I am troubled. Not by the lack of a single letter or any kind of documentation from the Energy Saving Trust, who are running this scheme for upgrading Wales's housing stock to an enviromental standard - although I do sometimes wake in the small hours, the smell of fresh paint tickling my nostrils, and wonder if this whole eco-thing was a dream and I've painted the feature walls for nothing. No, I'm troubled by sparrows.
Every spring since I've been in this house I've watched these birds making their nests under the roof eaves at the gable end. Sparrows aren't territorial with each other and like to nest almost communally, so every few inches where the top of the stone and rubble wall meets the woodwork - the soffits that sit underneath the slates - you will see a bird darting in and out of the nest, to be met with a raucous twittering from the young ones within.
|One of my sparrows, perching just|
outside the nest under the fascia board
Although I've never gone under the eaves for a very close look, they must be nesting in small gaps in the stonework, which they've lined with tiny twigs, moss, bits of grass and probably wisps of sheep's wool they've found hanging on barbed wire fences. It's great entertainment, as long as you're not sitting too close to the wall, to watch them pop out of these holes and whir across the garden, hopping low over the hedges to avoid birds of prey, tweeting ferociously and usually voiding their bowels as they go (that's why you sit away from the wall). They're using existing gaps in the old stone walls and not causing any damage as far as I can tell, and they don't get into the house itself, so I've just enjoyed the fact that where I live is also home to a number of harmless and comical little birds, living in the spaces that we humans leave.
|My sparrows don't look as |
grumpy as this one
But all this activity will soon be destroyed. When the new external insulation is fitted, the panels and the render finish will go right up to the top of the walls, butting up to the soffits, and eliminating the gaps where the sparrows nest. This will happen at a disastrous time of year for them, too, just as their first broods are born and feeding. So this spring I've had mixed feelings at seeing the sparrow colonies taking shape again, and seeing the birds flitting in and out of their traditional nests.
I actually risked the ridicule of the insulation surveyor by asking him if they could leave a gap at the top of the wall : to his credit he did understand ('some of the lads are animal lovers,' he said) but told me that to leave gaps would make the guarantee on the work invalid and that the National Energy Saving Trust (NEST! I've just made that connection) wouldn't allow them to do that. I felt the irony of this : making my home environmentally friendly and at the same time destroying the nests of a species already under pressure from loss of habitat and other things.
But some research on the RSPB website has given me new hope. First, in my ignorance I just assumed that sparrows would produce one brood a year, when I now learn they usually produce three or four. So if I can get some alternative accommodation for them, there may yet be a new generation or two of these funny, ballsy little birds this summer. Second, the website is full of advice on making access points under the roof for birds to nest in. The spaces at the top of the walls will still be there, only hidden, so if I can make some holes for them to fly in and out of they may well carry on nesting there. I've already had the suggestion made to me of putting up nesting boxes, too, and I see that sparrow boxes are actually communal affairs with several 'doors' allowing several families to use them. So, even if one brood of chicks doesn't make it, the sparrows may nest again this year, and I'll still be able to sit in the garden and watch them flitter and chatter in and out of my roof timbers.
|One way to leave a gap for a nest entry point|
The upshot of all this is that, if you were to observe my house on the evening that the insulation company have packed up and gone you might see me, up a ladder, cutting holes in the soffits to make a gap big enough for a sparrow or two to fly in through. Maybe I'll even find a bit of wool on a fence somewhere and donate it to the nests : all in the name of insulation, of course.