Wildflower Alley – mature hedge wrecked

We recently wrote a post looking at Nesting Birds and the Law. We wrote it because at this time of year there are often problems with developers/gardeners trimming or removing hedgerows that may contain nesting birds – and under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 it’s ‘an offence intentionally to 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’. In other words it’s illegal to intentionally destroy or damage an active nest.

The law, as we pointed out though, is notoriously difficult to enforce: you must prove both intention and damage or destruction. While most developers of course act sensibly and within the law (and really don’t want to hurt wildlife any more than we do) it is striking just how many developments seem to take place right before birds start nesting in large numbers, and don’t take into account just how valuable even small patches of habitat are in our increasingly wildlife-unfriendly urban setting. It may not seem like a big deal to take out a patch of habitat used by just a few birds, or one or two butterflies, but this is happening all the time, all over the place. It all adds up to a huge loss of habitat and (especially in the case of hedges) safe passageways for wildlife, and adds to the terrible loss of biodiversity we’re seeing around us. For us, the destruction of urban habitat is a critical factor in the war on wildlife.

The same day that we posted Nesting Birds and the Law we were passed a message from Brid Ruddy (shown in the photo above) and Jim Smyth, who are key members of an award-winning project in Belfast called Wildflower Alley. They had turned a dreary urban entry into a street garden offering a green oasis, but had recently learned that a developer was planning to remove a 40-foot long hedge as part of a conversion of a single house into three apartments.

Brid discussed the potential loss of the hedge, saying that “demolition will destroy the sanctuary for nesting birds. And a brick wall in place of lush greenery and a natural feature will look terrible in our award winning Alley, an urban sanctuary in the midst of a built-up area.”

Brid wrote that last week. By Monday this week the hedge (shown in the header image) was gone.

Wildflower Alley after hedge removal. Image Brid Ruddy

Brid’s colleague Jim Smyth has written a short post for us and it absolutely nails the anger and frustration that acts like this cause – especially so close to the nesting season. Were the birds already nesting in that hedge? We will never be able to prove it either way, and while we won’t speculate (for legal reasons) on the motives behind ripping out a mature hedge at this time of year, it has to be pointed out that without nesting birds in a locality it does make the work of a developer a whole lot easier if they can’t fall foul of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.

Consolation for the developer perhaps, but a kick in the guts for both the people who have worked so hard to create an urban oasis and the wildlife that had responded so positively to the habitat that had been so lovingly provided.


Wildflower Alley is an urban garden in Belfast located between College Park Ave and University Ave. It came about through local initiative and with generous help from many people and groups. The alley was gated and resurfaced as part of an experimental SUDS (sustainable drainage) scheme. It has now become a haven, not just for the residents and visitors but also for wildlife, including at least five species of birds and increasing levels of butterflies and bees. The Alley has been awarded numerous prizes and has been the subject of considerable media attention [EDIT: see, for example, an article from 2015 in the Belfast Telegraph titled “Wildflower Alley: Seeds of pride planted in Holylands regeneration scheme“].

Recently, though, a developer began to refurbish a house backing onto the alleyway.  She assured us that she would not interfere with a 40 foot long mature hedge on her property and the original plans state that the hedge was to be retained.

Early on Monday morning of this week, a crew arrived and cut down the hedge and destroyed a mature flowerbed which was part of the alleyway proper. The Planning Office informed us that she was quite entitled to do this despite the fact that planning permission for the project has not been granted. Since the actions of the demolition crew swiftly destroyed all evidence of nesting, the police could take no action.

This senseless destruction of a mature habitat is another example of a total lack of regard for the need for biodiversity.

Jim Smyth 03 March 2020

If you’d like to send a message of support to Wildflower Alley, their facebook page is here

  • While we may not be able to halt destruction of habitat like this, we could provide you with a platform to discuss it. Please let us know via the ‘Contact Us’ form in the footer of this website.