The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) protects many species of invertebrates. For some, it is illegal to sell them; others are protected against killing, injuring or taking; for some, their places of shelter are also protected

Invertebrates are animals without backbones. The term includes insects (such as butterflies, moths and beetles), spiders, crustaceans (including woodlice and crabs), molluscs (such as snails and mussels), worms and microscopic animals.

There are over 25,000 species in Wales. Many are attractive and fascinating, and they play vitally important roles as pollinators, recyclers, pest controllers and components of the food chain.

This page cannot cover all aspects of the law or invertebrate ecology, but is an introduction to show how you can help to protect these species.

UK legislation

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), known as ‘the Act’, lists around 70 invertebrate species on Schedule 5. There are various levels of protection. Offences include combinations of the following, according to the rarity of the species:

  • Sale, or offering / exposing for sale
  • Possession
  • Intentional taking, killing or injuring
  • Intentionally / recklessly damaging or destroying its place of shelter / protection
  • Intentionally / recklessly disturbing it whilst occupying its place of shelter / protection
  • Intentionally / recklessly obstructing access to its place of shelter / protection

Species with full protection under the Act include the marsh fritillary butterfly, southern damselfly, mole cricket, fairy shrimp, medicinal leech and freshwater pearl mussel, amongst many others.

For a summary of invertebrate legal protection, see ‘Legally protected invertebrates with status in Wales’. 

NRW issues licences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act to allow certain activities to proceed, which would otherwise be offences. For further information, see ‘Invertebrate licensing’.

For information on crayfish, see ‘Ecology of White-clawed Crayfish’.