No Net Gain

10 April 2019 | Posted in Planning , Laura Brook
No Net Gain
blackbird nest in a hedgerow © Alan Price

By Laura Brook

Conservation Officer

If you were excluded from your home patch because someone was thinking of developing the local area but they hadn’t received permission, you would understandably be up in arms. But that is exactly what appears to be happening to our wildlife. 

In recent weeks the media has reported several situations where developers are netting trees and hedgerows to prevent birds from establishing nests. Social media has been awash with images of the places where this netting is happening, seemingly on sites that may be developed but where planning permission has not been granted. So why are developers doing this? 

All wild birds and their nests are protected by law, so trees and hedgerows that harbour nesting birds cannot be trimmed, cleared or felled.  Breeding bird season officially starts at the end of February and goes on until the end of August but in reality, with an ever-shifting and increasingly unpredictable climate, we all know that the season can start before this date and end well after August.  To avoid lengthy delays, developers seem to be using netting to prevent birds from nesting in trees and hedges that would be removed if planning permission were granted.

This seems to be a relatively new phenomenon.  As a Conservation Officer, I engage with the planning system on a regular basis to ensure that biodiversity is on the agenda when sites and applications are being considered. Yet prior to these recent media stories, neither myself nor the officers in our team had seen or heard of this practice in Sussex.  Have you come across netting in Sussex in the past?

While the practice of netting trees and hedges is not considered by the authorities to be illegal, we must strongly question the ethics of using this method, especially when our relationship with the natural environment is already so fragile. It is madness to think only birds will be impacted by this action. Our trees and hedgerows are home to small mammals, countless insects and other invertebrates, all of which could be compromised by use of netting. 

This practice is demonstrating our continued detachment from the natural environment and the level to which some in society appear to value it.  It feels as if the attitude is that nothing should get in the way of building what we want, when we want.  I am not anti-development, I am well aware of the pressure for housing, but we need to ensure that what we build is sustainable and integrated with our natural environment. We are at a critical point where we cannot continue to squeeze nature into smaller and smaller spaces.  National declines will quickly turn into extinctions and the dawn chorus will no longer awaken light sleepers on a spring morning.  It seems that some developers may be pleased with that outcome.  But this is certainly not the feeling of Sussex Wildlife Trust’s 33,000 members in Sussex.

So what should we do? We need to make sure that the environment is at the heart of planning decisions, and that working with nature to create a sustainable future becomes the new normal. We need to improve knowledge and understanding of how, when and why things happen in nature, so that the natural features of a site are a valued part of its future, and not seen as a hindrance to progress. We are at a point where we need to recognise that wildlife has an intrinsic value and we need to make sure that value is not lost. 

We receive a barrage of information on a weekly basis about the damage being done to the local environment, so we cannot allow netting to become a normal or acceptable part of the development process. The awareness of plastic in our oceans is greater than ever before, so we cannot turn a blind eye to reams of plastic smothering our hedges and trees.  If you see netting in your local area, ask questions; find out more about who is doing it and contact your local council planning team and the Sussex Wildlife Trust’s WildCall service on 01273 494777.

Please also consider adding your name to the Hedge netting petition on Parliament's petition site.

Hedge net

Example of hedge netting from Worcestershire © Philip Halling


  • Alan Edwards:

    10 Apr 2019 22:41:00

    This is terrible. I will call Sussex

  • Fiona Vincent:

    11 Apr 2019 07:36:00

    heading for silent spring

  • Marilyn Webley:

    11 Apr 2019 09:28:00

    Stop this cruel, thoughtless as netting of hedges and other wildlife areas. We must all live together. Don’t let cruelty be part of our philosophy.

  • Tom Clifton:

    11 Apr 2019 12:16:00

    This is immoral, cruel, outrageous and must stop. I would not condone criminal damage but tearing down these nets is a far lesser crime than putting them up.

  • Elaine Jupp:

    11 Apr 2019 17:56:00

    How sad this is happening to our beautiful wildlife. This netting is cruel and needs to be removed. Our wild birds need all the help we can give them .

  • Louise Westwood:

    13 Apr 2019 14:08:00

    If you hear of any in East Sussex I am up for a bit of vandalism with my scissors and wire cutters!

  • Christine Kowal Post:

    25 Apr 2019 11:32:00

    If I see netting I shall tear it down!

  • Lynn Roberta Mason:

    25 Apr 2019 11:52:00


  • Deborah Evers:

    25 Apr 2019 12:24:00

    I have just come back from a holiday in Suffolk (Bungay) where the air is filled with bird song all day long. What is instantly noticeable in Littlehampton is the lack of it. Netting and subsequent hedge and tree removal such as that in the new planned duel carriage way for the Angmering area and in the car parks in Littlehampton is driving the wildlife away. Netting is just another form of developers greed and selfishness. It HAS TO STOP NOW. The south coast is an important stop off are for migrating birds why is all this being allowed.

  • Michael:

    25 Apr 2019 12:34:00

    Dare I say … I really hope some serious awareness will lead to some direct ( non violent action) against developers and we should all boycott companies involved in greenfield destruction – I do and my company does… others must follow.

  • Gabriella Bullock:

    25 Apr 2019 13:40:00

    If this horrifi practice is not illegal, then we must fight to make it so as quickly as possible. Vandalism is not the answer, tempting though it is. Write to your MP!

  • Linda Sims:

    25 Apr 2019 16:04:00

    This practice of netting is disgraceful and should be stopped. Wildlife have enough problems as it is, without greedy people making things worse!

  • Jo:

    26 Apr 2019 07:04:00

    Is this true??? Appalling !!!!

  • Ann:

    26 Apr 2019 08:28:00

    Developers greed, there are plenty of brown field sites but these are not so profitable. Planning departments should be addressing this. Do we really want to live in a land without birds?

  • Nicky:

    26 Apr 2019 11:51:00

    There is an acre plot of lane in Theobalds Road, Burgess Hill which has been left to grow wild for over 30years. However last autumn a prospective developer cleared the entire site to the ground removing every tree and bush so that if they got planning permission they could do an ecological survey which would show no wildlife was present. To my knowledge they still haven’t put in for planning yet, however the site is now barren and lifeless. Despicable behaviour by a prospective developer

  • Anne Eves:

    26 Apr 2019 13:17:00

    There’s a debate in the House of Commons about this as the petition did so well. I would be out there with my scissors too if I see any netting around my way!

  • Ray Avery:

    26 Apr 2019 16:52:00

    As a retired police officer I cannot condone vandalism. If I see any one damaging or removing this netting I will not only turn a blind eye but will ask if they require a hand!

  • Christine Goward:

    26 Apr 2019 20:36:00

    Netting is ludicrous, it should be stopped before it takes a hold. If you know the name of the developer inundate company with snail mail.

  • libby setter:

    30 Apr 2019 05:59:00

    We must act now and stop these people from destroying our natural world for their short term gain. Make it illegal for this to happen and have proper practice in place to remove these nettings.

Leave a comment