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Netting off – Development and the Environment

There has recently been a great deal of public concern over the putting up of nets in trees and hedgerows on development sites. Some developers do this to prevent birds nesting in trees and hedges they plan to cut down as part of the development.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence for a person to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built. To avoid breaching the Act, some developers put up nets around trees and hedgerows on development sites during nesting season (which occurs from February until August). There are currently no laws in place to prevent the installation of netting at any time of the year. The practice of putting up netting is becoming more commonplace and there have been calls from the public and various wildlife charities for stricter controls to be implemented by the government to regulate it.

An e-petition to make “netting” hedgerows a criminal offence has now collected over 300,000 signatures. The e-petition argues that this practice facilitates the uprooting of hedgerows, which aid biodiversity and provide the only remaining nesting sites for birds, many of whose numbers are in sharp decline.

The RSPB have asked the government to review the current law and to ask planners to consider whether it is necessary to remove trees and hedgerows. If it is necessary to remove trees and hedgerows as part of the development, the RSPB have recommended that they are removed outside of nesting season and for developers to replace what they take away.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire commented on 8 April that developers must take more care to protect the habitats of wildlife during building work and to avoid unnecessary loss of habitats. He noted that netting trees and hedgerows is only likely to be appropriate where it is genuinely needed to protect birds from harm during development.

Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders Federation has said:

“Netting trees aligns with the relevant environmental requirements in instances where it has been agreed with the local authority that a tree has to be replaced. The industry is engaging with the RSPB to consider how we develop requirements that increase protections for wildlife whilst ensuring desperately needed homes are built without delay.”

As well as considering the laws and regulations around removal of trees and hedgerows as part of development, developers may also have to take into account public opinion and the overall impact on local habitats to minimise any negative effects on the environment. If there are other options to removing trees and hedgerows during nesting season then they may be easier and less newsworthy.