Remembering the rules when photographing nests
Wildlife photographers have a moral responsibility towards their subjects – and there are laws to consider too. Award-winning photographer Ben Andrew shares advice on taking pictures in the bird breeding season.
The accessibility of digital photography has, to an extent, turned us all into wildlife photographers. Everyone has a camera on their phone these days, and the sheer range and quality of equipment on the market, at all levels, has led to a huge upsurge in wildlife photographers in the UK in the last 10 years.
It’s great that so many people out in the countryside, enjoying wildlife and wanting to share what they see. But it’s crucial to protect birds’ interests while you’re taking photos – and protect yourself from the law especially at this time of year when millions of birds are nesting in the UK.
Wild birds and the law
All wild birds in the UK are fully protected by law.
The laws that protect birds in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all slightly different and it’s important to know the facts.
There are two protection levels: ordinarily protected birds and species listed on Schedule 1. ‘Schedule 1 species’ as they are commonly known are our rarer and more threatened species. The difference from a photography point of view is that it’s an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb Schedule 1 birds whilst they are nest building, at, on or near an active and whilst they have dependent young. So, in basic terms, avoid these species in the breeding season unless you are lucky enough to hold a government license or are watching from a public hide, such as osprey at Loch Garten.
For more information see Wild Birds and the Law. For more information on this in Scotland see here.
:: You can check the list of Schedule 1 species here
:: You can also find further information on Schedule 1 species in Scotland here
The moral position
Between March-August ordinarily protected birds are either nesting or about to start nesting. As such, we don’t morally encourage the photography of nests for fear of disturbance.
If you are close to a nest you could risk:
If you do feel compelled to photograph common breeding birds then there is no set distance to stand from a nest as each bird is different in terms of its tolerance, so just make a common-sense decision based on the bird’s behaviour towards you. To be safe, position yourself well away from a nesting site or take your pictures from a public hide.
We also recommend not getting too close to any species that are feeding their young outside of the nest after fledging, or disturbing birds setting up territories before nesting. It is crucial that birds don’t waste their time and energy, so do not prevent a bird from building a nest, and never use tape lures to attract singing territorial males who need to focus this time on courting a female. Like all courtships, it’s best to stay out of other people’s...!
Give people what they want – not what they don’t
Bird photography has moved on in leaps and bounds since its first inception and, in fact, photography at the nest is no longer considered something that most organisations or individuals are keen to see. The RSPB has very little need for nest images except for specific scientific projects. And websites such as BirdGuides will not publish any images of Schedule 1 species during the breeding season at all.
Equally, no-one wants to see images of an adult bird looking stressed because it doesn’t feel comfortable entering its nest or is prevented from doing so.
Plus, with long lenses and modern equipment allowing images to be cropped, there really is no need to get too close!
Finally, we ask you to please never give out detailed nesting locations of any species – this information could easily fall into the wrong hands. However if you spot a bird nesting somewhere new, or see something unusual, tell the county bird recorder, RSPB and the Rare Breeding Bird Panel. Otherwise be cautious about spreading any news.
So please go out, enjoy our wonderful wildlife and capture fantastic images in an ethical, responsible and legal way.
STOP PRESS: The petition will now close at midnight on 2 May
The illegal hunting of birds in Mediterranean countries has again been highlighted in the media recently, with our Vice President Chris Packham experiencing first-hand the situation in Malta.
But Malta isn’t the only place where large-scale illegal hunting takes place.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is responsible for looking after two ‘Sovereign Base Areas’ on Cyprus – at Dhekelia and Akrotiri. These are UK Overseas Territories, but they aren’t fenced-off, razor-wired fortresses – the bases include some villages and the British territory blends into the surrounding countryside.
Illegal bird trappers take advantage of this situation and kill hundreds of thousands of migrant songbirds each year. The trappers plant Australian acacia trees and hide their nets amongst them.
And this is large-scale, organised crime - last year, our partner BirdLife Cyprus estimated that 800,000 birds were killed at Dhekelia in autumn 2016. The birds are sold on the black market to local restaurants - to some they are considered a delicacy.
RSPB supporter Harriet Allen told us she’d been compelled to take action, after hearing Chris discuss the topic on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show. So now, thanks to Harriet, you can express your views by signing a UK Government petition, challenging the MoD to take action against trapping on its land in Cyprus.
There is hope. Our colleagues at BirdLife Cyprus met with the Base Authorities at the beginning of April. The new Base Commander has asked if he can see the worst trapping black-spots for himself and affirmed his commitment to tackling the problem, while a three-year strategy to deal with illegal bird-killing is underway. We look forward to working with the Base Authorities to remove the acacia trees, planted by the trappers to enable them to catch and kill the birds.
Rest assured that we won’t let this issue drop, and we’ll keep going until this industrial-scale slaughter comes to an end.
Sign the petition here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/191485