Nesting Birds

We are now coming up to the bird breeding season, which can start as early as February, becoming busier in March, and running into late August.

All works must be planned to take account of nesting birds to ensure we stay on the right side of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) and avoid the possibility of prosecution and reputational damage.

All birds are protected while attempting to breed. For our purposes, this covers the potential for damage or destruction of nests. This could be construed as being caused by on-going operations such as felling, forwarding and timber haulage. However, for some species on Schedule 1 of the WCA, an offence can be committed just by disturbing the birds whilst building a nest or while on, or near, a nest containing eggs or young.
Much of Tilhill’s case studies around breeding birds involves raptors and specific internal guidance is available for our managers alongside Toolbox Talks for our contractors.
Of the raptors, the one we encounter most often is the Buzzard which has a whole Toolbox Talk to itself (TT/79). This can be downloaded from our Contractor Portal at

While all birds are protected in the breeding season, not all birds are treated equally as can be seen in those birds that fall into Schedule 1. This is reflected in Scottish Forestry’s FCS Guidance Note 32 Forest operations and birds in Scottish forests which states: ‘Effort to avoid or minimise disturbance should be proportionate to the status of the species, with special attention paid to the rarest, most susceptible or those with special protection.’

When dealing with breeding birds and our operations, often referenced is a rather old, but still relevant, document called Forests and Birds which also focuses on the rarer species.

The provisional safe working distances detailed in Forests and Birds is used to buffer our operations from nesting birds. These distances are guidelines only and distances may be reduced if factors such as topography allows.

A key assumption in the guidance is that the most sensitive period is during nest building, egg laying, and incubation. Once chicks hatch the parents are completely invested in the young and are less likely to abandon and for this reason the buffer zone can be reduced. The buffer zone is one means of controlling risks to nesting birds, ensuring compliance with the WCA and ensuring we are being reasonable. Remember it is not in the public interest to take a reasonable person to court. Of course, another control is to delay works until out with the breeding season.

All of the controls we might put in place to protect breeding birds must be documented which may be a simple site diary note, a detailed method statement, or making sure your operatives have signed a Toolbox Talk.
Our Forest Ecologist, John Gallacher, can be contacted for advice on breeding birds at any time:

Guidance notes for our managers:

• Birds and our operations (GN/18)
• Finding and Protecting Raptor nests in Woodlands (GN/73)

Toolbox talks

• Breeding Birds (TT/37)
• Buzzards (TT/79)
• White-tailed Eagles (TT/72)