Birds and netting – a deadly combination

Pigeons behind netting

Have you ever walked down the street and seen a bird entangled or trapped behind netting on a building – or under a bridge?

I work in the wildlife department and was shocked to learn how many calls our national call centre receives about birds and netting;

  • The RSPCA received 2,013 reports of birds trapped in netting in 2012 and 9,907 reports from 2008 to 2012, averaging out at around 2,000 per year.

That’s staggering! And what about all the cases of birds not reported – or those that go unnoticed?

Some of these calls will be to birds trapped in fishing or pond nets.  A large proportion of these calls are the result of bird-deterrent netting on buildings.

When is bird-deterrent netting a problem?

Gull in Netting

As an alternative to culling, non-harmful methods of deterrence are advocated by the RSPCA where possible. Bird-deterrent netting can be used on buildings to prevent birds from roosting or nesting there and if used correctly it can be an effective and long-term solution to issues caused by birds and avoid birds being culled.

However if the netting is the wrong size, if it’s not secured properly, or if it degrades over time, gaps and holes can appear through which birds may enter and find themselves unable to escape. Frayed or ripped netting can cause injury to a bird, or the bird to become trapped.

When birds become trapped in netting they face a slow, painful death due to injury or starvation.  This unnecessary suffering is obviously distressing for the birds and can be upsetting to witness as a passer-by. It’s unacceptable and may also be against the law!

Taking action

Here in the wildlife department we noticed that we were receiving regular complaints from people who were angry about this issue and felt that more should be done to prevent these birds from suffering. Looking at the numbers of calls and complaints we receive about this issue it was clear that action was needed.

To tackle the problem we’re writing to property owners in response to complaints about trapped birds, urging them to take responsibility for their netting. We’re also raising awareness through press, publications and a new RSPCA ‘Wild birds and netting’ leaflet.

The response has been encouraging;

  • 70% of property owners  contacted so far have responded saying they will take action by repairing or removing their netting.

Additionally, we asked our officers in the Inspectorate to let us know when they are called to the same building repeatedly to rescue birds from netting.  As well as the animal suffering involved, it’s unacceptable that our officers are called time and time again to the same property, with no effort made by the owners to prevent the problem reoccurring. Asking property owners to put in place long-term action to resolve the issue will enable our officers to attend other animal emergencies.

The following is an example of feedback from an Inspector, after a property owner agreed to remove their netting:

Thank you. We’ve advising them for years that they need to sort something out so I’m really pleased they’ve finally decided to do something about it.

If you see a live bird trapped in netting…

Live trapped birds should be reported to the RSPCA 24-hour cruelty helpline on 0300 123 999.  Additionally we would ask that you alert the property owner, as they may be able to free the bird themselves.

What if the bird has died?

If you have seen a bird that has died in netting, or you have noticed a recurring problem with birds and netting at a property and would like to report it, we would ask you to email us at with the following information:

  • Address where the netting is located (include postcode where possible).
  • The owner of the property or company (if known) and the address if different to above.
  • The date of the incident.

We will then write out to the property owner, asking that they take long-term remedial action.

Please note we are unable to take reports of live birds trapped in netting through this email address.  Reports of live birds trapped should be made to 0300 1234 999.

If you would like more information, the RSPCA’s ‘Wild birds and netting’ leaflet is now available to order from our leaflets and posters page.


By Natasha Faulding (Admin Assistant, RSPCA Wildlife Department)

Photos used with kind permission from Rachel Barrat

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