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Rules on trimming hedges and trees

All wild birds are protected. This includes their nests (whilst in use or being built) as well as
any eggs the nest may contain. Under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), it
is an offence to:

  1. intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird;
  2. intentionally damage, destroy or take the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built (nests of golden eagle, white tailed eagle and osprey are protected all year round);
  3. intentionally destroy an egg of any wild bird;
  4. intentionally or recklessly disturb certain wild birds or their dependent young while they are nesting (including disturbance of nesting young);

Although within the WCA no dates are legally stated between which hedges cannot be trimmed, cut, laid or coppiced, the main bird breeding season is recognised as being between 1 March and 31 July. Therefore the risk of committing any of the above offences is increased between these dates.

See more on rules on hedges, the law rules and regulations or  download a pdf copy Hedges and the law

If your work crossed into rural areas or farm contracting then you may want to get up to speed on new rules for trimming hedges and trees.

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  • Interesting that you've just posted this.

    As I was dropping off the kids to school this morning some gardeners were cutting back a length of mixed hedging that was growing over the footpath. Not too sensible using hedge cutters so close to small kids or the resulting cuttings left all over the path.

    What does this bit mean in the real world...."intentionally or recklessly disturb certain wild birds or their dependent young while they are nesting (including disturbance of nesting young)"....How much of a disturbance constitutes a problem?

    • PRO

      I think the word knowingly would work better than intentionally.

  • PRO

    Noticed a story go through on my news feed (Mail Online) this morning.

    Clipped hedge? It's a wildlife crime, say angry villagers: Residents call in police after mile of hedgerow was hacked back during bird nesting season

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3110197/Clipped-hedge-s-wil... 

    From the Horsington blog.

    Who chopped the hedgerow down?

    The drastic cutting back of  a mile or so of hedgerow around Horsington at the height of the nesting season is an outrage. Isn’t it illegal to cut hedges after March?

    Who is responsible? The Parish Council? The SSDC? The County Council?  Horsington Manor? And what about the so-called County Wildlife Site?

    Perhaps someone will come forward and tell us why. But we doubt it.

    See https://www.gov.uk/countryside-hedgerows-regulation-and-management

    Full photographic record

    Police to investigate

  • I was asked to quote cutting a 100m long 3m high, thick Leylandii hedge. I explained that it would have to be left until August because of nesting birds (I hadn't checked but was sure to be some nesting activity) I was surprised to discover that another firm had gone in and cut the said hedge 2 weeks later (mid May) !

  • PRO

    Over here hedges that are bordering public roads have to be cut between 1st and 15th June and 15th and 30th September or could get a fine upto £1000.

  • We gardeners can trim hedges at any time. With regularly trimmed hedges we are only taking off the new growth. Birds don’t make nests in three inches of new growth on a privet hedges etc., they make their nests deep in the hedge, i.e. the bit we aren’t cutting. In 35 years of hedge cutting [trimming that is – not reducing in size] I have never disturbed a bird’s nest.

    I think the confusion comes because of farmers. As they are under DEFRA and receive subsidies, they are under DEFRA rules and they are not allowed to cut their hedges until October. Also they are using flail cutters and only cut back once a year. So you can see why this applies to them.

    Some hedges that are at the road side are allowed to be cut with flails at any time because of road safety/line of sight.

    So if you are just trimming off new growth then it is fine. Reducing in height or width a mature hedge should be left until later in the season.

    I don’t see a problem cutting a hedge near a school either. Just make your kids walk clear of any workmen. They should be social distancing anyway.

    • Legally I'm sure you are right, but the fact is that if we are cutting hedges during nesting season, we will be disturbing or at the very least upsetting nesting birds.

      I agree near paths etc there is not always much that can be done, but elsewhere surely it's best just to wait 

  • PRO


    Hedge Law | The Law and Garden Hedges - The RSPB
    Hedges are the cause of many disagreements between neighbours. These often relate to the size & tidiness of the hedge, and about cutting the hedge
  • First post, so please go easy :)I think that there two points:

    Damaging or destroying an active nest - any wild bird

    Disturbing nesting wild birds that are on a specific list Sch 1 list

    While it may not be ideal, mild hedge-trimming is unlikely to damage a nest. An option might be to contact local groups that may know about the likelihood of listed birds, which does change, before working.

  • Hi all, 

    The four points mentioned above apply year round. I cut hedges year round but do my best to keep outside of the 'main' nesting season dates 1st March- 31st July to make life as easy as poss. All my regular customers are tuned in to this and I find it educates people somewhat in the importance of our wildlife.....most appreciate this and will happy tolerate scruffy hedges a while longer.

    Some birds like wood pigeons I believe nest year round so I do my due diligence and check the hedges I cut year round. As with most things social media posts mainly by people that have not taken the time to thoroughly read the laws/ regulations (not directed to anyone here)  can create undue negative feelings towards anyone cutting hedges outside of the given dates. (That is so long as they have checked for nests etc of course) Basically no harm no foul!


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