‘We can’t keep up’: Hundreds of birds dying in commercial netting

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Key points

  • Animal rescuers and Wildlife Victoria are urging the state government to implement regulations to prevent the “inhumane” death of birds in commercial netting.
  • The issue is widespread across the state and even office workers in commercial CBD buildings are calling rescuers after seeing distressed birds on rooftops.
  • In 2021, the Victorian government introduced mandatory regulations to domestic fruit tree netting in households that has reduced the number of animal entanglement cases by 30 per cent.

Hundreds of birds are being entangled and dying slow painful deaths from protective netting across commercial building rooftops in Melbourne.

Both animal rescuers and Wildlife Victoria are fed up with the lack of government regulation to prevent the “inhumane” death of birds.

Wildlife rescuer Melanie Attard checks on the birds near the roof of a property in Mornington.Credit: Eddie Jim

Melanie Attard, 47, a wildlife rescuer of 22 years has been attending call-outs to commercial buildings in Melbourne’s south-east in Frankston and Mornington and said despite decades of advocacy to the government nothing has changed.

Attard said she is confronted with dead seagulls, ravens and pigeons, many with broken wings and limbs, when she arrives at the commercial sites.

“I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of dead or dying birds up on rooftops,” said Attard, who also runs animal rescue and management service Humane Animal Solutions.

“We’re getting birds either tangled or trapped in the netting itself or trapped inside the net structure where they die slow, painful deaths,” she said. “Even if we can rescue them, 85 per cent of all of these rescues end up in euthanasia because of the injuries.”

Often fledglings, unable to fly, are also found on the rooftops that birds use for nesting.

The current bird deterrent systems being employed by commercial building owners include suspension netting as well as nylon line that is easily tangled.

Birds can cause significant and costly damage to buildings as their nests can block down pipes and gutters, causing flooding, while the build-up of parasites and disease from bird poo causes a biohazard risk to ventilation systems.

The issue is widespread across the state and even office workers in commercial CBD buildings are calling rescuers after seeing the distressed birds.

Josh Vernon, a rescuer from Wildlife Victoria, said the majority of his call-outs to help with birds caught in commercial netting are in the CBD, including on Flinders Street and in Port Melbourne.

The netting is on top of commercial buildings all over Melbourne.Credit: Eddie Jim

“The majority of these cases are out of sight; once you’re on top of these buildings the extent of birds trapped and dead is mind-boggling. We can’t keep up with the number of animals dying,” he said.

In one case at a disused industrial building in Port Melbourne, Vernon was given access by the MFB to rescue birds and was shocked by what he saw.

“There were hundreds of birds entangled in an old nylon netting that looked like a spider web, it was shocking,” he said. “I was called back to that building on more occasions after that.”

The task of rescuing the animals comes at a risk for wildlife rescuers who often use ladders or in some cases ask for assistance from emergency services, which Attard said was another strain on the system.

“We’ve called CFA before and they’ll bring the boom trucks and they’ve closed off a lane of Nepean Highway before and cut birds out for us and brought them down because we just cannot safely access the site,” Attard said.

“Some rescues are so hard and dangerous that rescuers can’t get to them and the bird dies up there and it’s really distressing for everyone involved,” she said.

Wildlife Victoria has condemned the lack of regulation in the commercial netting practice and has urged the Victorian government to act.

In 2021, the organisation along with animal welfare advocacy groups campaigned successfully for changes to domestic fruit tree netting regulations after fruit bats and other native wildlife were dying in large hole-netting.

The reforms reduced the size of netting used to protect household fruit trees, vegetable gardens, or other fruiting plants to five millimetres x five millimetres or less at full stretch.

A fine was also introduced for failure to comply with the regulation including people who advertised or offered non-compliant netting for household fruiting plants. The maximum penalty is $2760.

The reforms have reduced the number of entanglement cases by 32 per cent with the number continuing to decline further this year, said Wildlife Victoria.

“We strongly urge the state government to extend these mandatory regulations to encompass commercial netting practices and to further protect Australia’s unique and beautiful wildlife,” a Wildlife Victoria spokesperson said.

However, the state government said there are currently no specific provisions that apply to the use of the netting in commercial settings.

“We understand that birds can cause significant damage to commercial buildings, but it is critical that netting is well maintained and regularly checked to reduce the likelihood of bird entanglements,” a Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action spokesperson said.

“If birds become entangled, they must be removed promptly and humanely and receive appropriate treatment if they are injured. It is an offence if unreasonable pain or suffering is caused through entanglement.”

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