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Bird net tweet storm underlines PR value of wildlife care

Bird iStock

Developers should explore all ofther options for working alongisde wildlife before resorting to the controversial practice of netting, says Dr David Smith

There have been several recent incidents where netting placed around trees and hedges on construction sites or on buildings has trapped birds with fatal consequences. This has caused public outcry, negative social media coverage and a petition to make netting installation a criminal offence. This negative attention has shown how invested the public is in our wildlife and highlights the risks in how developers and business owners respond to legislative constraints.

The purpose of netting is to create a barrier between birds and vegetation, buildings, or other structures to stop them nesting. This can avoid costly delays in building projects because active nests, eggs, and chicks are afforded stringent legal protection. Netting can also reduce threats to the birds by preventing them nesting in areas where there is a risk they could be disturbed or harmed accidentally. Netting is an extremely useful tool and, if used correctly, it can actually be in the interest of birds and other wildlife.

But it should not be the first point of call for consented projects. Other options, like carrying out work outside of the nesting season or rendering nest sites unusable in other ways should be considered first. If netting is used, it is vital that the correct specification is installed, checked regularly for damage and maintained. Netting needs to be fitted correctly (e.g. without gaps that enable birds to enter), under professional supervision and at the right time of year. If there is a failure in any of these steps the risk of trapping birds and other wildlife increases enormously.

“There is nothing to be gained in planning terms by preventing birds from using habitat prior to consent being granted”

It’s also key to emphasise that planning decisions should always be based on the actual value of a habitat for breeding birds, rather than on temporarily reduced use caused by netting off habitats prematurely. There is nothing to be gained in planning terms by preventing birds from using habitat prior to consent being granted – netting only has a legitimate role in risk management once proposals are consented and work is planned. If work has already been consented, other options,  such as removing features outside of the nesting season, might be possible.

Reputational damage takes a long time to repair, and the power of social media for citizen reportage in instances where netting has led to wildlife harm will no doubt worry developers and building managers.

By not taking a one-size-fits-all approach, and considering the wider opportunity not just for wildlife good practice but also for recognition as a custodian of nature, developers and business owners can benefit from the value of working around, and with, wildlife. 

Dr David W Smith is eastern regional director for ecological consultancy EPR

Photo | iStock


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