Bird Nesting Sites: Protection

John McNally Excerpts
Monday 13th May 2019

(5 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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John McNally Portrait John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP)
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It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) on securing the debate. His observation on the plastic-waste debris from this practice flies in the face of pollution from plastic not ruining our planet. It is hard to believe that this is actually a practice at this moment.

I also liked what the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) said on HS2. The reckless ruination of ancient woodlands and the subsequent impact on wildlife is not acceptable and should not go ahead. I particularly praise the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and her constituents for raising the petition. I very much liked the points of the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) on volume house-builders and championing local builders. We need to hear an awful lot more of that throughout the whole UK.

As we all know, there are few greater pleasures in life than the music of wild birdsong. The dawn chorus has just been mentioned, and blackbirds and robins in our gardens are an absolute pleasure for us all to watch. In fact, I have a one-eyed blackbird in my back garden who goes round in the same direction all the time. I do not know if that is because of where I put the food out, but that is the way that he manages to go. Birds are very much part of the sights and sounds of our communities. They are everywhere. They are the embodiment of the natural world, which is why it is abhorrent to see them taken for granted, to the extent that they can be disregarded like pests or vermin.

In my hometown of Denny and Stoneywood, I have witnessed probably some of the worst practices of developers. Some giant sequoias—giant redwoods—planted 50 or 60 years ago by local children were cut down accidentally by a developer, and I never felt such a gut-wrenching feeling in all my life. Netting prevents birds from breeding in their natural environment, and it has become so prevalent that their numbers could be at risk. If someone in the future reads of the practice of netting to aid housing development, they would be forgiven for thinking that this country and the planet was going through a pronounced period of planet stability and had an overabundance of wildlife. One would think the planet was managing very well, when we all know that that is not the case—perhaps apart from the developers of this mad scheme.

It appears to any casual observer that developers and conservationists have laid down together in amity on this, but I emphasise that that is not the case. Like others, I was taken aback when made aware of this practice. I was absolutely astonished and astounded to see those nets all over these trees. Stories are widespread that trees in some areas across the country have been covered in nets before developers even have planning permission. As if dealing with climate change is not enough, our birds, some returning from abroad, find their nesting sites on trees, bushes and hedges draped in plastic nets.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con)
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I congratulate the Morans for initiating the debate and for putting the issue on the agenda in the way that they have; I assume these are the Morans in the Gallery. We have heard about the massive decline in bird numbers in this country—14 million in the last 50 years, according to the RSPB. Habitat loss is a big part of that, and netting is increasingly a part of habitat loss. It may not be the biggest part, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is without doubt the crudest demonstration of, at best, our disregard for the natural world, and at worst the ongoing war against nature that we have seen in this country, which has massively reduced our biodiversity and which needs to be addressed, if necessary through legislation?

John McNally Portrait John Mc Nally
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I totally agree. This practice sends all the wrong messages about what we are trying to do; it gives everyone the wrong message. We should be sending clear messages that we are environmentalists and are trying to protect our planet. This practice tells people the opposite, and the fact that those employing the practice think that they can get away with it is, again, unacceptable. Others have mentioned what we need to do about that.

As we have heard, there are two open parliamentary petitions concerned with bird nesting. The one that we are discussing is specifically about making the netting of hedgerows to prevent birds from nesting a criminal offence, and I believe that it had attracted more than 350,000 signatures by 2 May. As has been mentioned, articles in The Guardian and reports on the BBC have shown where nets are being used across the UK and have helped to highlight the deep concerns of the public and prominent environmentalists. Important organisations, including the Woodland Trust and the RSPB, have led the objections to the practice. Environmentalists Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham have spoken out against it, warning of the impact of the widespread use of nets. Only a fool would ignore the warnings from those great people.

In Scotland, section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to obstruct or prevent any bird from using its nest, and section 5 makes it an offence to use a net to kill or take a wild bird. However, provided that the net is put on before nest building commences, no offence is committed under that legislation, which is strange. Under the habitats regulations, it is an offence deliberately or recklessly to obstruct access to a breeding site or resting place of a European protected species or otherwise to deny the animal use of the breeding site or resting place. Similarly, it is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act to damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place used by the species protected under schedule 5 to that Act.

Scotland, like other countries, is a nation of animal lovers. We take the welfare of our pets, wild creatures and livestock very seriously. Developers in Scotland are aware that they have a responsibility to preserve important environmental assets such as landscapes and wildlife habitats. They should act responsibly and care for our natural habitats. Given that there is a significant body of European Union legislation on animal welfare, the Scottish Government, through the SNP, will work to ensure that the Government here ensure that the protections that that offers are maintained and that there is no lapse in standards in this arena as the UK leaves the EU.

Calls have been made for those wishing to keep birds away from certain sites to work in harmony with nature, not against it. Why not work around the nesting season and employ someone who knows about wildlife to advise on how people should go about their business while causing the least harm? I take the point made by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham about how often checks must be done. If nets cannot be avoided, regular checks should be made to ensure that no bird or wild animal has been caught in them.

I have to say that, even with some safeguards in place, my feeling is that this practice is in no way acceptable. If we treasure our precious wildlife at all, netting simply has to stop. If developers will not exercise proper care and diligence, suitable penalties should be applied to them.