I never look to completely exclude ground-nesting birds from sites; experience has taught me this is often too difficult to achieve. Instead, I am trying to maintain a balance between construction work continuing unhindered and birds having opportunities to complete a successful breeding season.
Prior to works starting in a new area, I would carry out nest checks to see if there were any nests established there. If there were any nests, I worked out suitable mitigation measures. These can range from just making sure everyone is aware of the nest and avoiding the area, to marking out exclusion zones or, in the worst-case scenario, preventing any construction work from taking place until I am satisfied the nest has fledged. Normally on construction sites, nests are marked with an exclusion zone made of canes and marker tape. However, my feeling is that this gives predators somewhere to perch and draws unnecessary attention to the nests. If nests weren’t anywhere that was in immediate danger of disturbance by site operatives, I would rather GPS their location and take a different route to monitor them each time to avoid trampling too much vegetation.
Sometimes a tricky part of the job can be getting site operatives to buy into the idea of stopping work if they find a nest. On construction sites in the past, there was definitely a mentality that it’s “only a nest” so let’s just carry on, and I am sure a lot of nests have been destroyed this way over the years. However, with more of an emphasis on sustainability and good working practices it does mean that more and more operatives are happy to tell you if they find a nest. In fact, some take great pride in finding a nest. The key is being open and friendly and ensuring that operatives realise I am there to help and not to get them into trouble. This project has been very positive and encouraged everyone to be on the lookout for birds and other wildlife and report sightings to me.
Leaving a minimal footprint on the land
Seven wader species nested in and around this particular construction site, consisting of Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Redshank Tringa totanus, Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata, Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago, European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria and Common Ringed Plover, although I only managed to find active nests for three of these species (Eurasian Oystercatcher, European Golden Plover and Common Ringed Plover). Juveniles of all of the above species were seen on site, indicating that all species had some breeding success. It is important to point out that my observations are anecdotal and not a scientific study with the associated academic rigour that would entail.
The Shetland project recently concluded successfully. The installation of the high-voltage underground cable was executed on-time and on-budget, despite extra effort being taken to protect and support local birdlife – proving that it is possible to both protect and work with the local wildlife, while also supporting the green transition.
* A version of this article was originally published in Wader Quest Newsletter