Southern Water has banned the practice of draping trees and hedgerows in nets to prevent birds nesting in them for its engineering projects.

The move follows a discussion during one of its partnership environmental working group meetings. Nets are generally laid for ease of removing vegetation for development projects, as under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act it is an offence to intentionally damage or destroy the nest of a wild bird that is in use or being built.

The nets are placed to prevent wild birds from nesting in the first place, meaning trees and hedges can be removed.

The practice sparked anger in early March, with radio presenter Jeremy Vine and TV presenter Chris Packham both tweeting about images of birds stuck in nets at a residential development in Winterton. In the aftermath, a petition to parliament has been launched to criminalise the practice, with the number of signatures approaching 350,000.

In response to the outrage, the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds released a joint statement advising against the technique. They called it an overly simplistic approach that would be better substituted by forward planning and early engagement of a competent ecologist.

Speaking on the decision to bring a halt to netting, Southern water’s environmental manager, Nicola Meakins, said: “The practice of netting so that trees and bushes scheduled for removal due to development can be cleared during the nesting season puts wildlife at risk and is generally ineffective, so I was delighted that in our partnership environmental working group the engineering firms who regularly work on our major projects were so receptive to a ban.

“It is not a practice that any of them would have regularly used but putting a firm policy in place ensures we remain at the forefront of best practice – the only place Southern Water are happy to be.

“Banning this controversial and frankly pointless practice will also help support another company wide goal – reducing and eventually eliminating single-use plastic.”

Ecologist Tom Ryan added: “Our partners work with us long before works begin and ensure that where vegetation needs to be removed it is done well before the nesting season. In the event anything needs to be cleared, an ecologist will conduct a careful survey. Any nests found must be left undisturbed.”