Over the last couple of weeks, green netting has been put over hedgerows at Rocks Green. The aim is to prevent birds nesting. It will not work. Hedge nesting birds will get through the gaps in the netting with ease. When I visited yesterday morning, I could hear birds within the netted hedgerow. I could not see any nests but I would be surprised if there were none. This is in breach of planning documents submitted by the developer that says hedges will not be removed during the nesting season. But that is exactly what they are planning.
We live in a town that is biodiversity poor. Many of the fields around Ludlow resemble east of England prairies.
We have some biodiversity havens around Ludlow. The Teme SSSI. There are biodiverse rich broadleaf areas across the Mortimer Forest including the Whitcliffe. That’s despite the intensive conifer plantations in the main forest area. But south of Ludford village, the landscape resembles an East England prairie. It’s not better across much of the Plymouth Estate from Dinham Bridge to Bromfield. East of the A49 bypass, Ludford is biodiversity poor.
That’s why we must make every stride we can to protect birds – and hedgehogs.
The hedgerows have been netted ahead of creating an access road to the development of 200 homes. The planning permission was issued in January (17/05189/FUL). That was only just in time for the hedge to be cleared before the nesting season which notionally begins in February. A number of technical details must be agreed with the council before the development can proceed (19/00983/DIS). But the approved documents make it clear that hedge clearance cannot happen in the nesting season.
I don’t think this netting works. It is open at both ends and has many gaps along the length. Contrary to what the developers intend, it provides a sheltered haven for birds in prime nesting season. Many people believe that such netting simply acts to trap birds. This is not a new practice but its use seems to be growing.
Chris Packham has expressed concern about netting hedgerows in Lincolnshire. Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has criticised the use of netting in Radcliffe-on-Trent. Birds have been trapped in netting in Grimsby.
Guildford Borough Council ordered the removal of nets from trees on a housing site – the developer admitted the nets were useless because the site hadn’t got planning permission. The Daily Mail has a video with several examples of netting.
In a different context, Tesco removed netting erected to prevent swallows nesting at a Norfolk store after protests from customers.
There is concern that netting can also trap hedgehogs. After protests from schoolchildren, Taylor Wimpey said it would build tunnels enabling hedgehogs to escape from the Warwickshire site.
Wild birds are protected. It is illegal to disturb nests. But getting evidence of nest wrecking is very difficult. Bulldozers and JCBs drive in. Hedges and trees are flattened and the evidence of nesting squashed and destroyed.
A few years ago, netting over hedges and trees was rarely seen. But as developers and their ecologists seek to find ways around the very strict rules that derive from the Birds and Habitats Directives – a major plank of UK environmental law – they are stretching the rules to the limit. It is not easy for developers as the breeding season gets longer with climate change. The RSPB and British Trust for Ornithology describe the practice as “not ideal, but legal”. They emphasise that it must be done properly and checked regularly. The RSPB took a less conciliatory line when it commented on the netting in Guildford:
“This is just another example of us trying to squeeze nature into smaller and smaller spaces. We would ask that developers do this tree and hedge removal work outside the breeding season so that netting is never needed.”
I agree with that. We have two problems here. Part of the problem is the planning system. The Rocks Green housing application was agreed in September but it took five months to issue planning permission. That may have been down to legal negotiations. But if birds and biodiversity were a priority, they should have sped up that progress to allow enough time to clear hedges before the nesting season.
The second issue is that most of Ludford parish is biodiversity poor. South of Ludford village the land is an open prairie. It is not much better between Rocks Green and Sheet village. There are no plans to improve biodiversity in the area, other than a few scraps of greenness and ponds offered by developers. That means every bit of wildlife haven we have counts. We need to improve biodiversity on Gallows Bank and the Linney too. Bromfield surely can’t continue boasting a local food complex while only making token gestures towards the environment. We do not have a biodiversity improvement plan for the Ludlow area. It is long overdue.
But biodiversity doesn’t seem to be on our parish and town council’s agendas. They never discuss it. Most farmland bird species are in decline. This cannot continue. Birds are often the only bits of animal biodiversity we see. But if birds are declining, all the bugs and tiny beasties that are essential to the future of our environment and food supply will be dying too.
Update 20 March 2019
Pickstock Homes rang to assure me that the work is being conducted under the supervision of a qualified ecologist. I accept that and could have made that clear in the article. That doesn’t make me any happier with the process. I am assured that the gaps in the netting will be fixed.
The above statement has been challenged. I’ll provide another update as soon as I can.
I have also been alerted to a parliamentary petition seeking to ban the practice of netting.