Protecting wild birds during forestry operations

What does the law require?

The law is complicated but recognises that some species need more protection than others. For example, it isn’t always illegal to fell during nesting season but the law requires that we take precautions, particularly for those species that need the most protection.

We comply with those requirements and usually do more.

Our sustainable management of the Welsh Woodland Estate

Natural Resources Wales manage 126,000 hectares of forest across Wales on behalf of the Welsh Government. We manage the estate according to the principles of Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) which means balancing various constraints and demands, such as timber production, habitat and species management, recreation, and landscape.

Sometimes we can’t avoid carrying out work at times of year when birds are nesting, but when we do, you can be sure that we have taken appropriate precautions. We have procedures and safeguards in place to ensure that any disturbance caused by our forest operations is minimised.

How do we protect wild birds?

To reduce disturbance to breeding birds, all coupes (areas of forest that have been identified for works) are surveyed prior to forest operations. We also check historical records to assess if protected species are known to have nested in that area previously.

We always take account of the different needs and sensitivities of protected species we identify. Depending on which species it is, we may avoid working in the same area as a nest site or delay our operations to a later date.

Small-scale disturbance, large-scale improvements

Well-managed forests are good for wildlife, including birds, and we are gradually improving our forests for wildlife by providing a more varied structure, such as different ages and species of trees in certain areas.

A diverse forest structure provides habitat suitable for more bird species. It will come as no surprise that areas of continuous-cover forestry (where the area is never completely cleared of trees) provide great bird breeding sites. However, even areas that have been clear-felled, which may look quite barren, are important too. They provide habitat for the nightjar as it closely resembles their natural lowland heath habitat which has declined considerably in the last two hundred years.

Nearly 20,000 hectares of ancient woodland on the estate we manage has now been improved for biodiversity. Many of these areas, previously planted with conifers, are now in the process of being restored. It’s a slow process but the results are worth the wait.

Whilst some work in the forest may have an impact on small numbers of birds and animals, improving the forest structure will have a really positive contribution to supporting those populations in the long-term.

Forest operations, such as felling, always mean some localised disturbance. However, the area affected is usually very small compared to the total area of undisturbed forest. Most birds and animals will move into these other areas when work starts.

How we licence others

Anyone wishing to fell a significant number of trees in Wales will usually need to apply to us for a felling licence. Whilst we have the power under the Forestry Act 1967 to refuse a licence or impose conditions, the law only allows us to do this on certain grounds. We can only refuse a licence or impose conditions on the grounds that it is expedient to do so “in the interests of good forestry, agriculture, amenity of the district” or in the interests of exercising our “duty of promoting the establishment and maintenance of adequate reserves of growing trees.” The only conditions we can impose relate to the restocking of the land with trees and the maintenance of those trees.

Those doing the work will still need to carry out appropriate safeguards to avoid legal penalties if they disturb or destroy protected species or their nest sites, but these are not part of the felling licence. You can find out more about the legal protection given to birds and other UK protected species in Wales.

Cross-compliance and agricultural grants and payments

Landowners in receipt of certain agricultural payments are required to comply with Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) as a condition of their payments. GAEC 7 provides additional restrictions for the protection of nesting birds. You can read more about cross compliance and GAEC 7 on the Welsh Government website.

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