HOUSING developers in Chester have come under fire for wrapping hedges in nets to prevent birds from nesting.

Redrow Homes and Taylor Wimpey have taken the measure at their joint site on Wrexham Road where they plan to build 1,269 homes.

They secured planning permission from Cheshire West and Chester Council in January and hope to start work on infrastructure by the summer.

This means removing a number of hedges – but it is an offence under UK law to disturb any nesting birds once they have set up home.

So to eliminate the possibility of any avian-related delays, the company has wrapped hedges in netting to keep them off-limits.

Chester and District Standard:

Netting over hedges at the homes site at Wrexham Road. Picture by Andy Scargill.

The issue was brought to the Standard’s attention by environmental campaigner Andy Scargill, who has long opposed the Wrexham Road homes plan.

The former Green Belt site had to be removed from the protected list to address the city’s soaring need for housing – but Mr Scargill maintains this was never necessary.

"In the opinion of many people, including me, there was never a need to release this land from the Green Belt when the Local Plan was drawn up,” he said.

“Now we find that at a time when there are growing concerns in the UK over the numbers of birds, small mammals and invertebrates the developers are destroying their habitats on this site - madness."

The same issue has sparked outrage elsewhere in the country, with TV presenter and wildlife expert Chris Packham weighing in. He said the nets showed “brutal ignorance” of how to look after the countryside.

Chester and District Standard:

Picture by Andy Scargill.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust (CWT) and the RSPB have stressed that the developers are doing nothing illegal but said it is always preferable to carry out such work outside of the nesting season.

Jen Shutt, of CWT, said: “It’s an offence to damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird whilst it’s being built or is in use, so preventing birds from nesting altogether is often seen by developers as a way of avoiding lengthy delays; particularly as the breeding season can encompass half of the year.

“It is legal and is usually undertaken when consent to remove hedgerows has not yet been granted by the local planning authority. However, if done speculatively, netting can deny birds access to valuable nesting habitat for many years. If done badly, it can be a death trap to birds and other wildlife if they are able to enter through gaps and not find their way out.”

She said that ideally the removal of hedgerows, trees and other vegetation should take place during the autumn and winter months when birds are least likely to be nesting. However, checks should always first be made, no matter what the time of year.

Chester and District Standard:

Picture by Andy Scargill.

She added: “Netting should be seen as a last resort and should only be used for short periods of time where no active nests are present, when permission to remove is considered imminent and providing that the netting is fitted properly and daily checks are made.

“Cheshire Wildlife Trust would expect developers to incorporate existing hedgerows into their new developments. Developers should be looking to help nature’s recovery by compensating for any loss of hedgerows on at least a 2:1 basis; providing twice as much nesting habitat than is lost.”

RSPB spokesman Martin Fowlie added: “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. However it is legal, so if absolutely necessary, it’s crucial that it be done properly to minimise the risks to wildlife.

“This means checking for birds and other animals when the netting is fitted, and then ongoing regular checks, as wildlife often finds a way to get under the edge of a net and then get stuck.”

In a joint statement from Redrow and Taylor Wimpey, Paul Sinclair, for Redrow Homes, said: “The common practice of netting hedgerows is being responsibly deployed by our specialist contractor. They are consortium works ahead of development by Redrow and Taylor Wimpey.

Chester and District Standard:

A nesting blackbird.

“We take our wildlife responsibilities very seriously and this action has been taken to prevent any birds from nesting in hedges that are scheduled for removal very soon, thereby protecting the birds from future activity. The nets have been properly installed by a specialist contractor and will be regularly checked by a qualified ecologist to ensure no birds or other wildlife are trapped.

“We obtained a resolution to grant planning permission for our homes in January and, ideally, would have begun work prior to the nesting season. However, the permission is subject to agreeing the section 106 details with the local authority and those details are still being concluded. Once they are, the nets will be removed immediately and work to create the new access to the site will commence.”