Nesting Birds & The Law

This article is from this summer’s ‘The Teller’ newsletter from the Hampshire Coppice Craftsmen’s group, Peter Etheridge writes:

Being a member of several woodland and/or hedge related Facebook Groups, one of the most common questions that pops up every year is:

“What date do I need to stop coppicing/felling/hedgelaying due to nesting birds?”

Having been an ecological consultant for over a decade (advising clients on wildlife legislation) and also being someone who undertakes coppicing, tree felling and hedge laying  contracts on an annual basis, I thought I was probably well placed to answer this question. The main article of legislation (in England) that protects nesting birds is the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). This Act gives protection to all wild birds and makes it an offence to (amongst others):

Intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird.
Intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild
bird while it is in use or being built.
To take, damage or destroy the nest of a wild bird included in Schedule ZA1 (whether it is in use or not)
Intentionally take or destroy the egg of any wild bird.
Intentionally disturb any wild bird listed on Schedule 1 while it is nest building, or at a nest containing eggs or young, or
disturb the dependent young of such a bird.

Breaching the legislation can result in a fine of up to £5,000 and a custodial sentence. Many people (particularly on social media) will give you a defined date as to when the nesting bird season begins (often cited as 1st March). Clearly, wildlife does not work to our Gregorian calendar and often the nesting season can begin earlier or later than this date, depending on species and seasonal climatic variation. Overall, however, the law is what needs to be adhered to. If you can show that you are staying within the bounds of the law (perhaps by undertaking advance checks for nesting birds), you are within your rights to continue working into the nesting bird season. There are, however, some other species (barn owls for
example) that do not have a defined nesting period, and can be found nesting year-round.

My advice, therefore, is that you should remain vigilant to the potential presence of nesting birds from the beginning of February onwards. If you are forced to work on into March or later, you will be at significantly greater risk of encountering nesting birds and your work is likely to come under increased scrutiny by members of the public and/or other interested parties, needing assurances that you are working within the law. Exceptions to the above advice are if you are a) working in adherence to Cross Compliance rules; or b) if you are working on a SSSI. In the former, you must stop hedgelaying by end-April regardless (although this doesn’t make you exempt from the law, so the presence of nesting birds may force you to stop earlier). If you are working on a SSSI, Natural England rules may also force you to stop work earlier in the season, regardless of whether or not you undertake nesting bird checks.

I’m sorry that this article is a bit of a boring read, but hopefully it will help some of you. Next time, if you’re really lucky(!) we can have a look at the law relating to bats and dormice…!

Pete Etheridge (Please visit Pete’s site:

This article is in no way boring Peter, thanks so much for taking the time to write it and I do hope you can tell us the laws around bats, dormice and many others.