To run a zoo in England, Scotland and Wales, you need a licence from the local authority, who regulate them under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. Find out more details about the role of the local authority here(pdf, 51KB).
The act defines a Zoo as:
"an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public otherwise than for the purposes of a circus and otherwise than as a pet shop; and this Act applies to any zoo to which members of the public have access, with or without charge for admission, on more than seven days in any period of 12 consecutive months".
The licence will be subject to fees and conditions to ensure the proper conduct of the zoo.
The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 specifies conservation measures that must be undertaken by the zoo. The licence will contain appropriate conditions with regard to these measures and the Secretary of State issues model conditions for zoo licences. The local authority also has discretion to attach any condition(s) deemed necessary or desirable for the proper conduct of the zoo. The Secretary of State issues guidance of standards of practice that zoos should meet which apply in England. Copies of the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice are available from DEFRA or download at Standards of Modern Zoo Practice
At least two months before making an application for a licence, the applicant must give notice in writing (including by electronic means) to the local authority of their intention to make the application. The notice must identify:
- The zoo's location
- The types of animals and approximate number of each group kept for exhibition on the premises and the arrangements for their accommodation, maintenance and wellbeing
- The approximate numbers and categories of staff to be employed in the zoo
- The approximate number of visitors and motor vehicles for which accommodation is to be provided
- The approximate number and position of access to be provided to the premises
- How required conservation measures will be implemented at the zoo
At least two months before making the application, the applicant must also publish notice of that intention in one local newspaper and one national newspaper and exhibit a copy of that notice. The notice must identify the location of the zoo and state that the application notice to the local authority is available to be inspected at the local authority offices.
Application evaluation process
When considering an application the local authority shall take into account any representations made by or on behalf of:
- The applicant
- The chief officer of police (or in Scotland the chief constable) in the relevant area
- The appropriate authority - this is either the enforcing authority or relevant authority in whose area the zoo will be situated
- The governing body of any national institution concerned with the operation of zoos
- Where part of the zoo is not situated in the area of the local authority with power to grant the licence, a planning authority for the relevant area (other than a county planning authority) or, if the part is situated in Wales, the local planning authority for the area in which it is situated
- Any person alleging that the zoo would affect the health or safety of people living in the neighbourhood
- Anyone stating that the zoo would affect the health or safety of anyone living near it
- Any other person whose representations might show grounds on which the authority has a power or duty to refuse to grant a licence
An inspection is carried out by a Secretary of State appointed inspector who will produce a report of his findings. Based on the report and other considerations the local authority will grant or refuse to grant a licence. The operator will receive a written statement of the grounds for refusal.
An annual stock list must be provided along with any updated escape precaution procedures.
Before granting or refusing to grant the licence, the local authority shall consider any inspectors' reports based on their inspection of the zoo, consult the applicant about any conditions they propose should be attached to the licence and make arrangements for an inspection to be carried out. At least 28 days notice of the inspection shall be provided by the local authority.
The local authority will not grant the licence if they feel that the zoo would adversely affect the health or safety of people living in near it, or seriously affect the preservation of law and order or if they are not satisfied that appropriate conservation measures would be satisfactorily implemented.
An application may also be refused if:
- The local authority are not satisfied that accommodation, staffing or management standards are suitable for the proper care and wellbeing of the animals or for the proper conduct of the zoo
- The applicant, or if the applicant is an incorporated company, the company or any of the company's directors, managers, secretaries or other similar officers, or a keeper in the zoo, has been convicted of any offence involving the ill-treatment of animals
Applications to renew a licence will be considered no later than six months before the expiry of the existing licence, unless a shorter time period is allowed by the local authority.
The Secretary of State, after consulting the local authority, may direct them to attach one or more conditions to a licence.
The local authority may advise the Secretary of State that, because of the small number of animals kept in the zoo or the small number of the kinds of animal kept there, a direction should be made that a licence is not required.
An applicant for a licence will need to consider whether planning permission is required for the proposed licensed activity. They should contact the planning department to discuss whether permission will be needed. The local authority may refuse or defer a decision on an application for a licence until the planning issue has been decided.
Each original licence will run for four years, consecutive renewals will run for six years. Failure or late application for renewal may invalidate any public liability insurance for the premises.
Changes to an existing licence
If you hold a current zoo licence and need to make some changes for example to the types of animals you exhibit, please Contact the Licensing Team. There may be a fee for changing a licence but this will vary depending on the extent of the change.
Periodic inspections, with Secretary of State appointed inspectors, occur as a minimum at renewal stage (i.e. within the six months leading to the expiry date) and in the first year of the original licence and in the third year of the six-year period. The local authority can request a special inspection by an appointed competent person where concerns have arisen. In any calendar year where no other inspection has taken place, an informal inspection is carried out by an appointed person from the local authority
Power of entry
Local authority officers, authorised in writing for this purpose and accompanied by the appointed veterinary surgeon may inspect zoo premises having given 28 days notice in writing.
There is currently no power of entry to unlicensed premises.
Disqualifications and cancellations
Before granting or refusing to grant a licence for a zoo, the authority shall:
(a) consider inspectors' reports made in pursuance of inspections of the zoo under this Act, or
(b) if no inspection of the zoo has been made under this Act, consult such persons on the list as the Secretary of State nominates for the purposes of this section.
The local authority will refuse to grant a licence for a zoo if they are satisfied that the establishment or continuance of the zoo would injuriously affect the health or safety of persons living in the neighbourhood of the zoo, or seriously affect the preservation of law and order.
The local authority may refuse to grant a licence for a zoo if they are not satisfied that the standards of accommodation, staffing or management are adequate for the proper care and wellbeing of the animals or any of them or otherwise for the proper conduct of the zoo.
They may also refuse to grant a licence if:
(a) the applicant, or
(b) (where the applicant is a body corporate) the body or any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body, or
(c) any person employed as a keeper in the zoo,
has been convicted of an offence under this Act or under any of the enactments mentioned in subsection (5) or of any other offence involving the ill-treatment of animals.
The enactments are
- The Protection of Animals Acts 1911 to 1964;
- The Protection of Animals (Scotland) Acts 1912 to 1964;
- The Pet Animals Act 1951;
- The Protection of Birds Acts 1954 to 1967;
- The Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963;
- The Riding Establishments Act 1964 and 1970;
- The Breeding of Dogs Act 1973;
- The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976;
- The Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976
- The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
- It is unlawful to operate without a zoo licence.
- It is an offence not to comply, without reasonable excuse the conditions attached to the licence.
- It is an offence to intentionally obstruct an inspector.
- Circus - a place where animals are kept or introduced wholly or mainly for the purpose of performing tricks or manoeuvres at that place.
- Wild Animals - animals not normally domesticated in Great Britain
- Pet Shops - see Pet Shops
Will tacit consent apply?
No. It is in the public interest that the authority must process your application before it can be granted. If you have not heard from the local authority within a reasonable period, please contact us at email@example.com
Make an application or renew a licence
Before applying you must give notice of intention to open a Zoo (see Eligibility Criteria )
Apply by post
Please download the notice of intention form(pdf, 53KB) first, and send it to the Licensing Team.
You will be contacted and forwarded an application form in due course.
You also need to publish this notice in the press and on your site. Here is the suggested format for the notice(pdf, 14KB).
Failed application redress
Please contact your Local Authority in the first instance.
If the applicant is refused a licence, they may appeal to a magistrates' court within 28 days from the date on which the applicant receives written notification of the refusal.
Licence holder redress
Please contact your Local Authority in the first instance.
A licence holder may appeal to a Magistrates' court against:
- Any condition attached to a licence or any variation or cancellation of a condition
- The refusal to approve the transfer of a licence
- A zoo closure direction
- Enforcement steps relating to any unmet condition
The appeal must be brought within 28 days from the date on which the licence holder receives written notification of the authority's decision as to the relevant matter.
We would always advise that in the event of a complaint the first contact is made with the trader by you - preferably in the form a letter (with proof of delivery). If that has not worked, if you are located in the UK, Citizens Advice will give you advice. From outside the UK contact the UK European Consumer Centre.
Any person who wishes to appeal against a decision to close a zoo may apply to the local Magistrates' court. Appeals must be made within 28 days of the notice of the local authority decision.
Please contact the Licensing Team.
Contact the Licensing Team
If you have any questions or comments please contact the Licensing Team:
Licensing & Trading Standards Team Leader (Licensing Lead)
Richmond Council Licensing c/o
Regulatory Services Partnership
Merton Civic Centre
100 London Road
Up to: Licences and street trading
Updated: 29 September 2023