Minister warns developers of "further action" after tree netting outcry

A Cabinet minister has urged homebuilders and other developers to net trees and hedges on development sites "only when appropriate".

Image: Philip Halling (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image: Philip Halling (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Writing to several large developers, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire MP pointed out that birds are protected under the Wildlife Countryside Act 1981, and that mitigation plans need to show how developers will avoid or manage any negative effects on protected species during their work.

His move follows increasing concern over developers' practice of netting adjacent trees and hedgerows ahead of building work - which the government said can be used unnecessarily and trap wildlife.

The number of signatories to a petition on Parliament's website calling for the practice to be criminalised has now passed 325,000.

If developers do not follow their obligations, Brokenshire warned he had not ruled out "further action to protect our country’s valuable ecological system".

He said: "Developments should enhance natural environments, not destroy them. Netting trees and hedgerows is only likely to be appropriate where it is genuinely needed to protect birds from harm during development."

Welcoming the move, RSPB director for conservation Martin Harper said: "Tree and hedge removal should be completed outside of nesting season. However, if there is absolutely no alternative, then netting must be used sparingly in line with the legal duties and responsibilities on developers, including regular checks to ensure wildlife isn’t getting trapped, injured or worse."

Home Builders Federation planning director Andrew Whitaker responded: "Netting trees aligns with the relevant environmental requirements in instances where it has been agreed with the local authority that a tree has to be replaced.

"The industry is engaging with the RSPB to consider how we develop requirements that increase protections for wildlife whilst ensuring desperately needed homes are built without delay. The industry is committed to supporting and enhancing bio-diversity, proactively protecting wildlife and providing an overall increase in the number of trees."

The government has already announced plans to require developers to deliver biodiversity net gain through the forthcoming Environment Bill - requiring habitats to be left in a measurably better state than they were before.

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