Nesting birds: advice for climbers

Posted by Rob Dyer on 10/03/2013

Why do we have nesting restrictions and how do you find out about which crags are affected? BMC Access Officer Rob Dyer takes a look.

On the whole, climbers as a group of people are very aware of the environment and are happy to help protect it where possible. Nesting birds are part and parcel of this and the BMC agrees a number of temporary climbing restrictions at crags across England and Wales to give birds space to nest successfully during the spring. 

These agreements have a guiding principle of taking the least restrictive option (i.e. a restriction which allows birds to nest undisturbed but which doesn’t exclude sections of crag that are unnecessary). However, it would not be possible or appropriate to agree restrictions for every nesting bird on the crags of England and Wales - sometimes climbers have to use their own judgement in assessing whether their activity is causing a disturbance.

In this article, we take you through the ins and outs of the law relating to nesting birds, useful information on nesting and advice on what to do if you think you are disturbing a nest site.

All wild birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law (the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000). Damaging, destroying or disturbing the nests, birds or eggs is an offence. Schedule 1 species (the subject of the majority of BMC agreed restrictions) are especially vulnerable and subject to additional special protection.

Climbers should be aware that there may be birds nesting at crags that don’t have a formal restriction in place, or that a nest site may have moved since a restriction was agreed, and should exercise good judgement if they do disturb a nest. Some common indicators of nest disturbance are listed below but are not exhaustive:

  • Alarm calling
  • Visibly agitated birds, sometimes circling the threat
  • Mock or actual dive bombing

If climbers observe behaviour of this kind (or indeed any other obvious signs of disturbance) from birds at a crag, the best advice is to back off until the birds stop displaying signs of distress. If this occurs whilst at the base of the crag this is easy enough, but if it happens mid-climb, back off as soon as is safely possible.

There is an added incentive to avoid disturbing some species of bird as they have been known to physically defend their nests against perceived threats. Examples of these are Ravens (which have been known to dive bomb climbers), Fulmars (which often meet unsuspecting climbers pulling onto their nesting ledge with a face full of partially digested fish) and Tawny Owls (which are known to defend their nests fiercely and have caused serious injuries to experienced bird ringers in the past).

A particularly sensitive time is before the chicks hatch, whilst the parent birds are incubating the eggs – if the parents are scared off the nest, the eggs can cool very quickly, preventing the embryo developing correctly. The period of time when birds may be sitting incubating eggs can vary widely across the country and depending on the species – for example Raven tend to nest early and can sit on eggs from February with the young fledging early, whilst some sea birds nest late and will incubate eggs well into June. It’s worth bearing this in mind when assessing if you are disturbing a nest or not.

In addition to crag nesting birds, ground nesting birds are also a common feature of our moorland and upland areas. In general, these are less likely to be disturbed by walkers as they usually locate their nests away from commonly used footpaths and bridleways. However, the greatest risk to ground nesting birds are dogs running off the lead across ground not normally visited by walkers. Dog owners should keep their animals under close control during nesting season in these areas.

Bear in mind that the situation can often change with regard to nesting restrictions – nest sites can move, chicks can fledge early and restrictions may be lifted as a result.

If you have any concerns about nesting birds:

Contact your local BMC Access Representative. 

They will pass any issues that can’t be dealt with locally on to the BMC Access Officers if needed.

To find out the very latest access and bird restriction information:

View the BMC Regional Access Database (RAD)

 

 



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