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Orchard Netting

Using nets to cover fruit trees is an effective way to deter birds and some insect pests from eating or infecting fruit.  It is reusable, chemical-free, and does not create the neighborhood disruption that can arise from using noisemakers

Image by Jen Theodore

Don't Leave It Loose!

Don't leave it loose!

Typically, drape nets are used and get tossed over trees to birds and pests from accessing the fruit. Excess netting is left pooled under the tree and/or at the end of rows.  Unfortunately, this loose netting can become a death trap for wildlife, and while some orchardists probably wouldn't be too bothered by the death of a grape-stealing House Sparrow, there are dozens of other helpful or benign species who also get caught, some of which pose serious health and safety risks. 

Loose pools of netting easily trap snakes, including rattlesnakes, who attempt to slide through the nets as they would a pile of leaves or brush.  When they get entwined, they often cannot extract themselves as their overlapping scales make it difficult for them to move backwards.  This creates a highly dangerous situation for the next worker who comes across it, as there is now a scared and pained snake who will likely attempt to bite anyone who attempts to help.  Even non-venomous snakes such as Gophersnakes, can pack a painful punch with their bite.   Snake extractions require professional help. Killing the snake does not help in the slightest, as snakes can reflexively bite (and inject venom) for hours after death. Also, killing any wildlife species including snakes, is illegal under the BC Wildlife Act and comes with steep financial penalty.

Loose netting can also trap birds of prey such as kestrels hunting in the orchard; their sharp talons and beaks also pose a risk to anyone trying to disentangle them, and the fine threads of the netting often injure the legs or wings.

Installing bird-safe netting in the orchard is especially critical when using integrated pest management protocols and encouraging the presence of insect-eating birds such as bluebirds and swallows.

Using netting responsibly

Using different types of netting

While there pros and cons to all types of netting, the maind criteria for snake-safe and bird/bat safe netting is that it is secured off the ground at all times and ideally has a mesh size of 5mm or smaller. Any netting larger than 8-10mm poses a serious entanglement risk to wildlife.

While arguments can be made for white versus black versus coloured nets for wildlife, it is also true that the color of the nets can affect the fruit beneath it. As long as nets are installed properly, the colour should have a negligible effect with respect to wildlife safety

Further reading

The following resources are information-only. Find the Financial Assistance page here

South Australia Natural Resources: Wildlife Friendly Permenant Horticultural Netting (Note: legal information is not applicable to BC)

Stuart, J. (2001) Plastic netting: An entanglement hazard to snakes and other wildlife. Herpetelogical Review

Wildlife Friendly Fencing & Netting (Australia):

Twedt D,J, (1980) Control Netting as a Hazard to Birds. Environmental Conservation

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