Toggle menu

Zoo licensing guidance notes

Definition of a zoo

Zoos are regulated by the Council under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and the Council works in close partnership with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on all aspects of zoo licensing.

Zoo is defined as being:

  • an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition
  • to which members of the public have access,
  • with or without charge for admission,
  • seven or more days in any period of twelve consecutive months.

The wide scope of this definition means that licensed zoos range from:

  • traditional urban zoos
  • and safari parks

to small specialist collections such as:

  • butterfly houses
  • and aquaria.

The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 (as amended) requires the inspection and licensing of all zoos in Great Britain. The Act aims to ensure that,

  • where animals are kept in enclosures,
  • they are provided with a suitable environment to provide an opportunity to express most normal behaviour.


For new applications at least two months prior to placing an application with the authority the potential zoo operator must provide in writing their intention to make an application. A published notice must also be placed in a locally circulating newspaper as well as a national newspaper. A copy of this notice must also be placed at the site for easy viewing and with the local authority for public comment.

The Authority must consult:

  • the Police
  • Fire Authority,
  • Governing Body of any national institute concerned with zoos
  • adjoining Authority if the zoo overlaps the area of that Authority
  • any person wishing to object on grounds of alleged injurious effect on the health or safety of persons living in the area.

Once this period of time has lapsed, an application form can be submitted along with the current fee.

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 any refusal.

Periodic inspections, with Secretary of State appointed inspectors, occur as a minimum at renewal stage (ie 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 of a renewal. 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.

Renewals applications should be sent to Wiltshire Council 6 months prior to the licence expiring.

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 (opens new window).

Supplementary guidance is also available in the zoos experts committee handbook (opens new window).

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.


Please see the fees and charges to find out how much you will need to pay. You will also be recharged DEFRA appointed inspectors fees for any formal inspections that take place during the licence period and on application.

Each original licence will run for four years, consecutive renewals will run for six years.

For small zoos or for a zoo exhibiting only a small number of different kinds of animals the Secretary of State has powers to relax the requirements of the Act. The local authority can seek a direction that the Act shall not apply at all (Section 14(1)(a)) or that certain category of inspection is not required (Section 14(1)(b)).

Or, the zoo operator, on applying to the Secretary of State for a zoo licence, may be granted a dispensation (Section 14(2)) to reduce the number of inspectors to a reasonable level for a small establishment. This doesn't reduce the zoo's obligation to achieve the levels of animal welfare and public safety set out in the Secretary of State's Standards.

Where to send the form and fee

Please send the completed application form and fee to:

Wiltshire Council
Public Protection - Licensing
County Hall
Bythesea Road
BA14 8JN

Email: (opens new window)
Phone: 0300 456 0100

Share this page

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share by email