The use of netting to protect fruit is a great way to reduce the impact of wildlife on crop loss; however we need to ensure that hungry animals do not become entangled.
IMPACTS ON WILDLIFE
All kinds of animals can get caught in improper fruit netting, including flying-foxes, birds, and reptiles. Mesh netting with wide spacing can entangle the feet or wings of animals. When animals are caught they may struggle to escape; which can result in the animal becoming stressed, developing wounds from the mesh, or event death of the individual.
APPROPRIATE NET DISPOSAL
Unwanted netting can even harm wildlife once discarded. Ensure you dispose of netting in a manner that will not allow it to become a hazard.
There are several ways that you can install wildlife-friendly netting to your fruit trees, with varying levels of cover. Wildlife-friendly nets can also help to exclude fruit fly and other insects.
Cover Individual Fruit: If you have a fruit tree that produces bunches of fruit, or a few miscellaneous larger fruits, you could consider using fruit protection bags. These can be purchased in bulk and are an economical way to be selective about fruit protection. You could even use this method to leave some fruit uncovered for the wildlife to feed on if you have an excess supply.
Cover a Whole Tree: Large box-shaped nets with a fine 2 mm woven mesh are available that can be used to cover a large shrub or small tree. Boxed nets have a skirt that should gather around the trunk of the tree to prevent animals accessing the fruit from below. Most nets do not need a frame to support them, as they are light but If you have a larger fruit tree, a supporting frame can be constructed with Polypipe or wooden posts. Consider how you will access the protected tree once covered (some nets have built-in access flaps).
Cover a Whole Garden: Mesh netting on a roll can be used to cover a custom-built frame and protect a large area, such as a garden bed. This is a good option if you have many small shrubs that you would like to protect.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT NETTING
Wildlife-friendly netting will have densely-woven fibres, with a spacing that does not allow a finger to poke through. Most recommended brands have a woven mesh net with 2 mm spacing, but any net with spacing of less than 1 cm is suitable. Nylon monofilament netting or other bird netting should be avoided, as these are commonly the cause of wildlife entanglements. White coloured netting is best as it has a high reflectance and white it is the most visible colour at night, helping to prevent nocturnal pollinators from becoming trapped. Appropriate mesh can be purchased in rolls of netting that can be adapted to your needs, in large boxed covers for use on small fruit trees/ shrubs, or smaller mesh bags that can be used to cover individual bunches of fruit.
SICK, INJURED OR ORPHANED WILDLIFE
If you suspect an animal needs help, please contact WIRES on 1300 094 737. Experienced and trained handlers will advise what should be done to help the animal. Please do not attempt to handle the animal yourself, as some animals may bite or scratch when stressed, and may carry diseases.