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Council to remove some cliff netting after outcry over sand martins’ struggle

North Norfolk District Council used netting on cliffs at Bacton to encourage sand martins to nest further along the coast.

A sand martin (Haydn West/PA)
A sand martin (Haydn West/PA)

A local council is removing some of the netting it has put on cliffs after images of sand martins being prevented from returning to their nest sites prompted an outcry.

North Norfolk District Council used netting on cliffs at Bacton to encourage sand martins 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 urged the council to remove the nets, which they said did not match their advice.

The call came as footage emerged of birds, which have arrived in the UK after migrating from Africa, trying to get to their cliff burrows but being prevented from doing so by the netting.

In a statement, the council said it appreciated the level of concern the issue had caused, and would be removing the upper levels of netting.

The authority said: “Following positive discussions with the RSPB and Natural England today, we have instructed contractors to remove the upper levels of netting on Bacton cliffs.

“Minimum levels will be retained to assist in progressing with this critical project to protect people’s homes and national infrastructure.

“Following this, ongoing discussions will take place between NNDC and the RSPB about the material to be used on the lower section of cliff to allow this to happen.”

The council also warned people the cliffs were not safe to climb on and urged them not to attempt to do so.

After the announcement, the RSPB said it would be meeting the council as soon as possible to  discuss outstanding concerns, including the 1.3 kilometres (0.8 miles) of netted cliff face that would remain.

“We will ask the Council to reduce this to 50 metres maximum and keep to a height of seven metres.

“We will also be raising the issue of the material currently in use.”

The charity said it would be re-outlining its original recommendation of “geotextile meshing” which would ensure burrows in the sandscaping zone are not smothered and will ensure no birds can be trapped.

It later emerged that it would be 48 hours before the netting could be removed.

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.

A parliamentary petition calling for legal protection to swallow, swift and martin nest sites, not just their active nests, has gathered more than 56,000 signatures.

Another petition to make netting hedgerows to prevent birds from nesting a criminal offence has gained more than 304,000 signatures as developers come under fire for the practice which can make it easier to remove greenery around building sites.

PA

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