Protecting fruit trees and wildlife

Fruit on household trees and plants is a tempting treat for hungry wildlife. Netting is a popular way to protect fruit, but inappropriate types of netting can kill or injure animals such as birds, flying-foxes and possums. Netting with a large mesh size is more likely to entangle animals and their struggling causes deep cuts and strangulation, often leading to death.

What type of netting should be used?

There are easy ways to reduce harm to wildlife when using garden netting.

  • Use netting that has a mesh size of 5mm x 5mm or less at full stretch to reduce the risk of wildlife, such as flying foxes, birds and possums becoming entangled
  • White netting will make it easier for nocturnally active animals to see and avoid it at night
  • Netting made from material with a strand diameter thicker than 500 microns or with a cross-weave design can also help reduce injuries and fatalities.

How to use netting

When netting the whole tree:

  • Pull netting tightly over the tree. Don’t throw netting loosely over trees or allow netting to lie across the ground, where it can entangle reptiles and other animals
  • Fix netting tightly to the tree trunk – this will stop rats and birds from reaching fruit

Tree with netting over it and gathered near the bottom of trunk

It can be easier to protect selected branches rather than netting the whole tree. A range of bags, sleeves and socks are available to protect fruit on individual branches.

Citrus tree with two netting bags protecting individual branches

Introduction of regulation on 1 September 2021

New requirements for use of specific fruit netting will be introduced from 1 September 2021. This will allow time for gardeners and retailers to plan for a changeover of netting and to utilise existing netting.

From 1 September 2021, a person must only use netting with a mesh size no greater than 5mm x 5mm at full stretch to protect household fruiting plants. Failure to comply with this regulation could result in a fine under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019. The fine for using fruit netting that does not this specification will be $3303, and $660 for advertising or offering it for sale for household fruiting plants.

The following guidance has been developed to assist Victorian gardeners and retailers to understand what is generally meant by the use of the term ‘household’ in this context.

Generally, ‘household’ fruit-trees, vegetable gardens, or other fruiting plants would be:

  • grown at residential premises in an urban or suburban area or
  • if grown at residential premises in a semi-rural or rural area, grown primarily for personal use (even if some excess produce is shared or sold).

Household’ fruit-trees, vegetable gardens, or other fruiting plants would not generally include those grown:

  • at commercial orchards or
  • at vineyards or
  • for a fruit and/or vegetable produce business or
  • where the objective of growing the trees or plants is to produce a commercial harvest for sale, with the intent to make a profit. The scale of such an activity should be consistent with other commercial orchard, vineyard or produce businesses.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) website contains information that will assist people to determine whether their fruit or vegetable growing activities are a hobby or a business. The ATO makes it clear that there is no single factor that determines if a person is in business.

Disclaimer

This guidance on the use of the term ‘household’, is provided for information purposes only. No claim is made as to the accuracy, completeness or currency of this information, or that the information is suitable for your needs. Gardeners’ individual growing arrangements for fruit and vegetable produce will vary, and this guidance does not take into account personal situations. Where appropriate, you should seek independent professional advice. See the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions’ general disclaimer.

Netting over hand, netting has a fine mesh size so animals can't get stuck in it

Hand holding non compliant netting, fingers are poking through the holes

Planning for the change

Existing fruit netting that does not meet this specification will have to be replaced with the appropriate netting before 1 September 2021. When disposing of the old netting, reduce the chance of further entanglements by placing the old netting into a strong biodegradable bag before putting into landfill.

When purchasing new netting, consider whether it is likely to have a working-life extending beyond 1 September 2021. If so, buy netting that will be compliant with the new regulations.

Protecting wildlife

  • Remove old netting that is not protecting fruit and dispose of safely as described above.
  • Check netted trees every day to ensure the nets are not loose and no animals are caught
  • Wildlife in Victoria are protected under the Wildlife Act 1975, which makes it illegal to wilfully disturb or destroy wildlife.

Helping injured wildlife

Getting help quickly is critical for wildlife that has been caught in netting. If wildlife is entangled in netting, do not try to handle or rescue the animal. Call a wildlife rescue group to come and safely remove the animal.

Some wildlife, especially flying foxes or snakes, carry diseases or may be dangerous. If someone is bitten or scratched by a flying fox, contact a doctor immediately. Flying foxes can carry Lyssavirus which can be fatal if contracted by humans

Contact

Visit Wildlife Victoria to find contact details of wildlife rehabilitation organisations.

Wildlife Victoria 03 8400 7300

AWARE (24hrs) 0412 433 727

Photo credits

  1. Netting the whole tree, Lawrence Pope
  2. Netting individual branches, Lawrence Pope
  3. Example of compliant netting, Denise Wade
  4. Example of compliant and non-compliant netting, Denise Wade
Page last updated: 09 Oct 2020