birds in the close season

It is illegal to shoot game birds during their close seasons.

Licences cannot be issued under either the Game Acts or the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) to kill or take game birds during the close season. However, in exceptional circumstances, where the birds are causing serious damage, a notice may be issued under Section 98 of the Agriculture Act 1947. For advice on how to proceed in these cases please contact us.

Advice and leaflets

Advice leafletSummaryAudience
Catching and releasing wild gamebirds: a legal summary - TIN 104external linkOutlines the key legal considerations that are relevant to the practice of catching and releasing game birds as part of game bird management in England.Gamekeepers, landowners
Game birds: managing the bird-strike risk at airports and airfields in England - TIN 105external linkThis guidance highlights the key legislation relevant to managing bird-strike risks.Pest controllers, airfield managers

Licences and how to apply

Licences cannot be issued under either the Game Acts or the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) to kill or take game birds during the close season. However, in exceptional circumstances, where the birds are causing serious damage, a notice may be issued under Section 98 of the Agriculture Act 1947. For advice on how to proceed in these cases please contact us.

Enforcement and inspection

Please see our main enforcement and inspection page for more information.

Contact us

Please contact Customer Services Wildlife Licensing for further information and guidance.