A housebuilder insists it is acting legally and properly by putting nets on hedges at one of its developments in Chesterfield - amid concerns about birds being prevented from nesting there.
William Davis Homes said nets have been put on hedges which form part of the next phase of its Skylarks housing development at Dunston Lane, where work is due to start this summer.
According to the company, the nets are designed to stop birds attempting to nest in hedges which will be removed during construction.
The firm added that the hedges will be replaced - providing 'higher quality habitat for wildlife'.
'We are aware of concerns'
A concerned resident, who did not wish to be named, told the Derbyshire Times: "I note that the development is ironically named 'Skylarks'.
"Preventing birds from nesting is not acceptable."
A spokesperson for William Davis Homes said: "We are aware of concerns about our policy of netting hedges and only ever utilise this practice with the supporting advice of our consultant ecologist.
"William Davis Homes takes these matters very seriously and all works are being carried out observing the requirements of the Countryside and Wildlife Act and following industry best practice.
"The hedges in question are part of the next phase at our Skylarks development which is due to commence in the summer of this year.
"When phases of development are due to commence during the nesting season, we very carefully consider the need to provide continuity of development - and employment of our tradespeople, apprentices and subcontractors - with our obligations to protect the environment under both planning legislation and the Countryside and Wildlife Act.
"Netting the hedges prior to the nesting season has long been recognised as a legal means to preclude birds from habitat due to be removed between March and September and as such is deployed when needed to safeguard continuity.
"In this case our proposals will remove an area of low grade former agricultural hedgerow and replace this more than threefold with new planting designed by our landscape experts and ecology consultants to provide a net gain in higher quality habitat for wildlife.
"Planting of the scheme to mitigate the habitat loss has already commenced with a further phase due to be completed prior to the removal of the netted hedges."
The spokesperson added: "We follow our legal obligations very carefully.
"In the case of hedges all netting takes place outside the nesting season.
"On the day that any netting is being placed on a hedge we have an independent ecological consultant check the hedge for any existing wildlife.
"The hedges are then checked daily to ensure the integrity of the netting, making sure no rips or tears have appeared or that the wind has not opened up any gaps to make sure birds and animals are not trapped.
"If the integrity of the hedging is in question our ecology consultant will carry out a full survey of the hedge to ensure that no wildlife is trapped before the netting is re-secured.
"We have not, as yet, ever found any trapped wildlife after the hedges have been netted.
"If we did, we would act under the instructions of the independent ecologist and ensure that we conformed to the Countryside and Wildlife Act, any relevant planning conditions and follow industry best practice."
Woodland Trust's concerns
This online petition calling for netting hedgerows to be made a criminal offence currently has more than 170,000 signatures.
Jack Taylor, of the Woodland Trust, said: "The trust has recently been made aware of instances where trees and hedges have been covered with netting in an attempt to prevent them being used by wildlife.
"This practice demonstrates an alarming disregard for the welfare of wildlife, particularly during the nesting season, as birds are being blocked from nesting.
"Other wildlife that may rely on hedgerow habitat, such as stoats, bank voles and hibernating hedgehogs, could become trapped.
"We are aware that developers can use this tactic to prevent birds from nesting and thereby avoid delays in the development process.
"It is an offence to take, damage or destroy an active nest so by using netting to prevent nesting in hedges and trees developers can then remove these features during the nesting season.
"Natural England's standing advice for development affecting birds clearly states that preventing nesting should only be considered as a mitigation option, used only outside the breeding season, and that replacement habitat should be provided.
"While not an illegal practice, we consider that netting hedges and trees during the nesting and breeding season is inappropriate."