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Chris Packham condemns bird netting installed on trees for University of Cambridge as ‘absolutely outrageous’

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The University of Cambridge has come under fire from conservationist and TV presenter Chris Packham after nets were used to stop birds nesting in trees during work to expand the Whittle Laboratory.

Bird netting installed in JJ Thomson Avenue outside the University of Cambridge's Whittle Laboratory
Bird netting installed in JJ Thomson Avenue outside the University of Cambridge's Whittle Laboratory

The Springwatch presenter said it was “absolutely outrageous” that the controversial nets were cast over about 20 trees in JJ Thomson Avenue, on the university’s West Cambridge site.

Under cover of darkness on Thursday night, Extinction Rebellion Cambridge activists removed some of the netting, and discovered one willow had also been filled with foam to stop birds nesting in its holes.

There have been widespread concerns that nets can cause birds to become trapped, while reducing places for them to rest and forage for food.

Prince Charles recently visited the Whittle Laboratory - and warned that time had “run out” to save the planet.

A University of Cambridge spokesman told the Cambridge Independent: “Trees near the Whittle Laboratory have had nets put over them to discourage birds from nesting in them, so they will not be disturbed by work to expand the lab. The netting will be checked for wildlife three times a day.”

It is an offence to disturb nesting birds. This has prompted some developers, councils and businesses to use nets to stop them building their nests in the first place, sometimes because they intend to cut down the trees or want to prevent bird mess at a particular site.

Bird ringer Stewart Abbott condemned the move at the Whittle Lab on Twitter, calling it “absolutely deplorable” - and his tweet prompted widespread anger over the decision.

Mr Packham responded: “Seriously? I thought we’d been through this last year! This is absolutely outrageous!”

XR Cambridge activists remove some of the bird netting from outside the Whittle Laboratory. Picture: XR Cambridge (30340415)
XR Cambridge activists remove some of the bird netting from outside the Whittle Laboratory. Picture: XR Cambridge (30340415)

Last year, Tesco removed nets it had placed on trees at a Norwich store following a torrent of complaints on social media. The supermarket said it had placed them above its trolley store to stop swallows nesting, following complaints about bird droppings.

The RSPB has criticised the use of bird nets.

It said: “We cannot keep trying to squeeze nature into smaller and smaller spaces or demanding it fits in with our plans.

“People around the country are dismayed to hear about cases where birds returning from long journeys are being deliberately excluded from sites where they might choose to raise their young. Those people want action, and so do we.

“That’s why the RSPB is campaigning for laws to be introduced that would commit governments to ensure the recovery of nature – meaning that practices like this would come under much closer scrutiny in future. We all need nature in our lives – which means giving birds and other wildlife, more, not less room to breed, feed and sing.

“Obviously careful consideration will be needed to develop rules around netting that really help birds, and allow legitimate activity to continue. But we cannot stand by and let the current practices spread unchallenged.

“If work is absolutely necessary, then the use of netting could be avoided by tree and hedge removal being completed outside of nesting season; backed up by a commitment to plant new trees and hedges, as no one wants to live in a neighbourhood where the sights and sounds of nature have been driven out.

“We encourage the government to review the current law governing this area and think creatively about what could be done to solve a problem that upsets so many people, and pushing nature away from our lives.”

The Whittle Laboratory has aspirations to develop the world’s first carbon zero flight.

A National Centre for Propulsion and Power is due to open at the site in 2022, which will accelerate the development of decarbonisation technologies, with funding from the Aerospace Technology Institute.


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