Removal of nests

Wild birds, their nests and eggs

Before removing a tree or a hedge or pruning it you should consider what effect your action will have on wild birds living or nesting in your garden particularly during the nesting season, which varies for different species of birds but is usually between March and August.

The reason for this is that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 created a number of criminal offences relating to wild birds, their nests and their eggs. The following are offences under the Act:

Intentionally killing, injuring or taking a wild bird

It will normally be a criminal offence to intentionally kill, injure or take a wild bird. However, there are certain exceptions to this.

Goldeneyes, Greylag Geese and Pintails

There is an exception for killing, taking and injuring in the course of trying to kill the following birds outside of the close season:

  • Goldeneye;

  • Goose, Greylag (in Outer Hebrides, Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross);

  • Pintail.

The close season for such birds, being wild ducks and geese, is in or over any area below high-water mark of ordinary spring tide between 21 February and 31 August.

However, this exception may not apply where a bird is killed, taken or injured in the course of a person trying to kill it if the act is carried out on a Sunday in certain areas of England and Wales.

Disabled birds

It is permissible for a person to take a wild bird that has been disabled otherwise than by an act of that person where it is taken solely for the purpose of tending it and releasing it when it is no longer disabled.

It is also permissible for a person to kill a wild bird that has been disabled otherwise than by an act of that person if it has been so seriously disabled that there is no reasonable chance of it recovering.

Birds killed and injured by authorised persons

There is a Defence available to the offence of killing or injuring certain wild birds (wild birds not included in the long list of birds below) by an “authorised person” if they can show that the act was necessary to preserve public health or public or air safety or to prevent the spread of disease or to prevent serious damage to livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters.

In the case of acts carried out for the prevention of serious damage to livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters the person will also have to show that there was no other satisfactory solution, will normally need to show that they have a licence or have applied for a licence to carry out the act and will be required to notify the Minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs after carrying out the act.

Intentionally taking, damaging or destroying the nest of Golden Eagles, White-tailed Eagles and Osprey

It is a criminal offence to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of a Golden Eagle, a White-tailed Eagle or an Osprey

Intentionally taking, damaging or destroying the nests, which are in use

It is a criminal offence to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being used.

Intentionally taking or destroying an egg of a wild bird

It is a criminal offence to intentionally take or destroy an egg of any wild bird.

Possession and control of wild birds and their eggs

It is a criminal offence to possess or have in a person’s control any live or dead wild bird or any part of, or anything derived from, such a bird or an egg of a wild bird or any part of such an egg unless the person can show that the bird or egg had not been killed or taken, or had been lawfully killed or taken or the bird, egg or other thing in his possession or control had been lawfully sold.

Intentionally or recklessly disturbing the nests of certain birds

It is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb one of the following wild birds while it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young or disturbing dependent young of such a bird:

  • Avocet;

  • Bee-eater;

  • Bittern and Little Bittern;

  • Bittern, Little;

  • Bluethroat;

  • Brambling;

  • Bunting – Cirl, Lapland and Snow species

  • Buzzard, Honey;

  • Chough;

  • Corncrake;

  • Crake, Spotted;

  • Crossbills (all species);

  • Curlew, Stone;

  • Divers (all species);

  • Dotterel;

  • Duck, Long-tailed;

  • Eagle – Golden and White-tailed varieties;

  • Falcon, Gyr;

  • Fieldfare;

  • Firecrest;

  • Garganey;

  • Godwit, Black-tailed;

  • Goldeneye (during the close season i.e. in or over any area below high-water mark of ordinary spring tide between 21 February and 31 August);

  • Goose, Greylag (during the close season in Outer Hebrides, Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross i.e. in or over any area below high-water mark of ordinary spring tide between 21 February and 31 August);

  • Goshawk;

  • Grebe – Black-necked and Slavonian species;

  • Greenshank;

  • Gull – Little and Mediterranean species;

  • Harriers (all species);

  • Heron, Purple;

  • Hobby;

  • Hoopoe;

  • Kingfisher;

  • Kite, Red;

  • Merlin;

  • Oriole, Golden;

  • Osprey;

  • Owl – Barn and Snowy species;

  • Peregrine;

  • Petrel, Leach’s

  • Phalarope, Red-necked;

  • Pintail (during the close season in or over any area below high-water mark of ordinary spring tide between 21 February and 31 August);

  • Plover – Kentish and Little Ringed species;

  • Quail, Common;

  • Redstart, Black;

  • Redwing;

  • Rosefinch, Scarlet;

  • Ruff;

  • Sandpiper – Green, Purple and Wood species;

  • Scaup;

  • Scoter – Common and Velvet species;

  • Serin;

  • Shorelark;

  • Shrike, Red-backed;

  • Spoonbill;

  • Silt, Black-winged;

  • Stint, Temminck’s;

  • Swan – Bewick’s and Whooper species;

  • Tern – Black, Little and Roseate species;

  • Tit – Bearded and Crested species;

  • Treecreeper, Short-toed;

  • Warbler – Cetti’s, Dartford, Marsh and Savi’s species;

  • Whimbrel;

  • Woodlark;

  • Wryneck.

Other exceptions and defences

There are further exceptions to these offences for acts done pursuant to a requirement by the Minister of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Secretary of State under the Agriculture Act 1947 and for acts done pursuant to an order made under the Animal Health Act 1981 (although this later exception does not apply to Golden and White-tailed Eagles and Ospreys or their nests or eggs).

Where a person is prosecuted for one of these offences if they can show that the act was the incidental result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided they will have a Defence.