Netting hedges

There have been a number of articles in the media recently highlighting the seemingly increasing practice of netting hedgerows and trees by developers. They do this to prevent birds from nesting, as to disturb nesting birds (e.g. by removing a hedgerow) is illegal. There is a knock on effect to this approach beyond just preventing birds from breeding though, as the netting of a hedge or a tree can disrupt or trap other wildlife such as hedgehogs, bats and other small mammals that use the hedgerow for shelter or food.

Hedgerows also play a vital role in the wider landscape, acting as corridors connecting up different habitats and bringing the countryside into our towns and cities. As part of our Dunsmore Living Landscape scheme we are working in partnership with local landowners to create and restore 20km of hedgerow.  Mature, well managed hedgerows that have been in place for a long time are significantly better for wildlife because they provide a wider variety of food sources, thicker areas for shelter and often greater species diversity. 

Whilst the practice of netting the hedgerow or tree is not illegal it can demonstrate a disregard for the birds and other wildlife that use the hedge for food, shelter and as a pathway for moving around in the landscape when used superfluously.  We want developers to raise their ambition for the environment and leave it in a better condition than prior to the development taking place.  It is possible to recognise the important role that wildlife plays in our world and create schemes that are enhanced by the presence of wildlife, rather than seeing wildlife as a problem and trying to block it out.

The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, with one in seven species facing decline for a variety of factors, a significant one of which is habitat loss.  Developers have an opportunity to support nature’s recovery, building more sustainable developments that create an environment that is better for wildlife and people. 

Wildlife decline and loss statistics

  • 97% of lowland meadows lost (State of Nature (SoN), 2013, page 14)
  • 80% of heathlands lost since 1800 (SoN 2013, page 24)
  • Only 20% of rivers are healthy (WWF-UK, Flushed Away Report)
  • 13% of freshwater and wetland species in Great Britain are threatened with extinction (SoN, 2016, p.36.)
  • 94% of water voles lost in Britain 1996-1998, R Strachan, The Vincent Wildlife Trust.
  • Common toads have declined by 68% in the last 30 years (Froglife, paragraph 2; reference)
  • More recent UK wildlife declines are documented in State of Nature reports 2013 & 2016. Please ask for separate briefing about wildlife losses and declines.

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) who are the leading professional membership body representing and supporting ecologists and environmental managers in the UK support our position “Forward planning and early engagement of a competent ecologist by developers can often mitigate the circumstances that require netting to be used and avoid unnecessary delays to development projects. In line with planning guidelines, developers should be aiming to retain trees and hedges in the landscape design of their develop projects wherever possible. In the first instance vegetation should be removed outside the nesting bird season and should be checked by a competent ecologist. Where this is not possible, the developer should seek to compensate any removal by planting replacements.” 

We work across Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull to influence planning laws and actual developments seeking to minimise damage to wildlife and maximise creation of new habitats.  By working in partnership, we can help wildlife live beyond our nature reserves and as a result create a society where people interact with nature as part of their daily lives. We need to raise awareness of best practice with developers and showcase those developers that are doing the right thing.  Schemes such as Building with Nature help developers to see the benefits of incorporating wildlife into the design and ongoing maintenance of their work so that it can add value and set them apart from other developers who need to do better.