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Animal Licensing Toolkit

Do I need to gain a licence from North Devon Council?

The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 defines a "zoo" as an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public other than for purposes of a circus and other than in a pet shop (separate licences are required). This act applies to any zoo to which members of the public have access, with or without a charge for admission, on more than seven days in any period of 12 consecutive months.

If you intend to operate an establishment in the North Devon area that falls within the above criteria, it will be necessary for you to gain a licence.

How to apply

The licensing of zoos is a specialist field and the regulations are complex. We work in close partnership with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Details on the legislation and the Secretary of State's Standards of Modern Zoo Practice can be found on the DEFRA websiteexternal website under the Wildlife and Pets homepage.

If you are thinking of setting up a zoo, it is recommended that you contact us first for advice and guidance. The local authority 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. Once this period of time has lapsed, an application form can be submitted along with the current fee.

Before North Devon Council can grant a licence for a zoo in its area it must be satisfied that:

  • the establishment will not injuriously affect the health and safety of persons living in the neighbourhood
  • the establishment will not affect the preservation of law and order
  • the accommodation, staffing and management are adequate for the proper care and well-being of the animals.

North Devon Council will consult the following in relation to the application for a licence:
  • Police
  • Fire Authority
  • Governing body of any national institute concerned with the operation of zoos
  • Planning Authority
  • Council's Health & Safety Team

The authority will arrange an inspection by a consultant inspector from the list of suitable inspectors nominated by the Secretary of State. The inspector will produce a report of his findings and based on the report and other considerations the local authority will grant or refuse to grant a licence. This process may involve determination by the Council’s Licensing Committee. If a licence is refused the operator will receive a written statement of the grounds for refusal.

The applicant

North Devon Council may refuse to grant a licence if the applicant, or where the applicant is a body corporate, the body or any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body, or any person employed as a keeper in the zoo, has been convicted of an offence under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 or under any of the following for any other offence involving the ill-treatment of animals:
  • the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 to 1964;
  • the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Acts 1912 to 1964;
  • the Pet Animals Act 1951;
  • 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;
  • part I of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Planning requirements

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 on 01271 388288 to discuss whether permission will be needed.


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. A copy of the licence must be displayed at every public entrance of the establishment.

Changes to the licence, for example name changes, and ownership changes can be undertaken at the request of the operator. In addition a licence can be transferred to another person with the approval of the North Devon Council. There is an application form for the Transfer of a licence, which must be submitted with the relevant fee (see below for application form and details of fee).

On the death of the holder of a licence, the personal representatives of the deceased are deemed to be the holders during a three month period following the death, or longer with our approval.

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)).

Alternatively, 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 will not reduce the zoo’s obligation to achieve the levels of animal welfare and public safety set out in the Secretary of State’s Standards.

What conditions will be attached to a licence?

The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 specifies various conservation measures etc that must be undertaken by a zoo and these will be attached as conditions Word (22kb logo - Word Document Logo) PDF (26kb PDF logo) to a zoo licence.

North Devon Council 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 DEFRAexternal website.

Inspection types

Periodic inspections

Periodic inspections undertaken by Secretary of State appointed inspectors will take place at the following intervals:

  • in the case of an original licence an inspection will be carried out in the first year and no later than six months before the end of the fourth year;
  • in case of a renewal inspection in the third year and no later than six months before the end of the sixth year.

Not more than three inspectors appointed by North Devon Council will to visit the premises, and at least one of these will be a qualified veterinary surgeon or practitioner and up to two may be nominated from the Secretary of State approved list, only one is necessary if they fulfil both of the requirements above.

North Devon Council will give the applicant at least 28 days notice of their intention to inspect the premises and will inform the operator of the names of the inspectors. The operator can in turn appeal against all or any of them.

The zoo operator may allow three representatives to accompany the inspection team. The inspection team will submit a report to North Devon Council who will in turn send a copy to the operator within a month of its receipt.

Special inspections

North Devon Council has the right to make special inspections in any circumstances which in their opinion call for investigation. The zoo operator must be given notice of the purpose and scope of the inspection and if the investigation involves animal inspection, at least one inspector will be a qualified vet with experience of zoos and zoo animals.

Informal inspections

In any calendar year where no other inspection has taken place, an informal inspection will be carried out by an appointed person from North Devon Council.

Renewing a licence

North Devon Council will give a licence holder at least nine months notice of the expiry date of the licence.

The application to renew the licence should be made at least six months before the expiry of the existing licence.

Records required to be kept

The records required to be kept by a zoo will be largely dependent on the conditions imposed on a particular operator, however typical requirements include providing North Devon Council with a copy of a zoos public liability insurance, annual stock list, intention of providing hazardous animals.

Offences and penalties

The following offences and penalties are created under Section 19 of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981:
  • operating a zoo without a licence in contravention of the Act;
  • failing without reasonable excuse to comply with any conditions of a licence;
  • intentionally obstructing an inspector in the course of an inspection;
  • intentionally obstructing someone who is authorised in accordance with Section 16G to enter the premises of a permanently closed zoos or a dwelling within the zoo grounds;
  • failing without reasonable excuse with a direction issued under section 16A(2)(d) to close a zoo or part of it to the public for a period not exceeding two years;
  • failing without reasonable excuse to comply with a zoo closure direction;
  • failing without reasonable excuse to supply information requested by the local authority about the care or disposal of zoo animals in the event of a zoo closure;
  • failing without reasonable excuse and without the agreement of the authority, to dispose of any animal kept at a permanently closed zoo before the plan in section 16E(2) has been approved by the authority, or other than in accordance with the agreed plan;
  • failing without reasonable excuse to comply with a direction issued under section 16E(6) (direction about the welfare or disposal of animals kept in a permanently closed zoo);
  • failing without reasonable excuse to display the zoo licence or a copy at each entrance of the zoo.

Under Section 19(4) persons found guilty of any offence above are liable to a fine of level 4 (currently £2,500), except obstructing an inspector, failing to supply information about the care or disposal of zoo animals in the event of zoo closure, or failing to display the licence or copy of it at each zoo entrance area for which are liable to a fine of level 3 (currently £1000).

Rights 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.

Application documents

logo - EU-GO portal

EUGO portalexternal website


The zoos register contains the details of those premises licensed with North Devon Council.


A completed application (for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence) must be submitted with a fee of £69.70 and in addition the applicant will need to pay any associated veterinary fees for DEFRA nominated inspectors.

How long will it take to process my application?

We will endeavour to contact you within 5 days of the receipt of notice of intention to apply for a licence. If you have not heard from us within this period, please contact us to ensure that your notice was correctly made and received. The initial notice of intention to apply will provide a period of 2 months for the authority to make necessary arrangements to embark on the next stage in the process.

Bearing in mind the complexity of the licensing process, it is not possible to provide an exact time period for the grant or refusal of a licence. Time scales will vary depending on the size and nature of each individual application. Comments gained in the consultation period and from the inspectors report may vary widely, and some applications may need to go before the Council’s Licensing Committee for determination.

Contact details

Application forms should be sent to The Licensing Team, Environmental Health and Housing , North Devon Council, Civic Centre, North Walk, Barnstaple, Devon, EX31 1EA or can be handed in at the Civic Centre Customer Service Centre or one of our area offices in Ilfracombe and South Molton.

In case of query, please telephone the Customer Service Centre on 01271 388870 and ask for the Licensing Team.


See further contact details towards the bottom of this page.

Right of appeal

Any person aggrieved by a refusal to be granted a licence or by any conditions to which a licence is subject may appeal to the Magistrates Courts who may give such directions regarding the licence or its conditions as it thinks proper.


If you want to make a complaint about a zoo premises, please contact us.

If you feel we have failed to provide you with good service or are concerned about the progress of your application, please telephone the Customer Service Centre. The Licensing Team will endeavour to resolve any concerns you may have.

The Council also has a formal complaints procedure (see further contact details towards the bottom of this page).

Further information

Copies of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and Zoo Licensing Act 1981 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2002 can also be purchased from Her Majesty's Stationary Office.

Further information on:
  • zoos operating in England;
  • the Zoo Licensing Act.;
  • the Secretary of State’s Standards for Modern Zoo Practice;
  • Government Circular Guidance 02/2003 on the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2002;
  • zoos forum handbook;
  • managing health and safety in zoos.

is available from DEFRAexternal website

For other queries, or to obtain hard copies of the above documentation, you can contact DEFRA at:

Wildlife Species Conservation Division
Department for Environment
Food and Rural Affairs
Zone 1/10
Temple Quay House
2 The Square
Temple Quay

Tel: 0117 372 8209 or


The Animal Welfare Act 2006, places responsibilities for care and welfare of an animal, on persons who are in charge of or are responsible for the animal, whether on a permanent or temporary basis. More information is available from DEFRAexternal website.

Trade associations

Contact information

To contact the Customer Service Centre:

Telephone: 01271 388870
For Typetalk: precede with 18001
Text: 07624 804042
Fax: 01271 388451
Web form: send us a web enquiry
Join the conversation on Twitterexternal website
Compliment, complaint or suggestion? Your feedback

Our office hours are Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.

Licence applications, notices etc should be sent to:

The Licensing Team
Environmental Health and Housing
North Devon Council
Civic Centre
North Walk
EX31 1EA

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