Zoo Licence

A  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.

Eligibility Criteria

An applicant must not be disqualified from any of the following at the time of the application:

  • Animal Welfare Act 2006

  • Protection of Animals (Scotland) Acts 1912 to 1964

  • Pet Animals Act 1951

  • Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963

  • Riding Establishments Acts 1964 and 1970

  • Breeding of Dogs Act 1973

  • Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976

  • Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976

  • Part I of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

A licence will not be issued if anyone working in or managing the zoo has committed an animal welfare offence.

Local authorities must have regard to the following when considering an application for a zoo licence:

  • that animals will be kept in suitable accommodation, for example in regard to temperature, size, lighting, ventilation, cleanliness and enrichment

  • that there are suitable management arrangements in place

  • that adequate food and drink will be provided to the animals and they will be visited at suitable intervals

  • that steps are taken to prevent the escape of animals

  • that steps are taken to prevent disease spreading among the animals

  • that adequate fire and emergency provisions are in place

  • that information about the animals is available to visitors.

An annual stock list must be provided along with any updated escape precaution procedures.

Planning consent

An applicant for a licence must check if planning permission is required for the proposed licensed activity and contact the Council’s Development Services to discuss if planning permission is required. The Council may refuse or defer a decision on an application for a licence until any planning issue has been decided.

Applicants must pay the required application fee and comply with any conditions attached to the licence.

Regulations summary

An original licence will run for four years and consecutive renewals will run for six years.

Application process

Applicants must give details of:

  • where the zoo will be

  • proposed numbers and kinds of animals to be kept

  • how the animals will be housed and cared for

  • staff numbers and what staff members will be doing

  • expected numbers of visitors and vehicles

  • zoo entrance and exit points

  • how conservation conditions will be met

Applicants must ensure the zoo would not affect:

  • the health and safety of local people

  • local law and order

  • the animals’ well-being

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

The Council may consult with Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, the public, national institutions / specialists concerned with the operation of zoos in the UK and other relevant persons.

Following the consultation period an application form should be submitted together with the licence fee. For renewals an application form should be sent to East Cambridgeshire District Council six months prior to the existing licence expiring.

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 Council will grant or refuse to grant a zoo licence. The operator will receive a written statement of the grounds for any refusal.

Premises inspections

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

Alternatively, the zoo operator, on applying to the Secretary of State regarding a zoo licence, may be granted a dispensation (Section 14(2)) to reduce the number of inspections to a reasonable level for a small establishment. This does 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.

As a minimum requirement periodic inspections carried out by Secretary of State appointed inspectors take place at renewal stage (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 Council 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 Council.

Conservation measures

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 Council also has discretion to attach any condition(s) deemed necessary or desirable for the proper conduct of the zoo.

At least one of the following must take place:

  • conservation research or training

  • sharing conservation information

  • captive animal breeding

  • helping repopulate or reintroduce species into the wild

The Secretary of State issues guidance of standards of practice that zoos should meet which apply in England.

Tacit consent 

Tacit consent does not apply to zoo licence applications. It is in the public interest that East Cambridgeshire District Council must process your application before it can be authorised. If you have not received a response to your application within a reasonable period, please contact us. You can do this online if you applied through the UK Welcomes service or use the contact details below.

How to apply

Before completing your application, your attention is drawn to our privacy and data retention policy.


New licence fee    £2415.00 (four year licence)
Renewal fee         £2070.00 (six year licence)

Secretary of State appointed inspectors fees will also apply. All fees must be paid in full prior to the issue of a zoo licence.

Animal Licensing Policy

On the 12 September 2018 the Council's Licensing Committee approved an updated Animal Welfare Licensing Policy to assist all parties involved in this important area of regulation. Applicants and existing licence holders should refer to this document as it provides a great deal of useful information including the standards expected of a modern animal welfare establishment. 

Transfer of licence

The Council must first approve the transfer of a zoo licence prior to the licence being transferred.

Displaying the licence

The zoo licence or copy must be displayed at each entrance to the zoo.

Fines and penalties

If you run a zoo without a licence or do not follow the conditions of a licence you can be fined up to £2,500.

A fine of up to £1,000 can be imposed if:

  • a zoo inspector is prevented from doing their job properly
  • a zoo does not correctly display the zoo licence.

Failed application redress

If you are an applicant or a third party, you should always contact us in the first instance if you have any queries, concerns or cause for complaint preferably in the form of a letter with proof of delivery. If you are not satisfied with the outcome and are located in the UK, Citizens Advice Consumer Service will give you advice. If you are from outside the UK, please contact the UK European Consumer Centre (external link).

Further information

Link to EUGO website (external link)Link to GOV.UK website (external link)