There are certain inevitable grounds maintenance tasks that can only be done at certain times of year, throwing February into the spotlight as a relatively quiet growing time but a relatively busy preparation time. One of these tasks is cutting and maintaining hedges, and GRITIT examines the rationale and legalities behind this annual maintenance task which requires doing on every estate & ground.
It's all about the birds
The UK ‘Bird Nesting Season’ runs from February until August (Natural England) and it is recommended that vegetation works (tree or hedge cutting) or site clearance should be done outside of this nesting season. That said, with our national geography, the nesting period can start before this in the south of the country, starts well after this in the north of the country, and extend beyond it throughout the country according to the type of bird, with for examples pigeons nesting all year round in the UK. The busiest time for nesting birds is from 1st March until 31st July and of course varies according to species, location and habitat.
As grounds maintenance contractors, GRITIT assiduously avoids impact to nesting birds and infringement of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and breaching the European Habitats Directive 1992/Nesting Birds Directive; these being the relevant pieces of legislation that PMs and FMs need to be aware of when taking in consideration their hedge and tree maintenance schedule.
Hedge legislation in the UK
The legislation surrounding hedges and vegetation varies across the UK & Ireland. Ireland has the toughest legislation, with a straight-out complete ban on any hedge cutting during the nesting months, and hefty penalties to boot. On the mainland, the legislation can be divided into two categories. Some specific mature countryside hedges are intrinsically always protected by law, but this doesn't apply to the hedges on typical facilities.
For facilities managers with a typical facility that might have some hedging on the estate, they should be aware that it is an offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built, or to intentionally kill, injure or take chicks or adults, or intentionally take or destroy any eggs. It is an intentional act, for example, if it is clear that there is nestbuilding in progress in the hedge, to cut the hedge, damaging or destroying the nest or contents in the process.
However, it is not illegal to cut a hedge if there is a clear and proven absence of any nest building activity, but given that this is difficult to establish comprehensively, our practice is simply not to cut during the nesting months at all, and to complete such tasks prior to the nesting season. This distinction is not very well understood by consumers, who believe that all hedge cutting is illegal during the nesting months, and this means that you may find yourself reported to the local police wildlife officer even having made sure that the hedge is completely clear.
Nesting not netting
A recent new trend in the UK is to cover hedges and trees with netting prior to the nesting season. The netting in theory keeps birds out, which again in theory means it's possible to cut down trees and hedges during the nesting season because they have not been able to nest there. There are good reasons to resist such an approach and we would not recommend this solution for several reasons: ecological and reputational.
The ecological argument against netting
- Whilst it may seem a sensible compromise, netting is not entirely effective and it presents problems in practise. For example, by putting a net over a tree or hedge, this may create a barrier that traps animals and birds inside, itself another offence.
- Nets can easily be torn, or even intentionally sabotaged, which means birds will get inside and build nests or become trapped.
- Barriers don't work with hedgehog-friendly initiatives because hedgehogs need hedgehog highways (gaps in fences, hedges) to traverse their territory, and it ends up as one goal countering another goal.
Reputational argument against netting
- Consumers simply don't want to see nets over trees and have responded furiously to this practice by setting up 'nesting not netting' pressure groups.
- For example, Cambridge University was forced to remove its netting after such a campaign and issued an apology which did the rounds on the BBC.
- Even the normally reserved citizens of Guildford organised a campaign against netting in their neighbourhood, with the developer withdrawing these nets after the local council became involved.
In conclusion, GRITIT Grounds maintenance follows the guidelines and recommends that all such work be completed prior to the crucial nest-building months of March until August. February is the latest opportunity to complete such tasks, and whilst the country maybe snow-covered today, February's temperatures and weather patterns usually fluctuate sufficiently to take advantage of this last opportunity for this essential grounds maintenance work. Call GRITIT today on 0800 0432 911 to speak to one of our grounds maintenance experts who will help you create a plan that covers your estate all year round ensuring that these essential jobs get done and you stay on the right side of the law and avoid reputational damage.