Nets preventing birds reaching their nests after migrating thousands of miles from Africa

Council to partially remove netting after heavy criticism from wildlife experts

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Tuesday 09 April 2019 17:57 BST
Nets in Bacton, Norfolk preventing birds reaching their nests after migrating thousands of miles from Africa

A council will partially remove netting that prevents birds from accessing their nests after flying thousands of miles to their spring breeding grounds in Norfolk, after it came under fire from campaigners.

Sand martins undertake enormous migrations from Africa, and return every year to sandy burrows in the UK in which they lay their eggs and raise chicks.

However, this year their progress has been hampered by nets set up by North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) in a bid to deter the birds and make way for a sandscaping project near the village of Bacton.

Nature experts have highlighted a growing trend in which netting is used by developers in an “overly simplistic” attempt to keep wildlife away from sites.

The Bacton project will see 1.8 million cubic metres of sand hauled onto nearby beaches to protect a gas terminal and local villages from erosion.

Officials said the measures had been taken to encourage the migrating birds to move elsewhere, and had received approval from Natural England and input from the RSPB.

However, the nature group said the council’s actions did not reflect its recommendations.

“The decision by North Norfolk District Council to net the cliffs at Bacton does not follow the advice previously given by the RSPB, nor indeed the council’s own plans for this site,” said a spokesperson for the group.

“We are now calling on the council to remove the nets so that sand martins can return to their nest sites after their long flight from Africa.”

The alarm was raised by local wildlife enthusiasts who captured footage of sand martins apparently distressed, attempting to access their burrows but being blocked by nets.

The council has been forced to dedicate an option on its telephone system to deal with enquiries about the netting, and said yesterday it “will remove the upper levels of the netting,” following talks with the RSPB and Natural England.

It added: “Minimum levels will be retained to assist in progressing with this critical project to protect people’s homes and national infrastructure.

“Following this, ongoing discussions will take place between NNDC and the RSPB about the material to be used on the lower section of cliff to allow this to happen.”

In recent months, people have begun reporting sightings across the nation of trees and hedgerows covered in netting.

While the nets are intended as a measure by developers to protect birds by preventing them from nesting in vegetation set for destruction, experts have warned there is a real risk of animals becoming tangled in them.

A joint statement issued by the RSPB and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management said the nets were a “simplistic” approach that had become more prominent recently.

They urged professional ecologists “to think very carefully before recommending netting and for developers to consider the potential negative impact on wildlife and local communities”.

On Monday, communities secretary James Brokenshire wrote to leading developers to remind them of their legal obligation to consider the impact of a project on local wildlife.

“Developments should enhance natural environments, not destroy them. Netting trees and hedgerows is only likely to be appropriate where it is genuinely needed to protect birds from harm during development,” he said.

“I hope developers will take these words on board and play their full role to make sure we can deliver new communities in an environmentally sustainable way.”

In response, Andrew Whitaker of the Home Builders Federation said the industry was “committed to supporting and enhancing biodiversity, proactively protecting wildlife and providing an overall increase in the number of trees”.

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