Ringing Permits - What they allow

Ringing permits issued by the BTO allow the catching of birds for ringing purposes in Britain under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, or, in Northern Ireland, the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. They also give the ringer consent to use BTO rings. In the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland a ringing permit and a separate licence to catch wild birds are required. 

Each permit lists what the individual ringer is trained to do with no direct supervision. You should ensure that all activities you do unsupervised are listed.

Landowner or manager consent

Neither the ringing permit nor the licence to catch wild birds for ringing gives any right of entry onto land or permission to ring without the landowner’s consent where this is necessary. As such, ringers should always ensure that access to land is lawful under the relevant land-access legislation.

In England, Wales, the Isle of Man, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

Ringers must ensure that they have obtained permission in every area in which they ring. In many cases there is a real problem deciding who should be approached for permission to ring: a tenant farmer, gamekeeper, estate manager or landowner may all give valid permission. However, in some circumstances where a tenant, gamekeeper or other agent who may be acting on behalf of the landowner is approached, it may be advisable to confirm any permission with the landowner, or at least to ask if this is necessary. When obtaining permission to ring, ringers are advised to:

  • Explain exactly what they want to do and why.
  • Stress that the ringing is properly licensed and the ringer(s) are appropriately trained.
  • Obtain permission for any modification of vegetation etc that they want to carry out as part of the study (including the cutting of mist-net rides).
  • Obtain permission in writing, if possible, and always send written confirmation to the landowner or agent.
  • Provide regular feedback on the progress of the study. This is good for public relations and helps promote the value of ringing.
  • Give the person granting permission a leaflet about bird ringing (available from BTO HQ).

Our general guidance for bird survey volunteers encourages all volunteers to make contact with land owners and managers as good practice whenever feasible. The Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act (2000) (England and Wales) gives the public right of access to ‘open access land’. While this Acts gives individuals the right of entry to land defined as open access land, the rules of the Ringing Scheme about obtaining permission to ring still apply. With the introduction of the CROW Act (2000) there was much discussion about the rights of ringers and other fieldworkers to access land for fieldwork without first gaining permission. Ringing Committee discussed this in 2008 having taken advice on rights of access under the new legislation. 

In summary that advice was:

  • It seems clear that surveys can be lawfully carried out on open access land (as long as they are not intensive).
  • The position on access for ringing on open access land is less obvious as there is no specific mention of it in the legislation.
  • Both pieces of legislation do mention the use of ‘equipment’ or ‘apparatus’, and it seems clear that any survey (which would include ringing) requiring apparatus being carried (England & Wales) is not covered by open access legislation. Therefore, it would appear that activity using any type of equipment to catch birds is not covered by open access legislation.
  • The position over the ringing of pulli is less clear as it is not clear whether pliers constitutue equipment/apparatus.  Thus pulli ringing may be lawfully possible under open access legislation. However, this is likely to require case law, or an amendment to the legislation, before the position is totally clear.

The members of the Ringing Committee discussed the open access legislation and decided to maintain the rules of the Ringing Scheme already in place (see above) and continue to require landowner or manager consent for ringing in England, Wales, the Isle of Man, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

BTO understands it can be difficult to obtain permission from a landowner in advance to ring over wide areas, particularly areas of low population density where it can be difficult to find out who to approach for access permission. As with all aspects of the Ringing Scheme rules, the law and guidance available on access to land is kept under review. Any changes that emerge that may require amendments to the rules and guidance are considered and put before Ringing Committee for consideration.

In Scotland

Prior to 2015, the Ringing Scheme rules stated that, as in other parts of Britain & Ireland, ringers operating in Scotland must obtain permission to ring on land, regardless of whether access was lawful under the relevant access legislation for the area (Ringers’ Manual 5.1, page 93). Following discussions at Ringing Committee on October 2015, the decision was made to change the rules regarding access to land and ringing in Scotland.

Access to land in Scotland is governed by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This act gives the public statutory access rights to most land and inland water, provided that these rights are exercised responsibly by respecting people’s privacy, safety and livelihoods, and Scotland’s environment. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) provides further guidance on what constitutes responsible behaviour in respect of the Act; however it should be noted that this is guidance and not the letter of the law. Access rights extend to individuals undertaking surveys of the natural and cultural heritage, where these surveys have a recreational or educational purpose. BTO considers that ringing activities constitute 'surveys of natural heritage' with an educational purpose. 

Access to the land on which you are ringing must always be lawful, as set out above. Ringers should familiarise themselves with the SOAC, which provides guidance on the legal right of access to land in Scotland. Ringers should note that the SOAC does make reference to ‘equipment’ and should thus consider situations in which the installation of equipment to catch birds is required and also the ringing of pulli and other situations where the installation of equipment to catch birds is not required.

The BTO advise ringers to contact the landowner/manager wherever practical and reasonable and to explain what you intend to do and why. The SOAC guidance says that this should be done if surveys are repeated or intensive.

Further details and links to guidance can be found on the Access and permission to ring in Scotland page.