Melton Council says it does not support the controversial netting of hedges and trees which is being done to protect birds by preventing them nesting there when building work is being carried out.
Residents have highlighted concerns about the practice being used in rural locations in the Melton borough because they say it serves more to endanger wildlife by trapping them inside the nets rather than protecting them.
The Woodland Trust has criticised the response of the borough council to an incidence of netting being used at a development site in Bottesford following concerns being raised by the parish council.
The borough council responded to the parish council by stating that the nets were there to protect birds and other animals but Jack Taylor, lead campaigner for the trust, said: “If Melton Borough Council thinks that use of netting is to protect birds then it needs to reconsider its attitude towards wildlife.
“Natural England’s standing advice for development affecting birds clearly states that preventing nesting should only be considered as a mitigation option, used only outside the breeding season, that it should be checked three times per day, and that replacement habitat should be provided.
“The trust has recently been made aware of instances, including that in Bottesford, where trees and hedges have been covered with netting in an attempt to prevent them being used by wildlife and thereby avoid delays in the development process.”
The borough council say planning permission is not needed for netting and although it does not endorse the practice it has no power to stop it being done.
Mr Taylor said the trust opposed the uses of nets on hedgerows and trees, adding: “This practice demonstrates an alarming disregard for the welfare of wildlife, particularly during the nesting season, as birds are being blocked from nesting and other wildlife that may rely on hedgerow habitat, such as stoats, bank voles and hibernating hedgehogs, could become trapped.
“While not an illegal practice, we consider that netting hedges and trees is inappropriate.
“That said, the Woodland Trust cannot condone people removing netting, as this could be considered a criminal activity.
“Anyone who sees a netted tree or hedgerow where an animal has become trapped should naturally do what they can to free the animal.
“However, we advise that people should initially contact the RSPCA so that professionals can help to free the animal and also call the county police force to report a wildlife crime.”
Bottesford Parish Council was unhappy the netting had been secured on hedges at the development site there before planning permission was even granted.
The clerk, Amanda Carter-Blackford, said: “In the parish of Bottesford we have some beautiful natural features and we are very proud of them.
“We see it as vitally important that we maintain our connection to nature, and we will be watching very carefully and liaising with the Woodland Trust to ensure that developers who work within our parish adhere to the rules and regulations surrounding the controversial issue of the netting of hedgerows.
“We support the view that developers work with a trained ecologist to ensure that appropriate netting is used but only when planning permission has been granted to work on a site, and not before.”
On the issue of the netting being used at the Bottesford site, Melton Council said it immdediately alerted the Leicestershire Police Wildlife Crime Officer who initiated an investigation.
The council said it contacted the landowner, who explained it was intended to prevent birds nesting in the hedge and advised the parish council accordingly.
The authority say it also made the landowner aware that if wildlife was harmed by the netting it was considered an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and recommended it should be removed.
A Melton Council spokesperson said: “We are aware that the practice of netting trees and hedgerows by developers before they start work has become more common in current years and is of national focus and public concern.
“The netting of trees and hedgerows prior to development is however a matter for landowners and developers and is not something authorised or endorsed by the council.
“No planning permission is required for landowners to net hedgerows and the council has no powers to stop them as no breach of any of the Councils legal responsibilities is being committed.
“As a council we will always encourage developers to time development work so that it does not put wildlife at risk and to incorporate and enhance the natural environment within their plans where possible.
“Where permission has been granted which includes the removal of hedgerow, we would require work to be done ahead of or after the nesting season so as to ensure the protection of wildlife.
“We recognise that if wildlife is harmed by netting then it could be considered an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.”
Naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham is one of the high profile opponents of the practice, describing it as ‘ghastly’ and the ‘antithesis of everything conservation stands for’.
Have you seen any netted hedgerows or tree where you live in the borough of Melton? Email us your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you think about the practice.