Take care cutting hedgerow

Take care cutting hedgerow

31 March 2021

HOME and landowners across the district are being urged to put away their garden shears until September by the RSPB.

The appeal is designed to help wildlife by staying away from activity that would disturb house-nesting birds and, in the wider landscape, protect wildlife and vital habitats by not burning heather or gorse.

With the days now getting longer, the leading conservation charity is appealing to people to be extra careful when tending to gardens and not to touch any birds’ nests in or on houses. 

The charity said that mistakenly, many believe that birds only nest between April and September, explaining that some species have already started.

Singing, displaying and nest building among birds including blackbirds, magpies, wrens and robins has begun, proving that the breeding season will soon be in full swing, said the RSPB NI.

It says some people might have noticed more bullfinches, goldfinches and greenfinches in gardens too, while it won’t be too long before spring migrants including chiffchaffs and willow warbler start to return.

The RSPB has warned that pruning hedges or shrubs and tidying plants could have a serious effect on birds’ breeding success if nests are dislodged or damaged, urging people to always thoroughly check hedges and trees for nests before starting to cut them.

Phil Carson — the charity’s Northern Ireland policy officer — said that along with other environmental organisations, it always get lots of calls and messages at this time of year about nesting and hedge-cutting and how this can affect birds in breeding season.

“Our hedges are so important for nature in gardens and in our countryside, providing an important space for a range of wildlife,” he explained.

“From nesting habitat for birds, to pollen and nectar sources for pollinators including bees and butterflies, it’s important that we manage these vital habitats well. Protecting them during the spring and summer months is one of the key steps we can take.”

Birds nesting in Northern Ireland are legally protected under the Wildlife Order and under this legislation, it is illegal to intentionally or recklessly take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents. Those who break the law can be reported to the PSNI by calling 101.

Phil continued: “If you discover a nest outside, the advice is to try and restore any covering preferably with cuttings from the same hedge or those nearby and give it a wide berth until young birds have flown the nest. 

“It is quite common for birds to nest in or on houses too. If they are entering the eaves, then they are most likely starlings or house sparrows. Unless you believe the birds to be trapped, you should leave them alone.”

Phil said that protecting hedges and the species that use them is also vitally important in the wider countryside, explaining that well-managed hedgerows are vital for nature, but can also provide benefits to farm business, from shelter to livestock, natural pest management and carbon storage and sequestration.

Under regulations, landowners/farmers are required not to undertake any hedgerow cutting between March 1 and August 30 each year. 

Doing so is a breach of these regulations and may result in penalties, while between April 15 and September 1, the burning of heather, gorse, whin or fern is also prohibited, partly to protect ground-nesting birds and to avoid damaging habitat.

Anyone who witnesses such activity place during the closed period can reported the issue by visiting https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/report-water-pollution-cross-compliance-incident-damage-environment-countryside, emailing crosscompliancewhistleblowers@daera-ni.gov.uk or telephoning 0300 2007 842 and ask for ‘whistleblower’.