Butterflies and the Law

This section of the website is aimed at providing a layman's introduction to the legal protection offered to butterflies in the UK. Of course, many enthusiasts also respect these wonderful creatures beyond the protection offered to them by law. For more information on wildlife (in general) and the law, there is an excellent overview on the Buglife website. Butterflies are protected by a number of acts. The most significant of these is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

This act is divided into a number of "schedules" and Schedule 5 lists animals (other than birds) that qualify for protection. Schedule 5 is revised every five years. The butterflies in Schedule 5, and their level of protection, is given below. As far as butterflies are concerned, this act applies to wild, rather than captive-bred, individuals.

Fully-protected Species

The table below lists those species that have full protection.

Butterfly Year Scheduled
Heath Fritillary1992
High Brown Fritillary1992
Large Blue2007
Large Copper1992
Marsh Fritillary1998

"Full protection" is defined as all of the following parts of the act.

Section Part Description
91Intentional killing, injuring, taking.
92Possession or control (live or dead animal, part or derivative).
94(a)Damage to or destruction of any structure or place used by a scheduled animal for shelter or protection.
94(b)Disturbance of any animal occupying such a structure or place.
94(c)Obstructed access to any such structure or place.
95(a)Selling, offering for sale, possessing or transporting for the purpose of sale (live or dead animal, part or derivative).
95(b)Advertising for buying or selling live or dead animal, part or derivative.

Partially-protected Species

The table below lists those species that have partial protection; they are protected by Section 9, Parts 5(a) and 5(b) and, as such, are characterised as being protected for "Sale only".

Butterfly Year Scheduled
Adonis Blue 1989
Black Hairstreak 1989
Brown Hairstreak 1989
Chalkhill Blue 1989
Chequered Skipper 1989
Duke of Burgundy 1989
Glanville Fritillary 1989
Large Heath 1989
Large Tortoiseshell 1989
Lulworth Skipper 1989
Mountain Ringlet 1989
Northern Brown Argus 1989
Pearl-Bordered Fritillary 1989
Purple Emperor 1989
Silver-Spotted Skipper 1989
Silver-Studded Blue 1989
Small Blue 1989
White-Letter Hairstreak 1989
Wood White 1989


There are certain exemptions to the to the act which are relevant when:

The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985

The Wildlife and Countryside Act doesn't apply in Northern Ireland. However, protection is afforded by the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. With regard to the protection of species, this is very similar to the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The butterflies receiving full protection through this act are shown below:

Butterfly Year Scheduled
Brimstone 1985
Dingy Skipper 1985
Holly Blue 1985
Large Heath 1985
Marsh Fritillary 1985
Purple Hairsteak 1985
Small Blue 1985

International Protection

There are 2 international statutes that apply to species in the UK. These are:

These statutes apply to the following species:

Butterfly CNH CEC
Large BlueYesYes
Large CopperYesYes
Marsh FritillaryYesYes