The Harris hawks are trained not to attack birds but should act as a deterrent, says HS2 Ltd (Photo by Stan Badz/R&A/R&A/PGA TOUR via Getty Images) The Harris hawks are trained not to attack birds but should act as a deterrent, says HS2 Ltd (Photo by Stan Badz/R&A/R&A/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

‘Contemptible’: HS2 employs Harris hawks to scare birds away

Environmental campaigners have condemned the use of hawks to ward off other birds along the route of the first phase of HS2, describing the practice as ‘dubious’, ‘immoral’ and ‘contemptible’, but the Whitehall-run company behind the rail project says it is standard industry practice.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird, or take or destroy their eggs or nest, or damage a nest, while that nest is in use or being built. 

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Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

In force/Current
Legislation
England, Wales, Scotland
Published
20 May 2021

Commentary

24/07/2020 Amending Act (Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020) published.
04/03/2021 Amending Order (SI 2021/236) published.
05/05/2021 Amending Order (SI 2021/548) published.

Compliance Dates

30/10/1981 Received Royal Assent

Characteristics

Subject

Wildlife and conservation, Land and development

Source

OPSI (Office of Public Sector Information)

Affected Sectors

Agriculture, Animal Boarding and Pest Control, Conservation, Land Management and Landscaping, Construction, Cross-sector, Fishing and aquaculture, Forestry
ECM

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Document Status: In force/Current

Scope: England, Wales, Scotland

Commentary:

24/07/2020 Amending Act (Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020) published.
04/03/2021 Amending Order (SI 2021/236) published.
05/05/2021 Amending Order (SI 2021/548) published.

Compliance:

30/10/1981 Received Royal Assent

In a Channel 4 story aired last night, a news clip showed a pest control contractor – employed by HS2 Ltd – flying Harris hawks over the ancient Broadwells Wood to deter birds from nesting near the new HS2 railway route. 

No law has been broken by flying the hawks through the Warwickshire ancient woodland as permission had been granted by the landowner, but groups including the RSPB and the Woodland Trust have condemned the practice. 

Luci Ryan, lead ecologist for the Woodland Trust, described the revelations as “alarming” and a “damaging method” to deal with nature. 

She said: “The wood is currently teeming with life, bluebells emerging, badgers busy in their setts and birds prospecting. By employing tactics that skirt the law, HS2 yet again appears to be a cowboy operation and not an exemplar of best practice expected of a government-backed project.”

At 3.2 hectares, Broadwells Wood is the single biggest ancient woodland to be cleared along HS2 phase one, which would connect London with the West Midlands.

The woods shot to national attention last year when environmentalist Chris Packham successfully lobbied the government on behalf of protestors to stop HS2 ancient woodland clearances while the scheme was being reviewed. Last month, the government gave HS2 its final approval to kick-start the project. 

But the Woodland Trust believes the company should now wait until late autumn when “the wood becomes dormant”. 

The director of RSPB England, Emma Marsh agrees. In a statement, she said: “If HS2 Ltd think a hawk flying around is going to scare all the other birds away from nesting in the wood this spring and summer and leave them a clear run at demolishing the wood, then they’re wrong. 

“This may come as a shock to HS2’s contractors, but there are almost certainly tawny owls, buzzards and sparrowhawks in that wood already… why would a Harris hawk flying around make them desert the place?”

But in a statement, an HS2 spokesman said the hawks were being used precisely because previous protests had stopped trees being felled in winter last year before the bird nesting season had started. 

He said: “Trained hawks have had to be used in Broadwells Wood because the presence of protesters has stopped trees being felled during the winter and before the bird nesting season starts.”

“The use of specially-trained hawks is one of a number of efficient and effective tools we have to encourage birds to nest away from our construction sites. The hawks are trained not to attack birds and, where possible, decoys attached to poles are also used to ward off smaller birds from nesting.”

He added: “HS2 Ltd contractors are keenly aware of the law around nesting birds, and during nesting season an ecologist is present during all tree clearance work in order to spot nesting birds and stop work where necessary.”

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