The sand martin is listed as ‘amber’ on the RSPB’s list of protected bird species and it now falls to British Waterways, who manage the River Lee Navigation, to come up with a creative solution that will enable necessary works on the waterway wall to continue without discouraging the birds from nesting in the area in future.
The sand martin is the only member of the martin family which, rather than building a nest, excavates holes in sand banks, creating colonies. They are therefore usually attracted to natural river areas where there are plenty of sandy banks to burrow into. However, as British Waterway’s ecologist Leela O’Dea said, “It’s unusual to find sand martins using concrete walls as nesting sites, but not totally unheard of…they are probably using the cracks and crevices caused by erosion and degradation of the walls. They are perfect for the birds as they are a great hiding place from predators’.
British Waterways is currently inserting special tubes into the walls to encourage the sand martins to return and hope they will also provide nesting sites for other birds such as blue tits, robins or even kingfishers.
RSPB London spokesman Tim Webb welcomed the new nesting sites on a popular and busy part of the waterway as an example of ‘how we can all do simple things to benefit wildlife’ and a real chance to boost the local population of rare birds such as the sand martin.