Council urged to take down cliff nets stopping sand martins nesting

A local council has been urged to remove netting on cliffs preventing sand martins returning to nest sites after migrating from Africa.

North Norfolk District Council has used it on parts of the cliffs at Bacton to encourage the birds to nest further along the coast as it delivers a major sandscaping project to protect homes and Bacton Gas Terminal.

The council said the use of the temporary specialist netting followed a detailed environmental assessment and had been approved by government conservation agency Natural England, with advice from the RSPB.

But the bird conservation charity has urged the council to remove the nets, saying the authority did not follow its advice.

Jeff Knott, the RSPB’s director for eastern England, said: “The decision by North Norfolk District Council to net the cliffs at Bacton does not follow the advice previously given by the RSPB, nor indeed the council’s own plans for this site.

“We are now calling on the council to remove the nets so that sand martins can return to their nest sites after their long flight from Africa.”

The call comes after footage showed a sand martin trying to reach its nesting tunnel in the cliffs, but being blocked by the netting.

The birds winters in Africa before migrating back to the UK to breed in the spring.

A council spokesman said: “We understand that the RSPB has concerns around the temporary netting element of the project and we are intending to meet with them and contractors on site to fully assess what those concerns are.

“Careful consideration of what time of year to progress was given because of the need for good weather and longer days, with the summer significantly safer for both the scheme’s success and for contractors working on the project.

“Without these works the cliff itself is at long-term risk as well as the adjoining communities and the terminal.”

The council said the netting, which covers bare areas of the cliffs that are actively eroding, had been placed to cover the minimum area possible and would be in place for a short a time over one season.

There are three daily checks in place to make sure the netting remains in place and that no birds become entangled in it, the council said.

The measure is part of the Bacton to Walcott sandscaping project which will place 1.8 million cubic metres of sand on the beaches to provide protection to Bacton Gas Terminal and the villages of Bacton and Walcott.

Developers have also faced recent criticism over netting of trees and hedgerows near building sites to prevent birds nesting, making it easier to remove greenery without falling foul of rules against damaging active nests.

On Monday, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire wrote to leading developers reminding them of their legal obligation to consider the impact of projects on local wildlife and the need to take action to protect habitats.

A parliamentary petition to make netting hedgerows to prevent birds from nesting a criminal offence has more than 254,000 signatures.

Another petition calling for legal protection to swallow, swift and martin nest sites, not just their active nests, has more than 35,000 signatures.

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