Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Save Our Starlings!

Flocking starlings are one of the most stunning sights in the natural world. And their free ariel display has been a feature of Brighton seafront for many years. 

But now their numbers are in decline and the spectacle around the shell of the West Pier is now smaller and less frequent than in years gone by.

While Brighton Bloody Council continues to entertain speculators’ dreams of observation towers, twisted skyscrapers and outsized ferris wheels along our seafront, they seem oblivious to the dwindling of a true natural wonder in our town.

My friend Lisa who runs a cafĂ© in town suggested that we should do more to encourage them back. This could be done by replacing some of the wood that burnt down a decade ago in a mysterious fire on the West Pier. Once thousands of starlings roosted on the derelict pier’s wooden structures.  Now only a steel skeleton of the pier remains – hardly a comfortable perch.

Installing perching beams would entail work on a dangerous structure, but need not be prohibitively expensive. It would not need to be safe for human visitors.

The West Pier Trust, which owns the wrecked pier, has given up on redeveloping it. Lottery funds evaporated, developers went bust, etc… But it makes sense to leave it be.  We have one serviceable tourist pier already.  The end-of-the-pier shows it was once home to are ancient history.

Instead, the trust wants to build a 150-metre high observation tower at the pier’s entrance. It’s as if someone looked at Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower and said lazily, “me too”.

Observation towers presuppose there is something remarkable to observe.  In Portsmouth, it’s the ships.  Up a Brighton tower, tourists could look out to sea - and see the horizon a little lower down than before; alternatively, they could do a 180 and look at Brighton itself, although that’s better done from any of the South Downs behind the town. It’s a town surrounded by hills – you don’t need to climb a spire to see it.

You don’t need an observation tower to watch starlings paint the sky either, but at least it would give tourists something incredible to gaze at from their raised glass bubble.

What I propose is that we investigate making minimal alterations to the West Pier to encourage the starlings back.  This is going to be a tough sell in Brighton, which has never quite got over its reputation as a town that’s helping police with their enquiries in a kiss-me-quick hat.

But let’s be optimistic. The property bubble is well and truly over, so all those extra luxury flats aren’t going to happen now.

We have elected the country’s first Green MP, Caroline Lucas.  It’s time we lived up to our new image by doing something for wildlife.

Incidentally, some fascinating research on birds’ flocking behaviour can be found here:

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