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  • 16 Feb 2017
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Bird-proof your site before the nesting season

The bird nesting season is fast approaching and typically runs from March to July (although it may extend beyond these periods), writes John Dickson.

Under UK law it is illegal to move or destroy any nest whilst occupied or being built – it is even prohibited to disturb certain species while they are nesting. In other words, even the smallest bird can potentially bring a construction project to a halt until the young have fledged.

Construction companies, developers and demolition companies must adhere to this legislation or they risk significant fines, long and costly delays, or even a prison sentence. Operational risk is not limited to rural locations, it can extend to urban environments, green and brownfield development sites, as well as buildings awaiting demolition.

"Because the legislative nuances relating to birds makes effective control highly complex, it is imperative to obtain advice from a 'bird' expert rather than a general pest controller."

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the public is becoming increasingly savvy about environmental and planning laws. Individuals, ornithological and community groups opposed to construction in their area may use the resident species to hold up a project.

The best way to avoid any potential disruption is simply to schedule works to avoid the breeding and nesting season wherever possible. Of course, this isn’t always feasible, and if that’s the case what can construction firms do to manage risk?

A sensible first step should always be to commission an ecological survey and report ahead of breeding season. Because the legislative nuances relating to birds makes effective control highly complex, it is imperative to obtain advice from a “bird” expert rather than a general pest controller. They can put an auditable mitigation plan in place to ensure operations are approved and legal, which will safeguard the project.

Once a risk assessment has been completed, designated habitat safe zones should be established where birds can nest safely in areas where they do not threaten the project. These zones should be made attractive to the species identified on site.

Next, put measures in place to discourage birds settling outside these areas. This means managing habitats on the development site that could potentially support nesting bird populations. This may include cutting grass or grass disturbance, as well the removal of shrubs and trees.

Birds’ access to the development site should be restricted. This can include the use of netting on potential nesting areas such as hedgerows and property due for demolition or development.

Finally, disturbance and displacement techniques should be used to encourage birds to relocate to the predetermined safe zones. Deterrents can include ecology dogs (trained to sniff out and disperse birds hiding in cover), distress calls, bird scaring lasers and falconry.

To reiterate, the key point is you must always work with a qualified ecologist, and with the assistance of Natural England as necessary. This will ensure the management programmes comply fully with environmental legislation.

John Dickson is managing director at NBC Environment

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