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True cost of controversial bird netting may never be known

PUBLISHED: 14:35 17 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:05 17 August 2019

Sand martin chicks, fledging in Bacton cliffs after the netting was removed. Pictures: Maggie Wilcox

Sand martin chicks, fledging in Bacton cliffs after the netting was removed. Pictures: Maggie Wilcox

Archant

The public may never know the cost of installing, and later removing, anti-bird netting over a swathe of north Norfolk cliffs.

The netting was put in place as part of a sandscaping project, which is underway at Bacton and Walcott on the north Norfolk coast. Picture: Chris Taylor PhotographyThe netting was put in place as part of a sandscaping project, which is underway at Bacton and Walcott on the north Norfolk coast. Picture: Chris Taylor Photography

After a Freedom of Information request, North Norfolk District Council has refused to reveal how much was paid for the netting at Bacton, saying the information was "commercially sensitive".

Sandra King, the council's Freedom of Information officer, did, however, say in a reply to the request that "bird mitigation works" made up: "less than 1pc of the budgeted £18 million project costs" and that the scheme was about "60pc funded by the private sector".

The scheme in question is the pumping of 1.8 million cubic metres of sand onto the beaches at Bacton and Walcott to protect the Bacton Gas Terminal as well as homes there from erosion.

The netting was meant to stop birds such as migratory sand martins from nesting in the cliffs over fears their nests would be destroyed in the works.

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

But following a national outcry including condemnation from TV naturalist Chris Packham who called the netting an "atrocity", the council agreed to remove 7,650 of the 15,200 square metres of netting in April.

Steve Blatch, the council's head of paid service, later admitted too much netting had been installed, saying: "The netting was put up because the migratory birds were due to arrive and occupy the burrows, and there were other nesting sites to the west.

"It's a very emotive issue and many people have commented out of raw emotion rather than understanding the project. We apologise for any distress caused to individuals."

But the council will not say how much the costly foul-up has cost the public.

A sand martins leaving its nest. Picture: Archant LibraryA sand martins leaving its nest. Picture: Archant Library

Ms King said in her reply the costs were confidential under the council's agreement with Team Van Oord, which is carrying out the 'sandscaping works'.

The message said the netting was installed: "With the best intentions so as to minimise potential disturbance to sand martins in the immediate area of works when similar habitat existed in the cliffs to the west towards Paston, Mundesley and as far north as Cromer.

"The council's decision is to not disclose the information regarding the costing for the installation and removal of the netting as this information forms part of the overall contract with TVO which is considered to be confidential and commercially sensitive."

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