Are Terrapins Legal in the UK?

There are more than 10 million dogs and 11 million cats who live happily with their owners in the United Kingdom.

Dogs and cats, however, are not the only pets people like having. Rabbits, birds, and terrapins have also become common pets among British households. Are terrapins legal in the UK, though?

What do terrapins like?

Terrapins are small turtles that live in ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers. They are semi-aquatic and are naturally found in warm climates like the Gulf of Mexico.

They particularly enjoy marshy and muddy waters, wetlands, and shallow warm environments.

They like to bask in the sun and swim in the water, hence their predilection for surroundings that combine both.

Terrapins in the UK

Most people wouldn’t associate most of the above with the United Kingdom, as it doesn’t offer many of the conditions for terrapins to thrive. Winters are cold and summers are not usually hot enough. In addition, terrapins haven’t been native to the UK for a few thousand years.

Even so, there have been increasing sightings of terrapins in lakes, ponds, and rivers across the country. Indeed, they seem to enjoy their time here so much, that some wonder if terrapins have become an invasive species by now. So successful are terrapins in the wild that they seem to be driving away some native species such as frogs and birds.

The reason behind this extraordinary growth in the terrapin population is twofold:

This is because terrapins may start rather small and cute, but they do grow fast and can be as big as a dinner plate when they reach adulthood. Many owners realize they can’t take proper care of such large aquatic animals and opt to free them in aquatic environments.

Are terrapins legal in the UK?

Legality Of Terrapins In the UK

Seeing how these non-native creatures have made their way into British wildlife habitat, and in the interest of the animals themselves and the ecological balance of British fauna and flora, the government has made it illegal to buy terrapins as pets and release them in the wild.

In the case of terrapins, it has been illegal to buy or sell terrapins since August 2016. Terrapins are categorized as an alien invasive species and their sale as pets has been forbidden. Put simply, pet shops and other retail shops may not sell terrapins to individuals.

Legally owning a terrapin

What about all those people who owned a terrapin before 2016, though?

People who legally owned a terrapin before the ban are allowed to keep their pet as long as they don’t release it in the wild and don’t allow it to breed.

In addition, they must keep their terrapin in a controlled environment where it can’t escape and take care of it until it dies.

Evidence of terrapin ownership

Acceptable evidence of ownership prior to August 2016 can be the purchase receipt of the terrapin, a vet copy stating ownership, or any other document that can clearly prove when the animal was purchased.

If the terrapin was gifted to you, you should ask the previous owner for proof of purchase and any other necessary documentation.

Caring for your terrapin

If your terrapin needs veterinary care, you can take it to the vet as long as you transport it carefully in a secure container. You are also allowed to put your terrapin to sleep if necessary.

You can’t release your terrapin in the wild

Wild Terrapins

It is strictly illegal to release your terrapin in the wild and you risk being fined if you do so. Terrapins are non-native to the UK and some worry they may create ecological imbalances in aquatic environments.

It is also unfair to the terrapins themselves to release them in an environment that is not ideal for their well-being.

British weather conditions are too cold for terrapins, even in the summer. When temperatures drop below 18 degrees Celsius, terrapins find it hard to move around and gather food. This endangers their survival and doesn’t prepare them for winter hibernation.

Moreover, terrapins need sunlight to synthesize vitamin D and soak up the calcium from their diet. The lack of consistent sunshine in the UK means that terrapins are prone to softer shells and more diseases.

Future concerns

An additional cause of concern is connected to climate change.

As British summers become warmer—as the recent summer has demonstrated—terrapins could proliferate and colonize ponds, waterways, and lakes.

As an alien species, they could disrupt fragile ecological balances and displace other species from their habitat. Terrapins can compete with dragonflies, frogs, tadpoles, and newts for food in ponds and shallow waters.

As they eat beneficial plants, terrapins diminish the availability of oxygen in the water and disrupt the fragile ecological stability. Algae proliferate and further increase the imbalance.

It is currently difficult for terrapins to reproduce in the wild in the UK. However, as the climate becomes more unpredictable, it is conceivable for the not-so-distant future.

This could place further pressure on fragile ecosystems. Terrapin faeces are loaded with nitrogen. With more terrapins around, there will inevitably be more terrapin faeces in the water. Too much nitrogen sustains an exponential growth of algae in the water at the expense of other aquatic plants.

You may donate your terrapin

If you have had your terrapin before August 2016, you may donate it, but you may not sell it. Make sure you provide the new owner with documentation that proves the terrapin was legally owned.

Why do people release terrapins in the wild?

Terrapins reach maturity relatively quickly: 3 years for males and up to 7 years for females. They reach their full size at 7 to 10 years old and live up to 40 years.

Many terrapin owners fail to realize that the cute little turtle they adopted would soon grow into a large animal that needs a bigger tank.

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They will also need more food and attention.

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As a result, many people opt to release their terrapins in the wild, hoping their pets will survive in the British landscape.

As an increasing number of people have done so, animal welfare organizations have noticed increased sightings of terrapins in the wild. These organizations are monitoring lakes, ponds, and rivers across the UK to ensure that the overall ecological balance is not disturbed by the presence of terrapins.

Owning a terrapin

If you have your heart set on becoming a terrapin owner, the best thing to do is adopt one from a previous owner who got it prior to 2016. Not only will you help an owner who can no longer take care of their terrapin, but you will also be helping the environment by making sure that the terrapin doesn’t end up in the wild.

Before you place an ad, though, read our complete handbook on everything you need to know about looking after your very own pet terrapin.

You can find more information regarding the legality of terrapin ownership online and, of course, you should subscribe to our website for all news and terrapin-related information.