Tiny, hardy sand martins flew more than 2,500 miles from Africa to roost in the cliffs of Norfolk, only to find their nests covered in netting by the local council.
Many birds die of thirst and exhaustion before they finally arrive on Britain’s shores, where they nest in order to raise their young here in the spring. Nature experts say it is vital their nests are protected so bird populations can continue to call Britain home.
Videos posted by birdwatchers online show the confused and forlorn birds sitting on the netting and fruitlessly pecking at it as they try to return to the nooks and crannies they call home.
The netting was put up on the Bacton cliff side by the council in order to stop animals from nesting and prevent cliff erosion.
However, the RSPB has branded the netting “heartbreaking” and urged North Norfolk Council to remove it so the birds have somewhere to roost.
The organisation tweeted: “Heart breaking to see that @NorthNorfolkDC have not taken our (and their contractors) original advice, and instead netted over 1km of the Bacton cliff face. The onus is on NNDC now to do the right thing for our sand martins
The RSPB added that contractors had recommended a fine mesh netting that would not trap birds or obscure access to their nests.
A spokesperson said: “In an effort to minimise the disturbance to nesting sand martins during the sandscaping project at Bacton, we supported the contractors’ recommendation for the council to use a fine mesh, geotextile, which birds cannot 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.”
Local MP Norman Lamb has said he is “concerned” by the videos and that he plans to meet with the leader of the council to discuss the netting.
Birdwatchers have also expressed their outrage, with one, Bob Carter, tweeting: “Having flown back to try to return to their nesting sites to breed, the birds are finding that Bacton cliffs are now covered in netting. I saw dozens of birds trying to get into their tunnels, failing, turning, wheeling and trying again. Why is this level of action necessary?”
Bird blogger “Norfolk Bea” added: “This is just the half of it.
BactonSandscaping netting has prevented
sandmartin from nesting & poses a hazard to wildlife.”
A North Norfolk District Council spokesman said: “The Bacton/Walcott Coastal Management Scheme (the Bacton Sandscaping Scheme) is a highly complex project.
“It 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 have 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.”