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Licence - Zoos, Circuses And Animals As Prizes

The inspection and licensing of zoos. Inspections of circuses under the terms of the Health & Safety at Work Act and the use of animals as prizes.

Circuses & Animals as Prizes

Basildon Council's Environmental Health Service does not have any powers to control the welfare of animals in circuses but we do inspect circuses under the Health & Safety at Work Act, which covers animal handling, and public safety.

If we find any evidence of cruelty or mistreatment, we will report it to the RSPCA.

We do not permit circuses with animal performances on council owned land but have no control over land in private ownership.

Similarly, we have no legal power to prevent animals such as goldfish being given as prizes at fairs and similar events.

Basildon Council has resolved not to permit this on Council owned land.

We currently have no control where such events are held on private land.

The Zoo Licensing Act 1981

The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 came into force in 1984. The Act requires the inspection and licensing of all zoos in Great Britain and its purpose is to ensure that where animals are kept in caged surroundings, they are provided with a suitable environment to provide an opportunity to express their most normal behaviour. Zoos must comply with the provisions of the Act as well as the requirements set out in the  Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs website.

The Act defines a zoo 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, on more than seven days in any period of twelve consecutive months."

This definition means that licensed zoos can range from the traditional type of zoo and safari park to small specialist collections such as butterfly houses and aquaria.

The Act recognises this wide range of establishments by allowing dispensations to be granted for small zoos.

Dispensations for these types of collection are purely to reduce the number of inspectors to a reasonable level for a small establishment, and do not in any way weaken a zoo's obligation to achieve the levels of animal welfare and modern public safety set out in the Secretary of State's standards.

The Act does not extend to circuses, or to pet shops, both of which are covered by other legislation.

Wild animals are defined as animals not normally domesticated in Great Britain.

Applying for a Zoo Licence

If you are considering setting up a zoo, the first thing that you should do is to discuss the proposal with the Manager of The Planning Department as planning permission will almost certainly be required.

Two months before you make a licence application, you should publish a notice of intent in one local and one national newspaper as well as at the intended site. The notice of intent should also be sent to us so that we can make it available for public inspection.

The Notice must state:

  • The intended location of the zoo
  • The number and kinds of animals to be kept (in taxonomic category of order)
  • What arrangements will be made for the animals' accommodation, maintenance and well being
  • The approximate number and categories of staff to be employed at the zoo
  • The approximate number of visitors and motor vehicle accommodation is provided for
  • The number and positions of the means of access to be provided to the premises

You then need to formally apply for a licence.

You can apply and pay for a Zoo Licence online, through the Business Link website, by selecting one of the links below:

Alternatively you can download an application form (see Related Downloads section) which can be printed and returned to us at the address above.

Please see  Basildon Council - Schedule of Fees and Charges 2022-2023 (PDF) [603KB] (opens new window)  (see page 63.) for information on the current fees. Please note that veterinary charges are in addition to the fees shown. The completed application form must be accompanied by the appropriate fee.

Licences are for four years from the date on the new licence and for renewals, six years from the date of expiry of the previous licence.

Online applications will be acknowledged by email. Provided your application is correctly made, we will aim to process it within 90 working days. If this is not possible we will inform you and provide an explanation as to the reason.

If your application is refused and you wish to appeal, please contact us in the first instance. See contact details below.  An applicant who is refused a licence may appeal to the Magistrates Court. Appeals must be made within 28 days from the date of receipt of written notice of refusal.

Tacit consent does not apply to this application because it is considered to be in the public interest for the local authority to process your application before it is granted. If you have not received a response by the end of the target completion period please contact us at the address above.

If you require any further information or have a complaint about the process, please contact us, using the details below.

Inspections will be undertaken:

a) For a new licence. One during the first year and the second not later than 6 months before the end of year 4.
b) For a renewed licence or fresh licence granted to the holder of an existing licence. Once during the third year and the second not later than 6 months before the end of year 6.

Inspections are carried out by three inspectors appointed for the task by the local authority, one of whom will be a vet and the other two selected after consultation with the Secretary of State.

The fees and expenses of these inspectors will be met by the licence holder who is also entitled to have up to three representatives present during the inspection.

Special inspections and informal inspections may also be carried out.


1. A local authority can request the Secretary of State that due to the small size of the zoo or the small number of animal types kept there, to direct that the Act does not apply or that it is not necessary for periodical and special inspections to be carried out. The Secretary of State may, after consulting such persons as he thinks fit, determine if these dispensations may be allowed.

2. The operator of the zoo may request the Secretary of State to reduce the number of inspectors for periodical inspections having regard to the size of the zoo or the small number of animals kept there.

The Secretary of State may nominate the persons to inspect the zoo, if so the operator's right to object shall not apply. This may be reviewed by the Secretary of State.