How Nesting Animals Affect Hedge Work

Hedges can be a mini-paradise for animals during different months of the year, so planting a hedge can be beneficial for a wide range of critters and wildlife. This isn’t limited to just small mammals and birds; butterflies and moths can also take advantage of the shelter and source of food. Understanding what this means for your garden is important as not only do you want avoid harming any nesting wildlife, but there are laws protecting them which you must abide by. Fear not, our handy guide on how your hedge work may be affected will keep you compliant.

Type Of Animals Your Hedge Can Attract

It is estimated that over 60 different species of birds use hedges for shelter, roosting or nesting. In the UK, these birds are likely to be species such as blackbirds, robins, blue tits and many more. For these birds the hedge can be a handy home and some even rely on them for survival if there are not many woodland areas nearby.

Species such as turtledoves or bullfinches will prefer hedges that are more than 4 metres tall with lots of trees, whereas smaller birds such as robins or linnets may favour smaller hedgerows (roughly 2-3 metres). Hedges make the perfect home for birds as the leaves and foliage can provide strong protection whilst access is easy for the birds to swoop in and out.

It isn’t just birds that can use your hedge for shelter. It depends on the dimensions and type of hedge but hedgehogs can be attracted to the greenery as a haven against the cold weather, or as a good place to forage for food in the form of bugs and insects that feed on the plants. Wood mice can also be found further up the branches as they are good at climbing. 

Understanding The Laws

According to Section 1 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act it is illegal to:

  • Kill, injure or take any wild bird
  • Take, damage or destroy the nest of a wild bird either in use or being built
  • Take or destroy an egg of a wild bird

What this means in practice is you will need to check that your hedge isn’t acting as a host for a multitude of birds before you start work on it. If you disturb the birds’ habitat that could mean that you are in breach of this law and could be prosecuted. According to the RSPB, punishments can range from an unlimited fine, up to 6 months in prison, or both. If the hedge acts as a boundary between two gardens this would be a joint responsibility that must be held by both parties.

There are, however, certain exceptions to this law, which would enable you to get on with your hedge work. They are fairly rare occurrences, however, and should not be relied upon. The most notable exceptions where you wouldn't be guilty would be:

  • An authorised person (e.g.: landowner) may kill or take, in certain situations, so called ‘pest species’ and may destroy or take the nest or eggs of such bird.
  • Any act made unlawful by those provisions if he shows that the act was the incidental result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided
  • The taking of any wild bird if he shows that the bird had been disabled otherwise than by his unlawful act and was taken solely for the purpose of tending it and releasing it when no longer disabled;
  • The killing of any wild bird if he shows that the bird had been so seriously disabled otherwise than by his unlawful act that there was no reasonable chance of its recovering

You would also avoid conviction if a bird was killed or injured to:

  • Preserve public health or public air safety
  • Prevent the spread of disease
  • Prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters.

It isn’t just birds that are covered in this law as hedgehogs also have a degree of legal protection. Similar to birds it is illegal to kill or capture wild hedgehogs. If, therefore, by your action you cut your hedge and kill a hedgehog you could be in breach of this law. Hedgehogs are also listed in the Wild Mammals Protections Act (1996), which prevents the cruel treatment of hedgehogs.


What You Can Do If You Find Birds In Your Hedge

The law is pretty clear on what you cannot do when it comes to nests, however there is no law that prevents anyone from pruning hedges. The only difficulty comes whether you trim your hedge and destroy a nest. It may be the case, therefore, that you will have to wait until the bird’s leave of their own accord and the hedge is empty.

If you do find your hedge has some new tenants it is ideally recommended to carry out any hedge work in the wintertime when you can see the tree is dormant and the birds have migrated away. You will need to be careful, however, as some birds such as robins nest with their chicks over the winter time between January and March so hedge trimming must be timed right.

According to RSPB guidelines it is ok to use smaller garden tools such as secateurs or sheers to help trim the hedge. If you do disturb an adult from its nest, it should return once you have cleared the area, provided you haven’t destroyed the nest. Above all if work on the hedge is absolutely necessary it is best to make sure that the fledglings have left the nest, this being the sole purpose for nesting.

Benefits Of Nesting Animals In Hedges

It isn’t necessarily a bad thing that you have some new neighbours. Having birds in your backyard can come with a whole host of benefits that you would miss out on with a simple fence rather than a hedge.

Birds such as finches and sparrows eat large amounts of weeds and their seeds, making them very helpful landscapers that can keep your plants in good order. Instead of seeing them as a hindrance, you can see some birds as your trusty sidekicks in your battle to keep your garden looking its best.

Many birds also eat a variety of insects and spiders that you may not want in your garden. If you attract birds it encourages them to take advantage of this abundant food source. This, in turn, will remove the need for any chemicals that may be harmful to either you or your garden.

It may also sound bizarre but it has been reported that houses in areas that are rich in bird life can have higher average prices as opposed to houses that don't. According to research, the higher the number of species present, the dearer the house price can become. A large number of different species can demonstrate that the neighbourhood is of high quality – especially if woodpeckers and nightingales are your frequent neighbours.

It has also been proven that having birds in your garden can have its own health benefits. Listening to the birdsong as well as watching them flying throughout your garden has been proven to relieve stress. Time outdoors can also give you much needed fresh air as well as ensuring you get a good helping of vitamin D.

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