COLUMN: Take care when gardening

It is usually around this time of year when you'll be looking at your garden and thinking, maybe it's time to do a spring tidy-up!

There is something satisfying about pulling up weeds, cutting back hedges and trimming grass - especially when you see the end result.

But there is one important thing to remember while you are doing it - look before you lop!

Every year, the RSPCA is contacted about wildlife suffering gardening-related injuries.

Last year, this included a toad with its hind legs chopped off by a strimmer, a hedgehog burnt in pampas grass clearance, a blackbird speared by a garden fork and a toad stuck in a watering can.

It’s a peak time for wild animals to sustain distressing and often fatal gardening-related injuries, and in most cases these incidents would have been completely avoidable with a few precautions.

A quick check for wild animals and their nests in long grass or foliage could be all that is needed to prevent young animals from being abandoned and save others from losing a limb or its life.

Ways to avoid such injuries include:

• Avoiding cutting hedges whist birds are nesting (we would recommend not cutting them between March and August);

• Checking for birds or their nests before clearing scrub or cutting hedges;

• Keeping drains and swimming pools covered;

• Removing sports and garden netting and storing in a safe place when not in use.

It is also worth keeping some areas of the garden wild and untidy as many animals rely on leaf piles, compost heaps and even weeds for nesting and food.

Frogs and toads like overgrown ponds and tidying them now could disturb their eggs or newly hatched tadpoles.

Householders should also beware of falling foul of the law through careless gardening. Now Spring is here, many birds will be busy building nests and rearing young, so extra care is needed to ensure that you don’t damage or destroy these nests or their occupants.

Under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird; damage, destroy or take the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built; destroy an egg of any wild bird or intentionally or recklessly disturb certain wild birds or their dependent young while they are nesting.

Happy but safe spring cleaning!