By Laura Brook
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.
Example of hedge netting from Worcestershire © Philip Halling