When To Cut Hedges To Avoid Nesting Birds

Bird Nest

To avoid causing harm to active bird nests, it’s important to be aware of the laws regarding hedge trimming and cutting. Surprising to some, the UK has laws which may regulate your ability to make alterations to hedges in your garden. But what are these laws and when is it most suitable to cut into the hedges in your property? 

You should only cut hedges outside of bird-nesting months. Nesting months are typically between March and August every year, but they may vary depending on weather conditions. It is a legal offence to harm nesting birds, or their eggs, under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. 

Find out more with Broadleaf Tree Surgery, a professional team of tree surgeons based in Maidstone, Kent. 

When Should You Not Cut Your Hedges and Trees To Help Nesting Birds?

There are a number of issues with cutting hedges and when it’s best to do so. We have a detailed run-down of cutting back trees with our other blog on the matter When To Cut Back Trees – Your Guide To Pruning

When it comes to hedges, one of the main reasons you may want to postpone trimming is to avoid active nests. Hedges provide shelter from predators and the elements, and a safe nesting space to a wide range of birds in the UK. For this reason, it is important to be extra careful when trimming your hedges, to avoid disturbing or damaging active nests, especially during nesting season. 

Birds typically breed between the months of March and August every year, so it is best to avoid working on hedges and trees in these months as birds will most likely be nesting their new hatchlings during this period. This nesting period is when the nest is most important, most used and therefore unabandoned. We recommend checking that the nest has been abandoned before you carry out any work on the tree. 

So what is the best practice for noticing and dealing with nesting birds in your trees at home, and what are the legal ramifications if these laws are ignored or purposefully broken?

How To Identify Birds Nests In Trees and Hedges

Identifying a bird’s nest in a tree, especially when it’s located high up in the crown, can be tricky. However, it’s important to be able to correctly identify a nest from the backdrop of dense foliage. 

To help you identify birds at home, we have assembled 3 key signs to watch out for. 

Watch for Movement

First, identify the branches that you wish to remove or hedges that need trimming. In trees, you should look around for dense patches where new limbs have formed on the branches. This is where birds prefer to build nests. Birds’ nests are built up of fauna from other trees, shrubs or plants, and they should stand out as denser areas between the branches. You can locate yourself so that you have the tree between you and the sun, this will help illuminate everything in the tree and help you locate any movement within in. For hedges, look out for birds flying in and out of the shrubbery.

Figure Out Whether Or Not The Nest Is Active

Before attempting to remove a nest, it’s important to see if birds are currently living in it. To do so, you can use binoculars and monitor the nest for a few days. Look for any signs of activity and take note of whether there are baby birds present. It’s best to avoid approaching the nest until you are sure it is safe to do so.

Listen and Look Out For Interactions Between Nestlings And Adults

Nestling and fledglings will cheep to their parents regularly. These interactions are unmistakable and usually can be heard within a reasonable distance. 

Adult birds will also return to nests many times in one day. If an adult can be seen moving twigs, straw and grass up into a canopy or into a hedge, it is likely nest building. You may also be able to see the adults removing the faecal sacs from the nest, or returning with worms and other small insects. 

What Should You Do If You Find a Bird’s Nest In Your Garden?

If you have managed to locate a bird’s nest on your property, you must not, under any circumstances, disturb or try to remove it.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act [1981] stipulates that you are guilty of an offence if you, or anyone under your supervision;

  • kills, injures or takes any wild bird;
  • takes, damages or destroys the nest of a wild bird;
  • takes, damages or destroys the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built; or
  • takes or destroys an egg of any wild bird.

For any criminal offence related to a single bird, nest or egg, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 can issue unlimited fines, up to six months imprisonment, or a combination of both penalties. However, this law is only applicable to brooding or nesting birds. If you have found there to be no birds currently using the nest, you are free to do with this nest as you wish. 

Getting Professional Help With Nesting Birds in Your Trees

If you have birds living in your trees, the RSPCA or RSPB won’t come out and move them for you. Licences are available to be able to work on birds’ nests that are populated, however, this is safeguarded for extra special occasions where the bird would be better off elsewhere due to a building project or other unavoidable plan

Getting the advice of a professional tree surgeon, therefore, is the best bet to help you assess the situation before any offences are committed. Tree surgeons can give you advice on how and when it is best to trim hedges, thin crowns, or remove trees altogether.

Before we commence any tree work during the bird nesting season, we will always make thorough checks for nesting birds, and we ask our clients to bear with us whilst we do so. 

Here at Broadleaf Tree Surgery, we can offer you advice on what is best for you, and make sure that you aren’t legally liable for any offence committed against birds on your property. If you are located in Kent or South London, don’t hesitate to contact us to help with any trees on your property, today. 


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