The following applies to England and for the most part also to Wales and Scotland.
Rescue of the casualty
A casualty in the wild may be in a public place or may be on private property. If
it is on private land then the land owner’s permission must be sought to avoid trespassing.
Normally, a free-living wild animal does not belong to anyone until it is ‘reduced
into possession’, i.e. someone takes it into captivity. It then belongs to the person
who takes it and then becomes subject to the Protection of Animals Act 1911 (see
Emergency Care of the Casualty and Veterinary Law
Any person can give emergency first aid to an animal for the purpose of saving life
and to relieve suffering. The owner of the animal may give minor medical treatment.
Otherwise, veterinary surgery must be carried out by a registered veterinary surgeon
(MRCVS), or, in some respects, by a registered veterinary nurse (VN)
Only veterinary surgeons registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
(MRCVS) have the right to practise veterinary surgery (i.e. diagnosis, treatment
and surgery and advice based thereon) in respect to mammals, birds and reptiles.
Anyone may give first aid in an emergency to save life or alleviate suffering. This
term has not been legally defined but most use it to mean the provision of care until
a veterinary surgeon can attend the animal.
Welfare in Captivity
Under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 the following apply:
It is an offence to treat any domestic or captive species of animal cruelly or to
cause it unnecessary suffering. This could mean failure to provide necessary food
and water and veterinary attention.
Killing an animal is not an offence under this act provided it is carried out humanely
These provisions do not apply to free-living wildlife but once any vertebrate is
brought into captivity it becomes subject to these Acts.
For free living mammals the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 applies. This states
that it is an offence to mutilate, kick, beat, nail or otherwise impale, stab, burn,
stone, crush, drown, drag or asphyxiate any wild mammal with intent to inflict unnecessary
suffering. Under this Act it is not an offence to kill animal on humane grounds
to end suffering so as long as it is carried out swiftly and humanely.
BSAVA Manual of Wildlife Emergencies. Ed. Mullineaux, Best and Cooper. Chapter
5 The law affecting British wildlife casualties. M.E. Cooper. 2003 (42-48)