Zoos are regulated by the Council under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.
We work in close partnership with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (external link) on all aspects of zoo licensing.
The licensing of zoos is a specialist field and the regulations are complex. If you are thinking of setting up a zoo, it is recommended that you contact a specialist officer first for advice and guidance on the details above.
You must have a zoo licence (external link) to run a zoo if your zoo is open to the public on seven or more days in a 12-month period.
A zoo is any establishment where wild animals are exhibited to the public, apart from circuses and pet shops.
Wild animals are any animals that aren’t normally domesticated in Great Britain, for example camels or ostriches.
We cannot consider an application unless at least two months' notice of the application has been given, plus publication of details in a local and national newspaper, and a notice placed at the site.
We must consult the police, fire authority, governing body of any national institute concerned with zoos, any adjoining authority if the zoo overlaps the area of that authority and any person wishing to object on grounds of alleged injurious effect on the health or safety of people living in the area.
We must arrange an inspection by a consultant inspector from the list of suitable inspectors nominated by the Secretary of State.
To run a zoo in England, Scotland and Wales, you need a licence from the Council. The licence may be subject to fees, and conditions to ensure the proper conduct of the zoo. There is an application fee which must be paid at the time an application is made. Current fees. (PDF 35KB)
At least two months before making an application for a licence, the applicant must give notice in writing (including by electronic means) to the Council 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 Council is available to be inspected at the Council's offices.
Regulation summary and guidance
Application evaluation process
When considering an application the Council 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
Before granting or refusing to grant the licence, the Council 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 Council.
The Council 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.
Offences and penalties
You could get a fine of up to £2,500 if you run a zoo without a licence or don’t follow the conditions of your licence.
An application may also be refused if:-
- the Council is 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 Council, may direct them to attach one or more conditions to a licence.
The Council 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.
Will tacit consent apply?
No. It is in the public interest that we must process your application before it can be granted. If you have not heard from us within a reasonable period, please contact us.
Send notification of your intention to operate a zoo. Apply via the gov.uk site (external link)
Apply for a licence to operate a zoo. Apply via the gov.uk site (external link)
Apply to renew a zoo Licence. Apply via the gov.uk site (external link)
Please note that refunds of licence fees are not normally given. Only in exceptional circumstances, as deemed by the licensing manager, will a refund be considered. Any refunds given may be subject to an administration charge.
Failed application redress
Please contact Environmental Health on 01782 717717 in the first instance. If the applicant is refused a licence, they may appeal to a magistrates' court or in Scotland to the sheriff within 28 days from the date on which the applicant receives written notification of the refusal.
Licence holder redress
Please contact Environmental Health on 01782 717717 in the first instance. A licence holder may appeal to a magistrates' court or, in Scotland, to the Sheriff 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 Council'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, Citizen's Advice (external link) will give you advice. From outside the UK contact the UK European Consumer Centre(external link).
Any person who wishes to appeal against a decision to close a zoo may apply to the local magistrates' court or, in Scotland, to the sheriff. Appeals must be made within 28 days of the notice of the council's decision.
When a complaint about a licensed site is received:-
- Where appropriate we will investigate the complaint
- We may re-inspect the premises
- If the complaint is better investigated by another agency – such as Trading Standards, we will advise you further.
Fairness and confidentiality
We investigate complaints as an independent body. Both parties are our clients and we have a duty to treat both fairly, respecting privacy and, where appropriate, confidentiality. We will not advise you of the discussions we have had with other parties.
The information that you provide will be used and stored in accordance with General Data protection Regulations (GDPR). Follow this link for more information Should enforcement action be taken your details will be made available to the court.
Last updated 3 October 2019