New animal welfare Act set to change UK tourist habits

This article was co-authored by Philippa Tizard, Trainee Solicitor, London.

On Monday 18 September, the Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Act (the Act), received Royal Assent, and became law in England and Northern Ireland. The Act prohibits the sale and advertising of specific activities involving close encounters with animals outside the UK. There were previously no statutory provisions in the UK to regulate these activities.

As many UK tourists choose to partake in a number of animal-related activities every year on their holidays, the Act will have a major impact on tour operators and consumer behaviour.


Over the years, there have been several long-running campaigns to raise awareness about the negative welfare implications of some activities involving close encounters with wild animals outside the UK, which are available to tourists travelling abroad.

In May 2021, the UK Government published its Action Plan for Animal Welfare (APAW), which set out a range of legislative and non-legislative reforms relating to the welfare of all animals.

The Act

There are seven clauses in the Act. Clause one makes it an offence to sell, or offer to sell, the right to observe or participate in the activity. Subsection (3) of the clause sets out the test for assessing whether an activity can be regulated for a low-welfare activity, as follows:

An animal is kept in conditions, or is subject to treatment, within this subsection if keeping the animal in the conditions, or subjecting it to the treatment, in the appropriate national authority’s part of the United Kingdom would constitute an offence under the appropriate national legislation.

The ban on the domestic advertising and sale of low-welfare activities captures the specific species and activity, wherever in the world that took place. Currently, the Act is only applicable to England and Northern Ireland. However, without physical barriers between the countries, it is unclear what will happen in practical terms, and much needed clarification is sought. In England, the relevant legislation that applies is the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This legislation prohibits animal cruelty which includes causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, mutilation and poisoning an animal. It also provides for animal welfare needs including:

  • Provision of a suitable environment.
  • Suitable diet.
  • Allow the animals to exhibit normal behaviour patterns.
  • Allow any need an animal has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals.
  • Be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

In Northern Ireland, the relevant legislation is the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

The Act provides a framework through which the government is able to produce secondary legislation that relevant departments and industry stakeholders can use to ban the advertisement of tourist activities abroad that infringe upon animal welfare standards. The government have said that activities include those where animals are “kept in captivity or confinement, subjected to cruel and brutal training methods, forced to take selfies or are ridden, drugged and de-clawed.”

In Scotland, the relevant legislation is the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 which effectively enshrines in statute the common law duty upon any person responsible for looking after animals to take reasonable care for their health, safety and wellbeing. The Act includes provisions enabling an animal to be removed in any situation where it is in danger of suffering.

More recently, Scotland took the step of enacting a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses through the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018 with similar provisions thereafter being introduced in England and Wales. The Scottish Government is currently running a Consultation seeking to extend their licensing framework for animal-related services to greyhound racing, horse riding activities as well as animal boarding, dog walking and dog grooming services which is due to end later this month.

The 2018 Act prohibits the use of wild animals for the purposes of entertainment in travelling circuses in Scotland, with it still permissible if the circus is operating at a fixed location. As it stands, there are no existing or proposed statutory provisions in Scotland which will have comparable effects to those that will arise out of the Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Act 2023 which is likely to present both challenges and opportunities for tour operators.


This Act is part of a wider UK Government commitment to animal welfare standards, in line with APAW and further developments are expected as and when secondary legislation is introduced. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) already has guidance to assist UK-based companies to “implement approaches that respect animal welfare”. Tour operators and other relevant organisations will need to prepare for any changes.

Read other items in Personal Injury Brief - October 2023

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