Developers should take more care during building work not to disturb nearby wildlife habitats, the housing secretary James Brokenshire has warned.
The minister has reminded developers of their obligations due to increasing concern about netting being placed in trees and hedgerows during building work on housing developments.
Netting is a common sight during construction work but it can trap wildlife unnecessarily, especially birds which are protected under law.
In a letter to leading developers, Brokenshire warned that developers face further action if they don’t take adequate care to protect birds’ habitats.
‘Whilst building new homes is vital, we must take every care to avoid unnecessary loss of habitats that provide much-needed space for nature, including birds,’ he wrote.
‘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.
‘I hope developers will take these words on board and play their full role to make sure we can deliver new communities in an environmentally sustainable way.’
Under the Wildlife Countryside Act 1981, developers are legally obliged to consider the impact of a project on local wildlife and take precautionary action to protect it where necessary.
In their mitigation plans they must be able to demonstrate how they will avoid or manage negative effects on protected species – such as birds – during their work.
According to the RSPB, the removal of trees and hedges should be completed out of nesting season, with netting used only if necessary.
If netting is used, developers are encouraged to make regular checks to ensure that wildlife isn’t being trapped or injured.
The Home Builders Federation, which represents private home builders in England and Wales, said that netting trees does align with environmental requirements in certain instances, such as when it has been agreed that a tree must be replaced.
Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders Federation, said: ‘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 RSPB said it was ‘pleased’ to see Brokenshire acknowledging the concerns that many people have about the use of netting.
The National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF), revised last year, makes clear that planning decisions should benefit the natural and local environment by supporting and enhancing biodiversity.
However, the revision to the NPPF – the first since it was introduced in 2012 – has been criticised by campaigners who say that it has not sufficiently reconsidered environmental concerns.
The government’s forthcoming Environment Bill plans to require developers to deliver biodiversity net gain, meaning that any development must leave habitats in a measurably better state than they had been in beforehand.
Image credit: Jonathan Hutchins