Alternative sites sought for birds of prey in Portsmouth tower block - with hopes they are 'not lost to city'

A BIRD of prey expert hopes peregrines discovered in a tower block ‘will not be lost’ to the city after proposing nearby alternative sites for them - with the council chewing over the idea.

Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 7:00 am

Keith Betton, chairman of the Hampshire Ornithological Society, has suggested placing up to four nesting boxes at locations close to Horatia House where the birds were discovered nesting in August.

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Bird of prey found nesting in tower block

The move to coax the peregrines - the fastest birds in the world that reach speeds of 240mph and feed off pigeons and small ducks - to new destinations would solve a headache for Portsmouth City Council.

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Horatia House Picture : Habibur Rahman

The authority has admitted its £12m plans to take down the building and adjacent tower block Leamington House next spring could be delayed by months if the protected bird of prey is still inhabiting the site then - with nesting season in full swing.

The Somers Town blocks are due to be removed after cladding removal in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy revealed they were not structurally safe.

Mr Betton, an expert on peregrines who is advising the council, made the suggestion for nesting boxes this month.

But the council has yet to decide whether to go ahead with the proposal.

A peregrine falcon. Picture: David Foker

Mr Betton, who saw just a male peregrine when he visited the block, said: ‘I suggested the council should put nesting boxes on other buildings nearby it owns.

‘There are possibly four with that capability nearby - they include council blocks as long as there are not people using the roof.

‘At the moment we are waiting for the council - it’s not difficult to decide.’

The nesting boxes, made from marine plywood and including fish tank gravel, would cost £30 each.

Peregrine falcons at Horatia House, Somers Town. Picture: Darren Barnett

The presence of nesting boxes means the peregrines would hopefully decide to relocate to the more attractive new location - meanwhile allowing the cavity in Horatia House where the birds were nesting to be blocked off.

Mr Betton said: ‘The birds perch on tall buildings so will be aware of other tall places. There’s no guarantee it will work but by putting up several boxes there are more chances they might find one of them.

‘Hopefully the birds will not be lost to the city, which would be a shame.’

Despite it only appearing there is just the male peregrine present at the moment does not necessarily mean the female - the larger of the two birds - and their chicks will not return to the block at some point.

‘Sometimes they split up and do their own thing,’ Mr Betton said. ‘I thought we would see more than one peregrine (at Horatia House), though.’

He added: ‘Hopefully the council will give the go-ahead to the nesting boxes. If the council fails to get them to nest somewhere else that would mean work would have to be delayed until July or August (after nesting season).’

A council spokeswoman said: ‘The council is continuing to work with and seek advice from local experts regarding the peregrine falcons, we are currently evaluating options for providing nesting boxes that can be located at alternative sites.’

Taking down Leamington and Horatia, which is expected to take around 10 months, will then free the site for the council to build 440 new homes.

The towers were home to 272 households. They will be taken down ‘panel by panel’ instead of being demolished.

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