Wildlife licensing reforms

The way we regulate wildlife management activities in NSW is changing.

The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) establishes a new approach for regulating human interactions with native animals and plants.

The BC Act commenced on 25 August 2017 as part of a package of land management and biodiversity conservation reforms.

About wildlife licensing and what is changing

While, some changes to wildlife regulation occurred when the BC Act commenced on 25 August 2017, existing wildlife licence classes, conditions and fees remain in place.

A public consultation about proposed changes to wildlife licensing took place from 12 June to 24 July 2018. Copies of submissions made to the consultation are available.

Feedback received will be considered in finalising changes to wildlife licensing with approved changes to be progressively implemented from late 2018.

Check this page regularly for updates.

The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) commenced on 25 August 2017 and replaces:

  • the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995
  • parts of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 relating to private land conservation and native animal and plant management.

The new Act establishes a new legal framework for:

  • protection of animals and plants (Part 2)
  • areas of outstanding biodiversity value (Part 3)
  • threatened species and threatened ecological communities (Part 4).

The BC Act:

  • strengthens protections for native animals and plants
  • significantly increases penalties for non-compliance
  • increases transparency by establishing public registers of wildlife licences.

Under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) it is an offence to:

  • harm, capture or kill protected animals
  • pick protected plants
  • damage threatened ecological communities and habitats of threatened species
  • liberate an animal to the wild.

These offences do not apply to activities that are:

  • authorised under other legislation
  • authorised under a biodiversity conservation licence
  • undertaken in accordance with an approved BC Act code of practice
  • exempted from wildlife offences under the BC Act regulations.

Under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act), OEH administers over 30 classes of 'biodiversity conservation licence' to regulate interactions between humans and native animals and plants.

Wildlife licence classes established under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and the Threatened Species Act 1995 were retained when the BC Act commenced on 25 August 2017.

Wildlife licence classes cover a diverse range of activities including:

  • activities that impact threatened species and threatened ecological communities
  • harvesting and trade in native animals and plants
  • harming native animals that pose threats to safety and property
  • keeping and dealing in native animals as pets and taxidermy
  • scientific, conservation and educational activities involving native animals and plants.

All wildlife licence classes are being reviewed to implement the risk-based approach to regulating human-wildlife activities under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

The review will also consider options to streamline licence administration and enable us to concentrate enforcement efforts on higher risk activities.

A public consultation about the proposed changes took place from 12 June to 24 July 2018.

To further reduce the administrative burden, the NSW Government has provided funding to develop a new licensing management system that will enable online lodgement for all licence applications and data returns.

The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 provides that:

  • lower risk activities may be exempted from specified wildlife offences
  • moderate-risk activities will be regulated by enforceable codes of practice
  • higher risk activities will remain subject to licensing
  • activities not permitted under exemptions, codes or licences will remain prohibited.

To avoid committing an offence, any wildlife activity that is not exempt or covered by a code of practice requires a biodiversity conservation licence of the relevant licence class, unless a defence applies.

Some activities continue to be prohibited and are not allowed under an exemption, code or licence, for example, harming koalas.

The risk-based approach was recommended by the Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel. A risk-based approach is intended to have significant benefits including:

  • reducing administration and compliance costs for lower risk human-wildlife interactions, for both OEH and its customers
  • enabling OEH to concentrate enforcement efforts and better regulate higher risk activities.

A public consultation about the implementing the risk-based approach took place from 12 June to 24 July 2018.

The following risks have been considered in applying a risk-based approach to regulating wildlife activities:

  • risks to biodiversity including risks from:
    • harming animals or taking plants from the wild
    • releasing captive animals to the wild
    • damage to habitats and threatened ecological communities
  • risks to health, safety and property
  • risks to animal welfare.

A public consultation about the implementing the risk-based approach took place from 12 June to 24 July 2018.

Under the risk-based approach to wildlife activities, high-risk activities will be licensed to manage harm to wildlife populations, animal welfare and human health and safety.

Examples of high-risk wildlife activities include harming native animals, pet shops selling native wildlife, trading in protected native plants, keeping higher risk reptiles (such as venomous snakes) and activities that will significantly affect threatened species.

There will be requirements to keep records for high-risk activities to support monitoring programs.

A public consultation about the implementing the risk-based approach took place from 12 June to 24 July 2018.

Under the risk-based approach to wildlife activities, moderate-risk activities will not need a licence and may be carried out in line with an enforceable code of practice. There may be record keeping requirements in a code of practice.

It is proposed to adopt codes of practice to regulate the keeping of lower risk species of native bird, frog and reptile, that is, those species that are relatively easy to keep and are available from captive-bred sources.

Until the risk-based approach to wildlife licensing is implemented, all wildlife activities that currently require a licence remain in place.

A public consultation about the implementing the risk-based approach took place from 12 June to 24 July 2018.

Copies of the draft codes of practice for the keeping of native birds, frogs and reptiles that were released for the public consultation can be downloaded along with the draft revised Animal Keepers Species List.

Under the risk-based approach to wildlife activities, lower risk activities may be exempted from wildlife offences under the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017.

The Regulation has retained existing exemptions for mitigating damage to crops by native birds, and for keeping and dealing in 41 species of captively-bred native birds, e.g. various parrot species and budgerigars.

We are currently seeking your feedback on the risk-based approach to regulating wildlife activities.

Stakeholders are encouraged to nominate other low-risk activities that may be suitable for an exemption.

A public consultation about the implementing the risk-based approach took place from 12 June to 24 July 2018.

A biodiversity conservation licence granted under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 is required to keep native animals. Species that may be kept under a keeper licence are listed in the NSW Native Animal Keepers' Species List.

Currently, the species list includes nearly 600 species, including 80 amphibian species, 192 bird species, 273 reptile species and two species of mammal. Forty-one common, captively-bred native bird species are exempt from the requirement to hold an animal keeper licence.

To implement a risk-based approach to regulating native animal keeping, it is proposed that:

  • the keeping of a limited number of lower risk native bird, frog and reptile species be regulated by under a code of practice
  • licensing be retained for other species that currently require a licence, including threatened species considered to be at risk of illegal take from the wild
  • record books for most species be replaced with a simplified annual return.

A public consultation about the implementing a risk-based approach took place from 12 June to 24 July 2018.

Copies of the draft codes of practice for the keeping of lower risk native birds, frogs and reptiles that were released for the public consultation can be downloaded along with the draft revised Animal Keepers Species List.

A biodiversity conservation licence granted under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 is required to buy, sell or trade live native animals on a commercial basis.

Only pet shops are eligible for a dealer licence and they may only deal in 15 reptile species and 47 bird species, as well as the 41 bird species that may be kept and traded without a licence.

While animal keeper licence conditions allow dealing between licensed keepers, conducting dealing as a business is only permitted under dealer licences. It is proposed to review licensing arrangements for dealing in native animals, to address concerns about the increase in dealing by online and home-based businesses.

To implement a risk-based approach to regulating native animal dealing, it is proposed that:

  • current licensing requirements for pet shops will be retained but the list of species they may sell will be expanded to include all native bird and reptile species that may be kept under a code of practice or Class 1 licence, a small number of native frog species, and the two species of mammals that may be kept in New South Wales
  • a new licence class for online and home-based businesses dealing in native animal pets will be introduced
  • keepers will continue to be able to buy, sell and trade native animals where it is incidental to their hobby and not undertaken as a business.

A public consultation about the implementing a risk-based approach took place from 12 June to 24 July 2018.

A scientific licence is a class of biodiversity conservation licence granted under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 for the purposes of research, conservation or education and can include activities such as ecological survey, academic research involving native plants and animals, bush regeneration activities impacting threatened species or keeping a native animal in a school.

To implement a risk-based approach, most activities licensable under a scientific licence are proposed to be retained, including research, translocations and ecological surveying.

A code of practice may be implemented for certain activities such as bush regeneration and seed collection (except for threatened species). Exemptions are being considered for activities such as for individual bird and bat banding licences and holding animals in schools (with a corresponding approval from the Schools Animal Care and Ethics Committee).

A public consultation about the implementing a risk-based approach took place from 12 June to 24 July 2018.

Existing wildlife licences previously granted under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 or National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 remain valid until they expire or are due for renewal. Licence renewals or new licences are granted under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

If changes to existing licence classes are implemented following public consultation on the risk-based approach to wildlife licensing, the Office of Environment and Heritage will notify relevant holders of existing licences beforehand if they:

  • are exempt from holding a licence and no longer need a licence
  • no longer need a licence but must comply with an enforceable code of practice.

New wildlife licences or renewals of existing licences are granted under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act).

Applicants will be granted a biodiversity conservation licence of the relevant wildlife licence class with appropriate licence conditions.

If changes to existing wildlife licence classes are implemented following public consultation on the new risk-based approach to wildlife licensing, the Office of Environment and Heritage will notify relevant applicants beforehand if they:

  • no longer need to apply for a licence
  • will not be granted a licence but must comply with an enforceable code of practice.

Existing fees for wildlife licences remain in place following commencement of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 on 25 August 2017. This includes existing fee discounts for pensioner animal keeper licences and no fees for licences to harm native animals where there are risks to property and safety.

Following commencement of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) on 25 August 2017, there are increased penalties for not complying with the rules related to interactions with native animals and plants.

The BC Act includes a range of offences, such as:

  • harming threatened and protected animals
  • picking threatened and protected plants
  • dealing in threatened and protected animals and plants, for example, buying or selling, trading, or importing into or exporting from NSW
  • damaging habitat of a threatened species or ecological community
  • breaching a licence condition
  • providing false or misleading information in matters relating to the BC Act; for example, licence applications.

Tiered penalties

There are substantial maximum penalties for offences under the BC Act.

The BC Act provides for tiered offences. The tiers reflect the degree of risk to native animals and corresponding penalty amounts/jail terms. Conduct by individuals and corporations is also differentiated.

Species type Maximum penalties for individuals* Maximum penalties for corporations*
Threatened species (other than vulnerable species) $330,000 plus $33,000 per animal and/or 2 years jail $1.65 million plus $165,000 per animal and/or 2 years jail
Vulnerable species $88,000 plus $8,800 per animal $440,000 plus $44,000 per animal
Protected species $22,000 plus $2,200 per animal $110,000 plus $11,000 per animal

* Additional penalty per animal does not apply to breach of licence conditions

Penalty notice offences

Offences under the BC Act can also be dealt with by way of a penalty notice.

For example, the penalty notice amount for damaging the habitat of a threatened species or ecological community is:

  • $3300 for individuals
  • $16,500 for corporations.

Public registers of biodiversity conservation licences granted under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) to regulate interactions between humans and native wildlife are available on the OEH website.

The public registers provide information about licences administered since 25 August 2017, following commencement of the BC Act, and include licences that have been granted, renewed, suspended, cancelled or surrendered since that time.

The public registers will not include personal information about licensees and, where appropriate, information about the location of animals and plants are not published.

The public registers include:

A new online licensing system known as the Wildlife Management System is scheduled to be progressively implemented from late 2018.

The new licensing system will accept online applications for all types of wildlife licences. The option of using paper forms, however, will still be available.

A discussion paper about proposed changes to wildlife licences was released for public consultation from 12 June to 24 July 2018 along with draft codes of practice for animal keeping and a draft revised Animal Keepers Species List.

Copies of submissions made to the consultation are available.

Feedback received during the consultation will be considered in finalising changes to wildlife licensing with approved changes to be progressively implemented from the second half of 2018, in conjunction with the roll-out of the new online licensing system.