Guidance

Providing and protecting habitat for wild birds

How to support wild birds by protecting their habitat and avoiding pollution if you're a local or other competent authority.

You must provide and protect habitat for wild birds if you’re a competent authority, including:

  • local authorities
  • the Environment Agency
  • Natural England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • the Forestry Commission
  • national park and the Broads authorities
  • the Marine Management Organisation and inshore fisheries and conservation authorities
  • other relevant competent authorities

You must, as part of your existing duties as a competent authority, take the steps you consider appropriate to preserve, maintain and re-establish habitat that is large and varied enough for wild birds to support their population in the long term.

You must use your powers so that any pollution or deterioration of wild bird habitat is avoided as far as possible. You can use special protection areas selection guidelines to think about how and where bird populations live.

There are no national population targets for wild birds. However, you must aim to provide habitat that allows bird populations to maintain their numbers in the areas where they naturally live. They include:

  • protected areas such as sites of special scientific interest in England and Wales
  • the countryside, eg woodland, urban areas, mudflats
  • inshore marine areas, eg estuaries, inlets and reefs

You should focus on habitats for wild birds in decline but also maintain habitats supporting wild birds with healthier populations.

Ways to provide wild bird habitat

Identify habitat types

Identify the wild bird habitat that is being or could be used by wild birds in the future on land that you own, manage or have influence over.

These habitats may already be identified, eg in:

Identify wild bird species

Identify the species of wild bird that use this habitat now or could do in the future. Focus particularly on species with populations that are in decline using:

Protect the habitat

Preserve, maintain or establish the habitats that have been identified, or create new ones. You can do this if you’re a competent authority in different ways, including any of the following:

  • take over management or control of habitats
  • consider bird populations when consulting on or granting consents, such as planning permissions, environmental permits, development or environmental consents, and other consents
  • consider how to incorporate measures to improve bird habitat when administering funding such as grants schemes or agricultural funds
  • make sure that strategic plans like development control, marine or land use plans take conservation into account
  • think about how decisions on land use or the marine environment could benefit wild birds
  • consider protected sites when making decisions, eg when granting permissions, permits and consents

You can improve habitat conditions if you’re a competent authority by:

  • designating and managing your own sites for conservation, considering where improvements can be made to bird habitat
  • running projects in England for Countryside Stewardship or Glastir in Wales

Planning and development control

Use planning and development control to conserve and enhance the natural environment as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework or Planning Policy Wales.

Planning authorities can:

You can contact local records centres in England and Wales for up-to-date wildlife data, eg wild birds and their habitats.

Habitat types

There are no specific methods you must use, but different methods may be suitable for different types of habitat. You should also consider the appropriate scale for each type of management.

Lowland farmland

You can help wild birds on lowland farmland if you’re a competent authority by ensuring there are habitats large and varied enough on arable and pastoral land.

What counts as lowland farmland

Lowland farmland includes arable and grass fields, hedgerows and other habitats that aren’t farmed but are associated with lowland agriculture, eg ditches. You can help wild birds on lowland farmland if you’re a competent authority by making sure there are habitats large and varied enough on arable and pastoral land which you:

  • own
  • manage
  • have influence over

You can also support tenants if you’re a competent authority who want to apply for the following schemes to provide wild bird habitat:

Examples of farmland wild birds include the kestrel, corn bunting, grey partridge, turtle dove and yellowhammer.

You can also do any of the following if you’re a competent authority:

Where to find example projects for lowland farmland

Example projects for lowland farmland include:

Uplands

Uplands include both of the following:

  • rocky habitats such as screes, ledges and mountain habitats
  • areas with specific vegetation, eg heaths, bogs and rough grasslands found above the 250 to 400m upper limit of an agricultural enclosure

These open habitats have important connections with other habitats including native woodlands and freshwaters. They’re found in mid and North Wales, the North York moors, Pennines, Lake and Peak Districts, and Exmoor.

How to improve habitat conditions on uplands

You can improve habitat conditions if you’re a competent authority in different ways including any of the following:

  • by allowing the ground to hold water through rewetting or ditch blocking
  • only allowing appropriate burning
  • avoid over-grazing which can cause a decline in biodiversity
  • avoid under-grazing which can lead to too many shrubs and bushy plants spreading
  • cutting of meadows and pastures at the appropriate time of year and trying to use wildlife friendly mowing practices - search the RSPB publications list for detailed information on how to do this
  • create a variety of habitats where it’s appropriate to do so, eg blanket bog, wet and dry heath, scrub or woodland
  • carry out large-scale restoration where habitats are badly degraded or give targeted help to wild birds in decline, eg the twite
  • control predators - this will help ground-nesting wild birds including the black grouse, curlew, lapwing and golden plover

Examples of upland wild birds include the peregrine falcon, hen harrier and ring ouzel.

You can also do the following if you’re a competent authority:

Where to find example projects for uplands

Example projects for uplands include:

Woodlands

You can support wild birds if you’re a competent authority by making sure there are trees, bushes or plants of different heights, species and ages to create a more varied structure in woodland areas.

What counts as woodland areas

Woodland areas include all of the following:

  • broadleaved and conifer woodland
  • lowland wood-pastures and parklands
  • wet woodland (alder, birch and willows)
  • upland oak or ash woods - these cover around 10% of the land area in England and Wales

Examples of woodland wild birds include the chaffinch, woodpecker, hawfinch and thrush.

How to improve habitat conditions in woodland areas

You can help wild birds if you’re a competent authority by managing woodlands you own or control to create a more varied woodland structure. You can do this in different ways, including any of the following:

  • providing trees of different species, age classes and dead wood
  • creating rides, glades and riparian areas to make open spaces within the woodland to increase habitat diversity
  • expanding areas of woodland by connecting habitats together
  • restoring traditional practices, eg coppicing
  • controlling grazing, especially by large deer populations

You can improve habitats if you’re a competent authority by making sure that privately owned woodland is maintained to allow bird populations to breed on a long-term basis. You can also improve habitats by being familiar with relevant woodland and forest guidelines including any of the following:

You also have other ways to act if you’re a competent authority, including any of the following:

Where to find example projects for woodland areas

Example projects for woodland areas include:

Lowland heathland

Competent authorities can provide grants for recreating, restoring and maintaining habitat, and advice on land management methods on lowland heathlands.

What counts as lowland heathland

Lowland heathland is found on acidic, sandy or peaty soils, and usually features a range of dwarf-shrubs. It’s common in the coastal counties of England and Wales (Suffolk, Somerset, the Gower, Pembrokeshire, the Llyn Peninsula, and Anglesey).

You can also find lowland heathland inland, eg in the Thames basin, Breckland, the Midlands, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, South Wales valleys and Snowdonia.

Examples of lowland heathland wild birds include the nightjar, woodlark and stonechat.

How to improve habitat conditions on lowland heathland

You can improve habitat conditions on lowland heathland if you’re a competent authority in different ways, including any of the following:

  • restoring heathlands (including those on public land) by ensuring appropriate grazing and cutting, and addressing sources of pollution and nutrient enrichment
  • expanding and reconnecting fragments of heathland, specifically by using the government’s policy on open habitats
  • planning and development control can protect existing heathland, and land that could be recreated as heathland
  • consider the economic and public value of lowland heathland ecosystems when making future decisions on land use

You can also run Countryside Stewardship projects if you’re a competent authority.

Where to find example projects for lowland heathland

Example projects for lowland heathland include the:

Freshwater wetlands

You can protect wetland habitats for wild birds if you’re a competent authority by improving water quality and controlling diffuse pollution, eg agricultural or industrial run-off.

What counts as freshwater wetlands

Freshwater wetlands includes all of the following:

  • a wide variety of aquatic habitats in lowland and upland areas
  • swamps, marshes, bogs, floodplains and fen
  • rivers, streams and ditches in lowland and upland environments

Examples of freshwater wetland wild birds include the mute swan, mallard duck and kingfisher.

How to improve habitat conditions on freshwater wetlands

You can manage water levels to avoid extremes of flooding and drying out if you’re a competent authority.

You can also:

Where to find example projects for freshwater wetlands

Example projects for freshwater wetlands include:

Marine and coastal

You can provide wild bird habitat in coastal wetlands if you’re a competent authority by adopting a sustainable approach to coastal defences in:

This includes the managed realignment of coastal habitats, where flood defences are altered to allow a defended area to flood, creating intertidal habitat.

What counts as marine and coastal areas

Marine and coastal areas include all of the following:

  • coastal cliffs, slopes, sand dunes and shingle banks
  • saltmarsh and mudflats
  • inshore and offshore reefs
  • sea grass and mollusc beds on which wild birds may depend for food

Examples of marine and coastal wild birds include waders, puffins and gulls.

How to improve habitat conditions in marine and coastal areas

You can improve habitat conditions in marine and coastal areas in different ways if you’re a competent authority, including contributing to the management of any of the following:

These areas support the breeding success and survival rates of wild seabirds by improving feeding conditions and managing activities that might disturb them.

You can also do any of the following if you’re a competent authority:

  • supporting sustainable fisheries and shellfisheries, eg using funding and decision-making on licensing and byelaws
  • create new habitats, eg through managed realignment
  • make sure that new infrastructure like wind farms are placed where it will have the least impact
  • carry out marine planning for England and Wales that support wild birds, eg encouraging developments that consider wildlife and the environment

Where to find examples of marine and coastal projects

Example projects for marine and coastal habitats include:

  • managing coastal slopes by Pembrokeshire coast national park authority - creating habitats using traditional methods of farming
  • climbing restrictions by Pembrokeshire outdoor charter group - a voluntary agreement to protect feeding and nesting sites
  • habitat creation programme - includes securing compensatory habitat for future coastal defence works

Urban habitats

You can use urban planning measures if you’re a competent authority to provide wild bird habitat, and promote the benefits for biodiversity.

What counts as urban habitats

Urban habitats include a wide range of city centre streets, public parks, gardens, derelict and undeveloped areas.

Examples of urban wild birds include the swift, house sparrow and starling.

How to improve habitat conditions in urban habitats

You can enhance your natural and local environment if you’re a competent authority by:

  • supporting wildlife, recreation, carbon storage and food production
  • reducing flood risk and pollution

You can secure habitat if you’re a competent authority by:

  • granting tree preservation orders
  • connecting fragmented habitats and creating wildlife corridors
  • design buildings, green spaces and drainage systems to create areas for nesting, roosting and feeding, including artificial roost sites

You can design and create green infrastructure to maintain and enhance biodiversity.

You can also do any of the following if you’re a competent authority:

  • check that any work to disturb or control wild birds is carried out under an appropriate bird licence in England or a bird licence in Wales
  • improve habitat, eg by managing hedgerows and road verges, and creating wildlife corridors
  • carry out planning and development control
  • carry out projects to create habitat, eg local wildlife sites

Where to find example projects for urban habitats

Example projects for urban habitats include:

Legislation on wild bird habitat

The legislation for providing wild bird habitat includes:

Published 25 February 2016