Stonehenge’s “resident” jackdaws be forced away from the famous site

Mick the Ram

Aug 14, 2022

Stonehenge is one of the most famous of all monuments dotted around the globe. It stands on Salisbury Plain, in the English county of Wiltshire, and its incredible giant stones can be seen from miles around. It is believed to have been built some 5,000 years ago in the late Neolithic period and the unique circle into which the stones are set, together with the many burial mounds, gives substance to the belief that it was once a burial ground of great importance, as well as the setting for special ceremonies. It draws over 800,000 tourists a year to see it in all of its glory; but right now it is at the centre of a bird conservation issue that has attracted huge social media attention recently.

Local farmer, Tim Daw, noticed the use of anti-bird mesh at the historic site, sharing pictures and in an irate post, he shared his thoughts of the netting on the stones, which is an ancestral nesting place for jackdaws: “I went nice and early as the sun was setting and took some photos of the various stones, which I am very interested in. I looked up at this stone and the sun was shining in this bird’s nest, but sadly it was underneath the meshing.” Tim questions the amount of damage the birds could be causing to warrant the use of anti-bird mesh: “Generally we don’t want anti-bird netting, it’s an ugly thing to do, and it’s got to be really necessary, and clearly here that is simply not the case.”

Tim explained the history of the birds nesting at the site, commenting: “At Stonehenge, these birds have been there for thousands of years, they are part of the monument and part of the culture. To have something very modern and inappropriate sort of breaks that spell of humans and nature, which I think that the builders of Stonehenge were connecting with. I think that is what people expect from Stonehenge is something very natural, not modern, and also to be in harmony with nature.”

Following Tim’s post, which went viral after being shared hundreds of times online, he said: “I didn’t set out to be a big campaigner about it, but there was a real organic reaction online.” Many people responded by agreeing that it was a “shame” and “just wrong” with the majority of the opinion that Stonehenge is about “nature and the natural world.”

A spokesperson for English Heritage also responded, explaining that the netting is part of a trial to help protect rare lichens as well as the stones themselves. “Jackdaws have still been seen nesting happily at Stonehenge this year. We welcome jackdaws to Stonehenge; but we also have to consider the conservation of the monument, particularly in certain locations.” They added: “We have conducted a trial with Historic England, which will be monitored over a full year cycle, to help protect rare lichens and the ancient stones from bird excrement, which over time will severely damage the stones themselves; so by placing a fine mesh screen underneath a small number of the monument’s lintels, prior to nesting season, this we feel is the best course of action to take.”

The jackdaws have been gathering on the stones for centuries, regularly building their nests and rearing their young in the many crevices to be found there. They tend to wait until the site closes every night, then fly down and feed on the scraps of food left behind by the day’s visitors. They are naturally friendly and inquisitive birds, possessing what are memorable and exclusive sets of behaviour patterns, in relation to walks, hops and flight. They are smaller and distinctive in appearance, when compared with other similar corvids, and they emit a very striking unforgettable high-pitched bark-like call. Their eyes are also a striking feature and the silver sheen behind their heads. They are extremely territorial birds and will see off other breeds, especially seagulls, who often approach the monument from nearby fields.

They genuinely seem to be able to recognise human faces, spotting and returning to people who have fed them in the past, from over 100 metres away. Although they have a somewhat sinister appearance, they are a handsome creature and they do love eye contact, not evident in many other bird types. Similar to magpies, the jackdaw is attracted to shiny objects, which hasn’t always helped their reputation and in the past they have actually been classed as vermin and as such, shot following poor grain harvests. Thankfully this has long since been rectified and they are now seen as useful in pest control.

The spectacular Stonehenge monument comprises of around 100 huge upright stones placed in a circular layout. Ancient Britons held strong beliefs with regards to the powers that the Sun and Moon were able to inflict, and held special ceremonies at the site in acknowledgement of the fact on the longest and shortest days of the year, a practice which continues into the modern day. In 1986 Stonehenge was added to the UNESCO register of World Heritage sites, giving it long-term protection.

In legend, it is often said that were the ravens ever to leave the Tower of London, then the whole kingdom would fall. It may only be legend, but perhaps English Heritage should consider what the consequences might be, should their actions drive the jackdaw away from an equally famous site!