Nesting Birds and Observing the Laws

Toolbox Talk

15th May 2019 | Marcus

Beware of potentially unlimited fines and up to six months in prison.

It is against the law to disturb wild nesting birds and the penalties that can be imposed significant both in terms of fines and sentencing.

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, a wildlife disturbance.

Throughout the nesting season, all birds seen to be nesting, along with their eggs and the nest itself are protected by law.

When is the nesting bird season?

Government based organisation ‘Natural England’ state that the bird nesting season officially runs from February to August, however the busiest period for nesting birds in the UK is from 1st March until 31st July. This will vary greatly depending on the weather conditions in any given year and from one bird species to another. It is recommended that all vegetation works or tree clearance work should be undertaken outside of the ‘Bird Nesting Season’.

What you must not do...

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 is the law with nesting birds?

The protection of birds throughout the nesting season is covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Below is the 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, below is the key excerpt.

1 Protection of wild birds, their nests and eggs.

(1) Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person intentionally—

(a) kills, injures or takes any wild bird;

[F2(aa)takes, damages or destroys the nest of a wild bird included in Schedule ZA1;]

(b)takes, damages or destroys the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built; or

(c)takes or destroys an egg of any wild bird,

he shall be guilty of an offence.

F2 S. 1(1)(aa) inserted (E.W.) (31.5.2006) by Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (c.16), ss. 47(2),107; S.I. 2006/1382, art. 2

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