WORDS: Punk Food Bandita
Nets are appearing on trees and hedgerows across Britain, attracting attention and condemnation from locals and wildlife experts. The practice is mainly used by property developers waiting for planning permission to build on land and wanting to deter any wildlife which may prove to be a hindrance if they make their home there. A branch of Tesco’s also provoked controversy this month when it erected nets to stop nesting swallows from returning there, creating a backlash from customers that forced them to reverse their decision.
It is no coincidence that examples of this are being seen across the UK all at a similar time. Spring is the time when many animals, particularly birds will build their nests to raise their young, and trees and hedgerows provide food and protection for a wide range of animals during this time. It would be an offence under section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for companies to disturb the nests or young of certain species, but currently there is no legislation to stop them taking measures to prevent nests from appearing, or even a requirement for them to be fitted properly to prevent animals getting harmed. Because the nets aren’t just unsightly. It’s an extraordinarily cruel practice. Birds and other creatures can often find a way through the netting, but not back out again, with birds in particular being prone to getting their tiny legs caught in the fibres, leading to a painful and prolonged death.
There is a petition circulating online, currently at about 140,000 signatures demanding that the practice be made illegal. But some are not waiting around for legislation to be brought in to protect wildlife. The hashtag #nestingnotnets has appeared on Twitter, encouraging people to report on locations of sites where netting has appeared. Campaigners recently removed some of the offending items from several trees in Darlington last week after finding a dead dunnock in the material, citing their move as a preventative strategy to prevent more deaths. Housing developers have defended their use of netting, with Andrew Whittaker from the Home Builders Federation stating that developers are also planting a lot more trees, with about 9 million trees being cultivated last year. But research has shown that bird populations are in decline, with the biggest drop being within the last decade according to the Common Bird Census. Loss of habitat is one of the biggest causes of this, with many species wanting to nest in the same place every year.
Practices like this are not new. In 2017, nets were also put up on the Tyne Bridge to prevent Kittiwakes from returning there. The poor quality netting quickly became damaged, resulting in dead birds being spotted hanging from it. Even then, Newcastle City Council would not remove the nets immediately, stating they had to wait until wider maintenance on the bridge began. In the same year, there was an outcry when spikes appeared on tree branches that reached out over a private car park for flats in Bristol to stop them from crapping on the cars of residents below.
You have to marvel at the sheer arrogance of developers and consumers who feel they are justified in gentrifying a tree, becoming so entitled that they attempt to dictate who gets to come into their neighbourhood and not content with outpricing poor people or having live music venues that were there before their penthouse apartment closed down, they now turn their attention to those noisy immigrant starlings with loads of kids that are bringing down their house prices. The Tyne Bridge Kittiwakes are a good example of this. The birds are an endangered species that are fast losing habitat and this particular Kittiwake colony is the furthest inland than any other in the world. Kittiwakes sing like that elderly aunt we all have who gets drunk and belts out Danny Boy at every family funeral and owners of the £400,000 apartments complained of their droppings. Now I don’t know if you have ever been on a night out on Newcastle Quayside, but I have, and if you are worried about spine curling screeching and feral species shitting all over the place I can tell you that the birds are not the biggest source of this.
The good news is that nature nets can be costly and time consuming for companies to put up, but are almost completely free and surprisingly quick to take back down again, if anyone happened to be so inclined. When I was last in Darlington, the council had spent some time putting up pigeon nets under its bridges, which said birds were then getting trapped and dying in. This was quickly solved, as one resident told me by a “Tiny, angry woman with a pair of ladders and some scissors” who managed to bring all of them down in a matter of hours.
Modern life is eroding our connection from nature at an alarming rate. Having that calming picture of a waterfall as your iPhone screensaver is no substitute. Protecting that tiny patch of green space isn’t just good for the birds and insects that live in it; it is good for all of us.