THE council has tried to justify cutting a hedge where a birds’ nest was found.

The hedge was cut by council workers last week in Cranbourne Lane causing concern to residents who said a birds’ nest had become completely exposed.

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s own policy on hedge cutting management states that hedges should be maintained in the winter months.

Last year it faced similar criticism for carrying out extensive work to chop down trees and a hedgerow in Chapel Hill in May, sparking complaints from the public that it could pose a threat to nesting birds.

It is an offence under section one of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.

For this reason, the RSPB recommends avoiding hedge cutting during the main breeding season for nesting birds, which usually runs throughout March to August each year.

However, the borough council’s head of environmental services, Tom Payne, said: “We are allowed to cut vegetation at any time of the year, where necessary and mindful of wildlife.”

The council’s website states: “Hedge cutting doesn’t take place from mid-March to mid-summer due to nesting birds unless there are health and safety reasons such as impeded sight lines or risk of harm to pedestrians.”

The Gazette asked the council why the hedge needed to be cut during bird nesting season, and the council responded to say: “The hedge along with many others is adjacent to a public right of way so we have a legal right to cut regardless of the time of year.”

It claims the hedge received “a heavy prune last autumn” adding: “But as it’s a well-used footpath, the team were giving it a further trim back and tidy at the sides, not on top.”

Mr Payne said the hedge was “trimmed” following a risk assessment.

Referring to the nest exposed following the cutting, he added: “The nest has been there for a long while and did not contain nesting birds. We would like to reassure the public that we always assess the vegetation to be cut and where there is a live nest, cutting will not take place.

“We would also like to point out that it is the nesting birds that are protected, the nesting season dates are only used as a guide to be aware of nesting birds. We are allowed to cut vegetation at any time of the year, when necessary and mindful of wildlife.”

The council said the hedge is hazel and not in leaf, making it easy to see through.

Basingstoke Gazette:

However, residents say it is covered in ivy, meaning you cannot see if there are birds nesting inside. 

A spokeswoman for the RSPB (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) told the Gazette: “We’re now nearly at the peak of the breeding season, and many species of birds rely on places like hedgerows to build their nests and raise their young. By cutting the hedges at this time of year, you risk not only disturbing the birds, but even damaging the nests and eggs or young.”

She added: “By resisting the urge to tidy we can give birds the space they need to raise a brood in peace.”