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'It's heartbreaking' - RSPB criticises north Norfolk council's use of nets on Bacton cliffs

PUBLISHED: 12:58 09 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:58 09 April 2019

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

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

Archant © 2009

The RSPB has hit out at North Norfolk District Council for its use of netting which is preventing sand martins from accessing their nesting sites.

The council put the temporary netting up on cliffs at Bacton to deter the birds from nesting during work on the Sandscaping project, which will see 1.8m cubic metres of sand put on the beaches to protect them from erosion.

The council said Natural England approved the netting and the RSPB had given advice.

But the RSPB has said the local authority has not followed its advice nor its own construction plans.

Sharing video footage of a sand martin trying to access a burrow in a cliff, only to be prevented by the netting the RSPB East Twitter account said the effect off the netting was “heart breaking” and that after meeting with members of the council it has “implored” the local authority to remove the netting.

Issuing a statement on the issue on Monday afternoon RSPB in the East added: “We are disappointed that North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) has placed netting on the cliffs at Bacton to prevent sand martins from nesting.

“We can confirm the council’s actions do not follow RSPB advice, or indeed their own construction plans.

“In an effort to minimise the disturbance to nesting sand martins during the sandscaping project at Bacton, we supported the contractors recommendation for NNDC to use a fine mesh (geotextile - which birds can not get trapped in), on a small section of the cliff. This was to close off a small number of burrows that could have been potentially smothered by the newly deposited sand.

“We believed this action should have been taken as a last resort and only if alternative nest sites close to the original burrows were available.

“Based on the images we have seen published, our advice has not been followed and we will be reaching out to NNDC to offer further advice and support.”

Achieving more than 28,000 views on social media many commentated on the footage of the sand martins sharing their horror at the birds not being able to reach their burrows and calling for the council to remove the netting.

Responding to tweets on the issue the RSPB East account said: “We can’t legally force [the council’s hand. Onus is now on [NNDC] to make the right decision.”

On Monday afternoon Sarah Butikofer, leader of NNDC tweeted: “Have met with officers today to discuss nets at Bacton. An urgent site meeting to resolve situation is now planned.”

A statement issued by NNDC on Monday said the Bacton/Walcott Coastal Management Scheme (the Bacton Sandscaping Scheme) was a highly complex project.

The council said: “[The project] has been designed to protect hundreds of homes in Bacton and Walcott, and the critical infrastructure of Bacton Gas Terminal, for many years to come, and has been five years in the planning.

“It has been subject to full environmental impact assessment, planning permission and marine licence applications.

“We understand that the RSPB has concerns around the temporary netting element of the project and we are intending to meet with them and contractors on site to fully assess what those concerns are.

“Careful consideration of what time of year to progress was given because of the need for good weather and longer days, with the summer significantly safer for both the scheme’s success and for contractors working on the project.

“Without these works the cliff itself is at long-term risk as well as the adjoining communities and the terminal.”

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