For woodland management purposes, most birds are protected species.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 prohibits the ‘intentional killing, injuring or taking of any wild bird and the taking, damaging or destroying of the nest (whilst being built or in use) or eggs’. So although it’s not illegal to work in your woods in the bird nesting season, it’s good practice to avoid carrying out works from March to July or even August to avoid the risk of disturbance. It’s worth mentioning here that game birds, such as many wildfowl, are covered in a separate schedule of the Act. They are protected during the ‘close season’ (1 February to 31 August) but may be killed or taken outside this period. Thirteen so-called ‘pest species’ can be killed or taken at all times, for example, crows, rooks, pigeons and Canada geese.
Badgers are protected with their own legislation.
Under 1992 Protection of Badgers Act, it is an offence to kill, injure, or take a badger or to interfere with a badger sett by obstructing any entrances. It’s also illegal to disturb a badger when it’s occupying a sett. In most cases you should be able to avoid disturbing badgers and damaging or blocking access to their sett. If you can’t, you can apply for a licence to do so from Natural England. You’ll need to show you’ve tried everything else possible to avoid affecting badgers. There is more information on this at /www.gov.uk/guidance/badgers-protection-surveys-and-licences
European Protected Species EPS
These are species protected under Annex IV of the European Habitats Directive. Let’s not mention Brexit! EPS include all seventeen UK species of bat, dormouse, great crested newt, otter, sand lizard and smooth snake. Sadly most of us would be very unlikely to encounter the last three in our woodlands as these are rare animals with specialist habitat needs. However most mixed broadleaf woodlands, certainly ancient woodlands, potentially have bats roosting in them. In the south of England, they could have dormice living there too. Any woodlands with ponds, whether permanent or seasonal, could provide habitat for great crested newt.
How do I Manage My Woodland if I’ve got EPS
This will depend on what species you’ve got. The Forestry Commission publish some excellent guidance online at https://www.forestry.gov.uk/england-eps .
The guidance explains when the different species are most vulnerable to forestry work and how best to avoid harm to them. Sometimes this may not be possible eg if you are proposing to fell a tree with a confirmed bat roost. In that case, you’ll need to get a licence from Natural England. Mostly however, if you follow best practice guidance, a licence will not be necessary.
The key to avoiding harm to EPS is really timing. For instance, coppicing in a wood with dormice is best done while they are hibernating deep in hollows amongst tree roots between November and March. The least vulnerable times for bats on the other hand are March/April and September/October. This avoids the summer period (May to August) when the females are in maternity roosts or the winter period (November to February) when bats are hibernating and unable to react quickly to threats.
The golden rule is that, if you come across EPS in your woodland, stop work straightaway and seek advice from Natural England.