Protected biodiversity species

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2. Protection for birds

All species of bird have some level of legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This includes some protection for 'pest species'.

The standard level of protection, covering most species of birds, makes it illegal to kill, injure or 'take' a wild bird; it is also illegal to take or destroy the egg of a wild bird; and illegal to take, damage or destroy the nest of a wild bird while the nest is being built or is in use. This protection applies to most common garden birds and most birds that nest in buildings (eg. house martins, swifts, swallows, starlings and house sparrows).

So if you want to remove a tree or hedge that has birds nesting in it, or to maintain a roof or other part of a building where birds are nesting, you must wait until the end of the bird breeding season to do the works. In Devon, most birds breed during the period 1 March to 31 August, although some breed outside this period, eg. blackbirds may lay in February and swallows may still have chicks in September.

Some birds have additional legal protection. As well as the standard protection listed above it is also an offence to intentionally, or recklessly, disturb them while they are in, on, or near a nest containing eggs or young, or to disturb their dependent young. Disturbance could include making extra noise or someone working near the nest entrance, as well as someone purposefully approaching the nest.

Such specially protected species are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and include cirl buntings, barn owls, kingfisher, many birds of prey and various other rare species.  For more information on these species see RSPB, The Barn Owl Trust

A few kinds of 'pest' bird, can be lawfully controlled in certain circumstances: these include crows and their close relatives, wood pigeons, feral pigeons, collared doves and some gulls. It may be legal, using certain methods only, if the birds pose a threat to public health, but not simply because they are felt to be a nuisance, are noisy or because you dislike them. You should get expert advice - contact a professional pest controller, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) or Natural England. If you have a problem with herring gulls or feral pigeons using your building, it is usually more effective to deter them than to kill them (or others will come to take their place!).

Various wildfowl and game species have controls on when and how they may be shot/taken.

There are also controls on the keeping and selling of various types of bird.