There are certain laws regarding hedge cutting which you should be aware of to ensure there is no damage to active bird nests.
Hedge cutting and the law
Some mature hedgerows are protected by law but this wouldn’t normally apply to garden hedges.
We recommend avoiding hedge cutting during the main breeding season for nesting birds, which usually runs throughout March to August each year. This can be weather dependent and some birds may nest outside this period, so it is important to always check carefully for active nests prior to cutting.
It is an offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built, or to intentionally kill, injure or take chicks or adults, or intentionally take or destroy any eggs.
It is an intentional act, for example, if you or your neighbour know there is an active nest in the hedge and still cut the hedge, damaging or destroying the nest or contents in the process.
If someone is cutting a hedge during this period, speak to them and politely mention the risk to birds’ nests, and the laws protecting nests.
If they proceed, and you know there is an active nest at risk, contact the police on 101, and ask for a reference number.
If you are unsure what to do, contact RSPB Wildlife Enquiries on: 01767 693690. Please note due to Coronavirus the Wildlife Enquiries team are currently unable to take calls but they are available on email - contact them here.
Note: The Police have the responsibility for enforcing this legislation and the RSPB do not enforce the law on these cases. We can provide advice to the Police where appropriate.
A joint responsibility
Disagreements with neighbours often relate to the size and tidiness of the hedge and about cutting the hedge, particularly during the breeding season.
A boundary hedge is usually the joint responsibility of both neighbours. Both must agree on major work, including removal, coppicing or laying.
In theory, you need your neighbours' agreement even before trimming the hedge. If the hedge is just inside your neighbours' garden, they own it. You only have the right to trim any part which encroaches over your boundary line. Your neighbour should ask for your permission for access to trim the hedge on your property.
Regardless of ownership, no-one can trim or cut a hedge if the action damages active birds' nests, and hence violates the Wildlife and Countryside Act. If tall hedges or trees put your garden in the shade, you can cut off branches which overhang your boundary.
You can also prune back roots that invade your property, even if this is detrimental to the plant. You do not have the right to cut down vegetation on your neighbours' property, or apply weedkiller to destroy the plants.