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Nature lovers' relief as cliffside bird netting is removed

PUBLISHED: 10:16 17 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:42 17 April 2019

The netting put up over the cliffs at Bacton to stop sand martins nesting sparked a protest. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOOD

The netting put up over the cliffs at Bacton to stop sand martins nesting sparked a protest. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOOD

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

Cliff-side netting that was stopping sand martins from reaching their nesting holes has finally been removed following a national outcry.

North Norfolk District Council was forced to have most of the netting it had thrown up over a mile-long stretch of cliffs taken away after widespread condemnation.

The removal works began last Thursday and were finished by Tuesday afternoon, but part of the netting on the lower section of the cliffs will remain in place to stop the migratory birds using holes there.

This is because they would be at risk of being blocked in when works on the £21m Bacton/Walcott Coastal Management Sandscaping Scheme begin, and 1.8 million cubic metres of sand is pumped onto the beaches to protect the coastline - and the Bacton Gas Terminal - from erosion.

The council said monitoring would continue to take place three times a day, with further advice and surveys by the site team and ecologists.

A sand martin leaving its nesting hole. Pic: Ian BurtA sand martin leaving its nesting hole. Pic: Ian Burt

The netting drew the ire of many nature lovers, including TV naturalist Chris Packham, who called it an “atrocity”.

At a full council meeting of Norfolk County Council on Tuesday, Conservative councillor Ian Mackie had a pop at the district council over the incident.

Andrew Proctor, county council leader, said: “It could have been handled in a far better way had everyone listened to the advice from the right people.”

But NNDC leader Sarah Butikofer replied: “It is interesting that members of the opposition group are not aware that their own party signed up to the arrangements for the netting at the cliffs.

Netting being removed from the cliffs at Bacton in north Norfolk. The netting was having a negative impact on sand martins, who could not get into their nesting holes. Picture: NNDCNetting being removed from the cliffs at Bacton in north Norfolk. The netting was having a negative impact on sand martins, who could not get into their nesting holes. Picture: NNDC

“We have a letter sent by the RSPB on March 29 saying they welcomed the approach by the council. The netting had been put on the cliffs for the protection of those birds.”

But the RSPB said it had advised against such extensive netting.

A spokeswoman for the wildlife charity told this newspaper last week: “Our position is that up to seven metres the burrows must be covered to stop the sand martins coming in, otherwise they will be suffocated when the sand is brought in.

“We are pleased to see the unnecessary netting on the upper sections of the cliffs coming down. That should allow sand martins, if they are still on site, to move into those.”

Bacton cliffs with the gas terminals above, where netting was put in place to stop sand martins nesting. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOODBacton cliffs with the gas terminals above, where netting was put in place to stop sand martins nesting. Picture: JAMIE HONEYWOOD

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