At this time of year, we get a number of calls about hedge cutting and tree pruning in the nesting season. It’s amazing how many people think you cannot touch hedges and trees while birds are nesting, but you can. People are very passionate about protecting our bird life, quite rightly, but I thought I would do a bit of myth busting.

  1. All birds in the UK are fully protected by law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 - WCA) from intentional harm. Under the same act, any active nest, including nest building or a nest with eggs or chicks in, is also protected from intentional destruction or removal and you cannot block access to any active nest. So, if you see a bird carrying nesting material or food into an area, this indicates that there is an active nest there.
  2. There is no law in the UK preventing any one from felling trees or pruning hedges at any time of year. However, we advise that you try to do any tree work over the winter months, when you can see into the tree and the tree itself is dormant. This also avoids the peak season for nesting birds, which is from the beginning of March to the end of August.
  3. However, some birds can nest at any time of year and this winter has shown us that milder weather can tempt many birds into nesting early. This year we’ve had reports of Blackbirds with chicks in January, Robins with chicks in February and Ducks with ducklings in March. It does not matter when or where the bird’s nest is, it is still protected by the WCA all year round.

So, what does this information tell us? Well, it’s all about common sense and timing. One of our most frequent calls is about felling conifers; they are normally very big, out of control, difficult to see into to check for nests and when people decide to get rid of them, they want to do it now!  Although it can be more difficult with the weather, try to aim to get the work done in the winter months. Cutting the lower branches off of a conifer will allow you to look up into the tree for nests, and old nests and roosting sites are not protected by the WCA. Regardless of the time of year, if you find an active nest you need to leave the tree or hedge until the fledglings have left the nest, then you can carry out the work. 

Song Thrush - Mike Richards (rspb-images.com)

With our warm and wetter springs and summers, hedges can quickly become unmanageable. It’s OK to use secateurs or sheers to keep a hedge under control, and if you do disturb an adult from their nest, they should return when you leave the area. Birds have different strategies for raising their young; some only nest once a year and others have multiple broods. On the whole, they tend to build new nests in different locations, but some birds, for example House Sparrows, will use the same nest all year, but the WCA still applies while the birds are actively nesting at any time of year.

What can you do?

  • Most gardeners are aware of the wildlife in their gardens, and have a good idea where and when there are birds nesting. Carry out a visual check if you can, and if necessary just leave the work until the fledglings have left the nest, then you can do the work you need to.
  • If you are aware of an active nest and you see someone about to do some work, let them know so they can avoid that area, as they may be unaware of the nest. If they are felling a tree, again let them know so they can come back when the fledglings have left the nest and fell the tree. As all species of bird are protected by the WCA, if they continue and destroy the nest they have committed a criminal offence, which is a police matter. Call your county police station on 101 and report the incident to the local Wildlife Crime Officer for the area.

Hopefully, your garden won’t get too out of control while the birds are nesting! If you’d like some ideas on how to encourage wildlife into your garden, check out our gardening pages on the link below.

http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/gardening/  

Anonymous