Gull - rescued Great Darkgate Street iiThe dangers outdoor netting can pose to wildlife has come under the spotlight – with RSPCA Cymru continuing to deal with incidents across Wales amid coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Wild birds – like gulls and pigeons – are too often victims of unmaintained bird deterrent netting, becoming entangled and trapped. In recent weeks, officers in Wales have raced to help gulls and a jackdaw in precarious situations.

The animal welfare charity has issued a reminder about the importance of correctly installing, maintaining and monitoring deterrence netting to protect wild birds. Failure to do so leaves gaps where birds are able to enter and become trapped; and – as proven the case during lockdown – there is a risk of birds suffering and dying from injury or starvation.

RSPCA Cymru believes lockdown restrictions may have resulted in many netting structures being checked less regularly.

Inspectors Rachael Davies and Mark Roberts came to the aid of a jackdaw trapped by netting at a pub in Prestatyn at the end of last month (28 June).

Officers utilised ladders and reach and rescue poles to reach the bird – who was fortunately found with only bruising to his leg, and was able to be released to the wild on site.

Inspector Davies said: “This situation could have been far more serious for this poor jackdaw – but thankfully he only had minor bruising, and could be returned to the wild after we thoroughly checked him over. It was a really challenging rescue – but thankfully we were able to reach this bird, get him loose and return him to the wild.”

Each year around 2,000 reports are made to the RSPCA about wild birds trapped in or behind netting, many incidents involving bird-deterrent netting.

Netting at the same site often leads to multiple animal welfare calls, and casualties – and the RSPCA has made repeat visits to two separate locations in Aberystwyth.

The charity’s emergency line was notified after gulls got trapped to a roof on Great Darkgate Street in the seaside town on 21 June and again a week last Thursday (2 July).

On the first occasion, the gull had attempted to land on the netting and got her legs entangled, and from the subsequent struggling entrapped her wings and head through the mesh.

Fortunately, RSPCA animal collection officer (ACO) Ellie West was able to free the exhausted gull by cutting back the netting. The bird was then transferred to Gower Bird Hospital for urgent rehabilitation, after she was found with abrasions on both legs and wings. She was safely returned to the wild after ten days of care.

Sadly, a repeat incident at the same building did not have such a happy ending. Another gull trapped in the same netting had to be put to sleep on site due to the extent of his injuries and to prevent further suffering.

ACO West said: “It can be frustrating when RSPCA officers get called to the same location again and again due to welfare issues caused by dangerous netting.

“While one gull I rescued at the Great Darkgate Street building was able to be rehabilitated and returned to the wild, sadly the injuries were so bad on a second gull just days later that he had to be put to sleep.

“There are circumstances where netting appears to be an effective means of keeping birds off structures as it can prevent problems without needing to resort to other measures such as killing birds. However, proper installation and subsequent maintenance is vitally important.

“All types of bird netting should be professionally installed and regularly maintained as birds can suffer a long and painful death if they become trapped. It’s important that netting is checked regularly.

“Unfortunately bird-deterrent netting is often fixed in high or hard-to-reach areas, making the rescue of trapped animals difficult and dangerous.

“With the streets so much quieter during lockdown, it also seems very possible that netting hasn’t been checked so regularly, or that people haven’t seen entangled birds in distress so often.”

Only three miles away – at Glanyrafon Industrial Estate – the RSPCA and Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service have twice attended together amid the pandemic to help stricken gulls trapped to netting on a warehouse unit.

Firefighters accessed the gull on the first occasion – on 1 June – and the bird was able to be released straight back to the wild. However, a further incident on 10 June saw the gull having to be put to sleep due to the seriousness of the injuries sustained.

RSPCA inspector Jemima Cooper added: “Sometimes, netting can be so high up or out-of-reach, that we need to enlist the support of our friends from the Fire and Rescue Service to help us to reach animals, given the equipment and expertise they have at their disposal.

“But when we see incidents happening time and time again at the same location, it takes up a lot of the RSPCA’s time, and – in these cases – the time of brave firefighters too.”

Worryingly, it isn’t only unmaintained bird deterrent netting that can prove a menace to birds – and a gull had to be put to sleep in Barry last month after becoming hopelessly tangled in football goal nets in the Vale of Glamorgan town on 29 June.

A shocking photograph shows the extent of the bird’s plight – and vets sadly had no choice but to put the bird to sleep as he had sustained a badly broken wing.

Fiona Thomas, RSPCA ACO, added: “Everyday objects – like football netting – can pose a risk to wild birds and other animals. When not in use, football netting should be put away to avoid accidents occurring.”

Birds are the animal most commonly stricken by netting – but the RSPCA regularly rescues other wildlife such as foxes, hedgehogs, deer and snakes trapped in this way.

Fortunately, it was a happier ending for a fox caught in football goal netting in Swansea on Friday (July 10). RSPCA raced to the Caswell Road property after the fox was spotted stuck in netting with his back paw trapped in the net – but thankfully he was unharmed and could be released immediately.

Inspector Leigh Summers said: “The fox was very tangled by this goal netting and was very feisty – but thankfully unharmed. I was able to safely release his leg, and he could return to the wild uninjured – but it could easily have been a different story.”

The RSPCA was also able to rescue a large grass snake following a “long and delicate operation” after the animal had become badly entangled in outdoor netting at Llanddewi Rhydderch near Abergavenny on 26 May. Fortunately, the snake was healthy despite the ordeal and could be safely released.

Inspector Darren Oakley, who rescued the snake, added: “Outdoor netting has the potential to cause devastating and life-threatening injuries to animals. Fortunately, I was able to free this wild grass snake after a long and delicate operation in Abergavenny.

“However, not all animals are so lucky – and with many wild animals being nocturnal, some have been trapped and struggling for many hours before anyone notices they are there.

“We’re reminding anyone with outdoor netting to be cautious and ensure it is checked regularly – or, where appropriate, replaced by structures like a solid metal mesh on ponds or near fruit. This could help save animals’ lives – and help divert our resources to other animals in need.”

Members of the public who have seen a dead bird or other animal trapped in netting, or who are aware of regular incidents, can forward the address, property owner (if known) and date of incident to wildlife@rspca.org.uk; and the RSPCA can then seek to contact the owner with guidance about resolving the issue. Animals seen entangled in, or trapped by, netting should be reported immediately to the RSPCA’s emergency line on 0300 1234 999.

RSPCA officers have remained on the frontline throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, responding to animal emergencies like these. The charity has launched an emergency fundraising appeal to help this work continue, and supporters can donate online.