It is generally illegal to disturb nesting birds, and this can be very inconvenient during the spring months. Mindful of their obligations, many developers, and contractors working on major projects such as HS2, try to pre-empt the situation on their sites by netting trees, shrubs and hedgerows during the winter. This is also sometimes the precursor to removing the vegetation, thus destroying the habitat altogether. Developers say that the practice is designed to safeguard birds when work has to be done during the nesting season.
This year there seems to have been a big increase in this practice, and it has caused a furore up and down the country, including the West Midlands. The Shropshire Wildlife Trust for example has had many complaints. In some places netting has been ripped down. Opponents of the practice claim that the nets themselves are a danger to birds, some of which have had to be rescued after becoming entangled, and other wildlife such as hedgehogs. They also point out that the practice reduces an already diminishing habitat.
The result of the concern has been one of the biggest parliamentary petitions to date (Make ‘netting’ hedgerows to prevent birds from nesting a criminal offence). It has gathered more than 300,000 signatures. In response the Government has said that companies ‘Must fulfil obligations to safeguard local wildlife’.
The RSPB have said that 'netting presents a real and present danger to local wildlife, which is declining at an alarming rate’. If netting has to be used they say ‘If the work is absolutely necessary, then the use of netting could be avoided by tree and hedge removal being completed outside of the nesting season, backed up by a commitment to replant in due course. And, if it is used it is important to remember there are responsibilities to do it properly. This means checking for birds and other animals when the netting is fitted, and then ongoing regular checks, as wildlife often finds a way to get under the edge of a net and then get stuck’.
Birds that have flown thousands of miles to spend the summer here raising their broods arrive in desperate need of rest and recuperation. The last thing they want is an initiative test as well. As an old friend of mine used to say, ‘All they want is somewhere to rest and nest, feed and breed.’