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:
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.
When considering an application the local authority shall take into account any representations made by or on behalf of:
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:
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 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.
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
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.
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
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 it. You can do this online if you applied through the UK Welcomes service or contact the Licensing Team.
Before applying you must give notice of intention to open a Zoo (see Eligibility Criteria )
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).
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.
Please contact your Local Authority in the first instance.
A licence holder may appeal to a Magistrates' court against:
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.
Updated: 22 July 2019