Only a few moth species have specific legal protection in the UK. For moth recorders, the most important legislation is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This makes it an offence (subject to exceptions) to intentionally kill, injure, or take, possess, or trade in any wild animal listed in Schedule 5 of the Act. The following moths are currently listed in Schedule 5:
- Barberry Carpet Pareulype berberata
- Black-veined Moth Siona lineata
- Essex Emerald Thetidia smaragdaria
- Fiery Clearwing Pyropteron chrysidiformis
- Fisher's Estuarine Moth Gortyna borelii lunata
- New Forest Burnet Zygaena viciae argyllensis
- Reddish Buff Acosmetia caliginosa
- Sussex Emerald Thalera fimbrialis
Therefore, no moth recorders should catch, handle or harm any of these species unless they have a license. Recorders should also be aware that other laws and bylaws may exist at specific sites, for example regarding access, damage and taking of specimens. You should always approach the owners or managers of sites prior to moth trapping.
People possessing or trading in moth specimens taken from the wild also need to be aware of the EU Habitats Directive. Under this (and the relevant UK legislation) it is illegal to possess or sell specimens of listed species taken from the wild within the European Union after 10 June 1994 or the date upon which the country joined the EU (whichever is most recent). Fisher's Estuarine Moth is the only moth resident in the UK to be listed in the Habitats Directive, but specimens of moths from other EU countries held in the UK would also be covered (e.g. Willowherb Hawk-moth Proserpinus prosperpina). The listing of species was published in several journals during 2008, including the British Journal of Entomology and Natural History (volume 21, June 2008) and the Entomologist's Record (volume 120, September/October 2008).
Many organisations, including national and local government, also have legal responsibilities for certain moth species under the EC Habitats Directive (Fisher's Estuarine Moth) and UK Biodiversity Action Plan (various 'Priority Species').