Under UK law – Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 – it is illegal to move or destroy any bird’s nest and in some cases it is even illegal to disturb nesting birds, so even the smallest bird can potentially bring a construction site to a halt. Independent environmental consultancy NBC Environment warns that construction companies, developers and demolition companies with projects in the pipeline for next year should take sensible measures now to avoid the risk of costly delays or even significant fines.
John Dickson, Managing Director of NBC Environment, says: “Companies have a responsibility to assess the impact their operations may have on ecology in the local environment. Ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law, therefore you must be satisfied there are no nesting birds present on site before any works commence. They can be easily overlooked, different species nest in trees or shrubs, on the ground or in buildings. As such, failure to effectively survey a potential development in advance of operations is unwise.” Birds listed on Schedule One of the act have the highest level of protection. Not only are you not allowed to harm the adults, the young or eggs, but it is also an offence even to disturb the breeding birds. Schedule One species require a special license from Natural England to carry out any activity that may cause them to change their normal behaviours – and permits are rarely granted for their removal.
Dickson explains: “If a nest is observed after operations have started, a delay is inevitable as there is no legislation available that supports removal for the purpose of construction. Companies that remove birds or nests themselves are breaking the law and liable to face significant financial penalties or prosecution that may extend to a prison sentence.” The bird nesting season is fast approaching; typically taking place from March to July. Operational risk is not limited to rural locations; it can extend to urban environments, greenfield and brownfield development sites, even in cities. The safest option would be to schedule the project outside of breeding season, although this is often impractical or cost prohibitive. In this case, there are solutions that can be put in place to minimise any chance of conflict with nature – providing steps are taken well in advance of the breeding season. Because the legislative nuances relating to birds are highly complex, it is advisable to commission a survey from an experienced ‘bird’ expert. They can put a mitigation plan in place to ensure operations are approved and legal, this will provide auditable evidence that will safeguard the project.
The most effective strategy is not to prevent birds from nesting, but to encourage them to do so in a safe, designated area on site. Once a conservation zone has been established, measures can be taken to encourage birds to move to that area while discouraging them from the development site.
Typical dispersal techniques to deter local bird populations from settling outside of these zones can include proofing, habitat management and dispersal programmes; these can include the use of specially trained dogs or birds of prey, and lasers developed for this purpose are also often effective. All dispersal activities should be carried out with the approval of Natural England as necessary.
John Dickson concludes: “Over and beyond any financial penalties or potential operational delays, the public is increasingly savvy about environmental and planning laws. Individuals and community groups opposed to construction in their area may use resident wildlife as a reason to hold up a construction project. “A carefully considered approach can help to ensure positive outcomes for all stakeholders; development is much better placed to progress on schedule; potential impacts on breeding populations are minimised; and the new habitat created provides a positive legacy for wildlife, and potentially, for leisure use in the area.”