The nesting season for birds is in full swing so that calls for common sense and precautions from gardeners when it comes to cutting back hedges.
We are all very passionate about protecting wildlife and one of the big themes every spring is cutting back hedges and trees while birds are nesting.
The main nesting season is from March to August inclusive. However, nesting does happen outside of this period, so if as a gardener you are looking for exact dates when it’s safe to cut back hedges then you might have a problem.
Even outside the nesting period, birds may be heavily reliant on hedges, scrub and woodland, particularly for feeding or roosting.
It is courteous to check for nesting birds that have made a home of your hedge before carrying out any trimming.
It’s amazing how many people think you cannot touch hedges and trees while birds are nesting, but you can.
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.
There is no law in the UK preventing any one from felling trees or pruning hedges at any time of year.
However, the RSPB urges 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.
Some birds can nest at any time of year and mild winters can tempt them into nesting early. It does not matter when or where the bird’s nest is, it is still protected by the WCA all year round.
With the trend of 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.
So 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, go to www.rspb.org.uk/advice/gardening/