There have been several recent news reports of developers placing nets around potential bird nesting sites including trees, hedgerows and areas of vegetation. The nets are intended to prevent birds from nesting, with the practice prevalent within, or adjacent to, sites for which development of the land is intended.
Developers have cited pressure to complete projects without delay as the key reason for this use of netting. In some cases, netting has been applied to hedges and trees even before planning permission has been gained for a development.
The practice has been widely condemned by wildlife groups and ecologists as, whilst the practice of using nets to prevent nesting birds is not illegal, it may be regarded as unethical – particularly in light of statistics which highlight a significant decline in wild bird numbers throughout the UK.
Installation of nets also prohibits use of hedges by other animals, whilst poorly installed nets have the potential to trap and cause suffering to wildlife.
The legislation which protects birds in England, Scotland and Wales is the Wildlife and Countrywide Act 1981. The Act prohibits the following action:
· Intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird.
· Intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.
· Intentionally take or destroy the egg of any wild bird.
· Have in one's possession or control any wild bird, dead or alive, or any part of a wild bird, which has been taken in contravention of the Act or the Protection of Birds Act 1954.
· Have in one's possession or control any egg or part of an egg which has been taken in contravention of the Act or the Protection of Birds Act 1954.
· Use traps or similar items to kill, injure or take wild birds.
· Have in one's possession or control any bird of a species occurring on Schedule 4 of the Act unless registered, and in most cases ringed, in accordance with the Secretary of State's regulations (see Schedules).
· Intentionally or recklessly disturb any wild bird listed on Schedule 1 while it is nest building, or at a nest containing eggs or young, or disturb the dependent young of such a bird.
In addition to the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, it is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to cause unnecessary suffering to a bird by an act, or a failure to act, where the person concerned knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that the act, or failure to act, would or be likely to cause unnecessary suffering.
Therefore, whilst use of nets to prevent nesting birds is not illegal, members asked to install netting to prevent nesting birds must ensure operations are undertaken with due diligence and, where necessary, in consultation with a qualified ecologist. Natural England advise against installing netting within the bird nesting season, whilst regular surveying of netted vegetation is essential to ensure wildlife has not become trapped inside.
Members must also note; widespread criticism of the practice has led to members of the public removing and vandalising netting. Of particular note in this instance is the potential for vandalised or partially removed nets to trap wildlife.
Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
Animal Welfare Act 2006
Natural England and Defra Guidance: Construction near protected areas and wildlife