Developers have received official notice of their legal obligations to protect wildlife habit during building work, following a public outcry over netting trees and hedgerows during the nesting season.

In a letter to leading developers, the Communities Secretary emphasised that birds are protected under the Wildlife Countryside Act 1981, and that mitigation plans will need to show how developers will avoid or manage any negative effects on protected species during their work.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire MP said building new homes is vital, but stressed that unnecessary loss of habitats must be avoided. “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,” he said.

Netting isn’t illegal, provided it doesn’t interfere with nesting and is done appropriately and monitored. And developers are keen to sustain higher levels of house building to meet Government targets and growing demand.

Andrew Whitaker, Planning Director at the Home Builders Federation said the industry is working with conservation bodies such as the RSPB to “increase protections for wildlife while ensuring desperately needed homes are built without delay”.

“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,” Whitaker added.

However, widespread media coverage and google mapping continue to raise public concern, particularly when it is designed to stop birds nesting and the harm netting can cause to other local wildlife. The route for the new HS2 train line is one of the latest projects criticised for netting of hedgerows along the proposed route.

The Woodland Trust describes netting as a “sickening practice” and says that other wildlife — including stoats, bank voles and hedgehogs — rely on hedges. The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) has also voiced its concerns about netting’s “overly simplistic approach”.

Several petitions have been launched to stop it, including a petition launched on the Government petition website which has attracted over 300,000 signatures, which means time will be allocated for Parliament to debate netting wildlife habitats.

Last reviewed 10 April 2019