Last week, the 2006 Animal Welfare Act became law in England, a week after the act came into force in Wales. It was the first major modernisation of animal welfare laws since the introduction of the 1911 Protection of Animals Act.

The law will have an impact on those who are responsible for ?captive? animals, both pets and livestock, and is the precursor of a tranche of legislation to be introduced in coming years, much of which, such as a legally binding code of good practice for gamerearing, will affect gameshooters, though shooting organisations have generally welcomed the Act. Already the law?s impact has been seen within the new regulations on tail docking of dogs, however.

The law does not extend to wild animals, but does encompass animals under human control ? for example, gamebirds in a pen or call birds in a Larsen trap. Two main general offences have been created. The first is ?causing unnecessary suffering to an animal? and the second is ?failing in the duty of care towards an animal?.

This second offence enshrines in law the requirement for a person to make reasonable steps to ensure an animal?s needs are met ?to the extent required by good practice?. The RSPCA?s ?five freedoms? form the basis of that requirement. These are: the need for a suitable environment; the need for a suitable diet; the need to exhibit normal behaviour; the need to be housed with or apart from other animals; and finally the need to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease. Penalties have been stepped up from previous maximums of a £5,000 fine and six months imprisonmnent. Offenders will now be subject to a possible maximum fine of £20,000 and 51 weeks in prison.