The use of netting to stop birds nesting - what you need to know

Netting is used in many different settings. Gardeners and allotmenteers use it widely but in relatively small areas to protect crops from birds and insects. It is also concerningly used on buildings, development sites, and on trees and hedges to stop birds nesting.

A swift stuck in a net to prevent nesting in the building behind.
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The RSPB, along with people from around the country, are particularly dismayed to hear about cases where birds, sometimes returning from long journeys, are being deliberately excluded from sites where they might choose to nest and raise their young. The Environment Act of 2021 brought in new laws which aim to promote nature's recovery, now we need to see action and closer scrutiny of practices like these.  

We cannot stand by and let current practices that risk harming wildlife spread unchallenged. We all need nature in our lives which means giving birds and other wildlife more room, not less, to breed, feed and sing. In cases where netting is to be used to stop birds nesting, follow the guidelines in this article to minimise the risk of harm.

While the practice of using netting to prevent birds nesting or roosting is legal in most cases, it should not be the easy alternative. It is the responsibility of the owner to ensure that any netting used to stop birds nesting or roosting is fit for purpose, inspected regularly and maintained, and that any trapped birds and other wildlife are immediately released. 

The laws that protect birds and their nests are worth keeping in mind when netting is used to stop birds nesting. In the UK wild birds are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (England, Wales and Scotland) and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. These acts make it an offence (except under licence or exceptions) to intentionally - and in Scotland and Northern Ireland additionally recklessly - kill, injure or take any wild bird; take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built; or take or destroy any wild bird eggs. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly obstruct or prevent any wild bird from using its nest.  

Where netting used to prevent birds nesting or roosting is thought to be posing a risk to wildlife, it should be reported to the owner or manager of the land or building. If the owner of the netting is not willing to remove or repair the netting despite issues like birds becoming trapped, please report this to the Police for the attention of a Wildlife Crime Officer or a Rural Crime Officer. You can additionally report concerns about dangerous netting to the RSPCA, more details can be found here.  

Netting cannot be used on nesting sites that are already in use. If anyone puts up netting after birds arrive at their nest site, please also report that to the Police.  

In cases where birds are nesting behind damaged netting, the netting will still need to be made safe by the netting owner (such as by removing the netting so that it doesn't pose an entanglement risk), but the owner of the netting will then need to wait until all the young have fledged and the nests become inactive before blocking off the area again.

What to do if you see a bird trapped in netting

Problems arise when netting is incorrectly installed or not properly maintained, resulting in birds and other wildlife getting tangled in netting or entering via gaps and becoming trapped.  

If you see any live birds trapped in or behind the netting, please alert the owner of the netting or building so they can ensure the birds are promptly and safely freed and address the issue with the netting. If help is needed to rescue the birds, please report it to the RSPCA (England and Wales) on 0300 1234 999; the SSPCA (Scotland) on 03000 999 999; or the USPCA (Northern Ireland) on 028 3025 1000 as those birds will need rescuing urgently. Alternatively, you can find a local rescue centre here:

The RSPB’s guidance on netting used to stop birds nesting

The following guidelines can help reduce the harmful impact of netting used to stop birds nesting, depending on where it will be used. Where there are no alternatives and netting is to be used, we recommend that:

On buildings

  • Every effort should be made to find alternatives to using netting to stop birds nesting that work for both people and wildlife. For example, on the advice of the RSPB, Tesco in North Berwick replaced netting with specialised nesting boxes, while BT in Lowestoft removed its netting and installed ledges which give endangered Kittiwakes a safe place to nest. 

  • If netting must be used to prevent birds nesting, it should be installed in such a way that it will not catch and hold birds and other wildlife. 

  • All reasonable precautions should be taken to ensure that no wildlife is trapped inside the netting when it is installed. 

  • Netting used to stop birds nesting should be checked at least once a day, but ideally three times, to ensure that it has not become defective, loose or damaged and that no wildlife has become trapped. 

On trees and hedges in gardens and green spaces

The same guidelines for using netting on buildings should be followed when using netting to stop birds nesting in gardens and green spaces, with the important extra note that: 

  • The RSPB does not recommend the use of netting made from flimsy materials to stop birds nesting. A better alternative to traditional wide-mesh nylon netting is geotextile netting. Solid metal mesh may also be a safer choice where appropriate.   

  • No matter the material used to stop birds nesting, it still needs to be installed and maintained properly and checked regularly, as outlined in the ‘On buildings’ section above.

Where trees and hedges are to be removed for development - guidance for developers

The RSPB has developed some specific pointers for developers, in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM). Developers should try to avoid the use of netting to stop birds nesting where possible. For detailed guidance on avoiding and reducing the use of netting to stop birds nesting, and for reducing harm in exceptional cases where netting is to be used for this purpose, head to the CIEEM website.