Protected bird of prey found nesting in Portsmouth tower block Horatia House could delay £12m plans to take down building

PORTSMOUTH City Council’s £12m plans to demolish a landmark building could be delayed after a protected bird of prey was found nesting in the block.

By Steve Deeks
Thursday, 20th August 2020, 11:47 am
Updated Thursday, 20th August 2020, 6:05 pm

Peregrine falcons, the fastest birds in the world which can reach 240mph when nose-diving to catch prey, were heard squawking near the top of the authority-owned Horatia house, Somers Town, last weekend.

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Much to the surprise of Kelly-Marie Turner and her partner Darren Barnett, who live in a flat opposite Horatia House in Sir Robert Peel House, Astley Street, they spotted two adult peregrines and their chicks.

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A peregrine falcon Picture: David Foker

At first the couple thought the ‘horrendous’ noise was foxes before they looked out the window and saw the birds near the top of the deserted Horatia House.

Darren, 37, said: ‘There was a hell of a racket and at first we thought it was foxes - it was horrendous.

‘I looked out from our balcony which is opposite Horatia House and saw the birds on the ledge. I could see the chicks poking their heads up and looking around.

Horatia House Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘The birds were awesome to look at. I got a recording of the noise on my phone and when I played it back they responded to the recording.’

The couple have a relative who runs a bird sanctuary in Gibraltar and sent the recording off before being told the birds were almost certainly peregrines. The RSPB has since confirmed they are.

‘They are a fantastic bird of prey, a rare bird. They just drop out of the sky and reach over 200mph hour when catching their prey,’ Darren said.

‘They probably chose the building because it is quiet now no-one is living there and there’s a good food supply nearby.

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

‘The noises were from the parents to get the chicks moving as they are getting ready to fly the nest.’

Peregrines are a schedule 1 species under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and have full protection - as do their nests whilst in use.

Kelly-Marie said: 'I have emailed the council as Horatia House cannot be knocked down whilst they are nesting as they are a protected species. I hope they will remain safe.’

A peregrine falcon Picture: Mark Bullimore

Peregrine falcons, also historically known as duck hawk in North America, are a widespread bird of prey often the size of a crow that have a blue-grey back, barred white underparts, and a black head.

They feed on medium-sized birds such as pigeons, small ducks and wading birds.

Peregrines live in the UK all year round with strongholds including the uplands of the north and west and rocky seacoasts.

They breed in March and April when the female lays three or four eggs. After about 30 days of incubation, the young fledge at 35-42 days and are independent two or more months later.

An RSPB spokeswoman said: ‘All birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law. It is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird, or intentionally damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.

‘It is our great privilege that more and more peregrines - the fastest birds in the world - are now living alongside us, often choosing tall buildings as replacements for the cliffs and crags they naturally nest on.

‘With an active peregrine nest on Horatia House, it is up to the council to delay any work until after the birds have moved on.

‘Peregrines tend to return to the same nest year after year. We would also advise the council to provide an alternative nesting site for these birds, either on the replacement building or another building nearby.’

Guy Shorrock, senior investigations officer at RSPB, gave the green for the council to continue work if the nest is no longer in use. ‘Once the offspring have fledged and the nest site is no longer in use it technically has no protection,’ he said.

But he went on to deliver a potentially damaging blow to the authority’s plans. ‘Some peregrines in the uplands may move away in the winter to find better feeding areas but I expect at most urban sites the peregrines will be around most/all the year,’ he said.

‘If they have a successful breeding site with a good food supply, such as feral pigeons, they don’t want another pair getting in there.’

A Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust spokeswoman revealed how peregrines are ‘a rare species but are recovering in numbers after decades of persecution’.

‘They are still at risk from egg collecting and the young are sometimes taken for falconry purposes which is illegal without a licence,’ a spokeswoman said.

A Portsmouth City Council spokeswoman said the authority wasn’t ‘aware’ of the nesting falcons until told by The News – but will now halt work if needed. ‘We are not yet proceeding with works on Horatia House at the moment and will of course halt or delay as necessary,’ the spokeswoman said.

‘We will link in with RSPB to make sure that the appropriate action and measures are taken when we carry out the work.’

Work on Horatia and Leamington House was set to begin once a contractor was found.

The decision to take down the blocks meant 272 households had to be moved to new homes.

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