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British Waterways Creates Homes on the River Lee Navigation…

…for Sand Martins!

British Waterways is creating a series of unique nesting sites this summer for an unusual visitor to the River Lee Navigation who has chosen to make these waterways its home. Earlier this year local wildlife watchers alerted British Waterways to the fact that a pair of sand martins had made the surprising step of moving to the River Lee Navigation.

The Sand Martin unlike the other member of the martin family in the UK, the familiar House Martin, doesn't build a nest. Instead, it excavates holes in sand banks, creating small, busy colonies, which means they are more likely to be found in natural river areas where there are plenty of sandy banks to burrow into. In north America it is called the Bank Swallow!

However it seems the sand martins of Hackney are an ingenious pair and have been seen utilising the concrete holes along the wall of the River Lea Navigation as homes and hiding places.British Waterways’ ecologist, Leela O’Dea said: “It is unusual to find sand martins using concrete walls as nesting sites, but it’s not totally unheard of. We have had sightings of the birds in the area and with them being so far away from any sandy or gravel structures it gives us a fairly good idea that the birds are adapting and using man-made structures, such as peg and disused drainage holes, in the waterway walls as homes. They are probably also 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, such as rats, which would eat their eggs and young birds.The sand martin is listed as an amber status species by the RSPB, and with that in mind British Waterways has designed a creative solution that will enable necessary works to the waterway wall without preventing sand martins using the area in the future as a potential nesting site.

Leela O’Dea continues: “We need to undertake some structural works on the waterway wall. We are using this as an opportunity to make sure that the new wall retains some of the features that the sand martins seem to like on other sections of the river. Hopefully this means that they will nest in the special tubes we are inserting into the new wall. The tubes offer a great home, high up and out of site of predators. Even if the sand martins don’t use them, I’m sure other birds such as blue tits, wrens, robins or even kingfishers will make them their own.”Tim Webb, RSPB London spokesman said: “British Waterways is setting a great example of how we can all do simple things to benefit wildlife during this International Year for Biodiversity. These new nesting sites are situated right next to a busy park and on a well-used cycle route on a popular part of the waterways. Hopefully once these sites are established they will be well used and help boost the population of birds, such as the recently spotted sand martins.”

The £400,000 eight week maintenance project on this stretch river which started on the 12 July 2010 has been part funded with a grant of £250,000 from the London Borough of Hackney and the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). As well as up-grading 150 metres of towpath, the riverbank walls will be repaired, with the addition of special areas created within the new brick work to provide permanent nesting sites for these declining birds.

The sand martin is listed on the London Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). This action plan has 26 plans for habitats and species that are important in London. The London BAP contains targets to improve the condition and increase the extent of a selected number of habitats found in the capital by 2015.

4th July 2014