As tree surgeons, it is incredibly important that we are aware of nesting birds, when the nesting bird season is, and the laws associated with it. Similar to guidance around construction sites, tree surgeons also have to follow guidelines associated with bird nesting (see below) to prevent the disturbance of birds. In addition, it is important for gardeners to be aware of the season in which birds are likely to nest, particularly if you are planning on cutting hedges which may contain nesting birds.
When is the nesting bird season, and why does it affect me?
There is no legally defined bird nesting season, although the majority of birds tend to nest typically between the beginning of March and the beginning of August*. However, it is important to remember that the timing of the nesting season varies greatly depending on several factors such as the weather conditions in any given year and from one bird species to another. This means that while nesting birds are more common between March and August, birds will be nesting outside of this window. Regardless of the month, it is still illegal to disturb nesting birds.
Arb Association recommends that ALL vegetation or tree clearance work should be undertaken outside of the ‘Bird Nesting Season’, however, with changing factors and birds’ nesting not confined to specific months, it can be particularly difficult to navigate. So, here’s what you need to know…
What is the law with nesting birds?
As tree surgeons, we must avoid impact to nesting birds to prevent infringement of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the European Habitats Directive 1992/Nesting Birds directive.
This is because it is against the law to disturb wild nesting birds and the penalties that can be imposed are significant both in terms of fines and sentencing.
Beware of potentially unlimited fines and up to six months in prison.
You must remember that all birds seen to be nesting, along with their eggs and the nest itself, are protected by law.
Here’s a little breakdown…
The protection of birds throughout the nesting season is covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Below is a link to the section of legislation from chapter 69 of the Act specific to nesting birds.
The first section is the most relevant to any tree, hedge or coarse vegetation work, and is what most tree surgeons should be aware of.
GOV.UK outlines that you are breaking the law if you:
- Intentionally kill, injure or take wild birds.
- Intentionally take, damage or destroy a wild bird’s nest while it’s being used or built.
- Intentionally take or destroy a wild bird’s egg.
- Possess, control or transport live or dead wild birds, parts of wild birds, or their eggs.
- Sell wild birds or put them on display for sale.
- Use prohibited methods to kill or take wild birds.
What should I do?
If, as a tree surgeon, you check a tree visually for wildlife and consider it to be low risk, but accidentally uncover or knock a birds nest out of a tree, there will be very little evidence protecting you from prosecution. However, a simple written wildlife assessment form – while it will not provide complete protection in a court of law (dependant on the situation) – will show diligence from a company that the incident was an unforeseen mistake. In this case, it would be considered a wildlife disturbance. During the nesting season, you should always assume that nesting birds will be present. It is our responsibility as tree surgeons/contractors, to assess, record and confirm whether any work carried out has/has not disturbed actively nesting birds.
You should also consider ground vegetation which can be easily overlooked. In some cases, there may be ground nesting sites which is why additional care must be taken when accessing sites so as not to cause accidental disturbance or damage. You would still be held accountable if anything were to happen.
*Please note, this article is just a guideline and there is the possibility that birds will be nesting outside of the months stated.
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