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Zoo Licence - Application Process

Public Notice

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 local authority may request representations from the police authority, fire service authority, public objections and/or a national institution concerned with the operation of zoos in the UK (i.e. if aquatic zoo go to an aquatic zoo specialist). Other person(s) whose representations might be relevant can also be consulted.

Application form

Once this period of time has lapsed, an application form can be submitted along with the current fee. For renewals an application form should be sent to the Council 6 months prior to the 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 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 when no other inspection has taken place, an informal inspection is carried out by an appointed person from the local authority.

Licence conditions

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.

More information on the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 can be found in the DEFRA guide to the Act's provisions.

Possible exceptions

For small zoos or for a zoo exhibiting only a few 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 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.

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