Sand martins return to the Links

Over the past couple of months, efforts have been made to create a new habitat for sand martins. A patch of land opposite the Jubilee practice area was chosen as the sand martins had regularly nested on sand banks there a number of years ago. However, in the last few years there’s been no sign of these fascinating birds. This year we set about mimicking the bird’s natural nesting habitat which is sheer cliff faces and sandy banks. They are quite particular in the quality of the sand they choose to nest in but our hope was that because they had been here previously the site would be suitable.


Our work began in late March with digger driver, Kenny carving out a sheer face on the sandy embankment which partially surrounds the area. The sheer face is an important element in creating a habitat for these birds as once the face slumps, sites are abandoned. This is because the nesting area becomes more accessible to opportunistic ground predators such as weasels or the cunning fox.


Once this high bank was created, pipes were hammered in high up on the face to replicate the bird’s nest. Pipes used for this purpose should be at least 6cm internal diameter and not more than a metre long. They should also be tilted slightly to prevent rainwater gathering in the nest. We then loosely filled the pipes with sand to allow the birds to excavate themselves and tunnel in to their own preferred depth. We ensured the pipes were open at the back and contained relatively loose sandy material as the birds create chambers at the end of the tunnels. Our hope was that even if the pipes themselves were not used by the birds this area would be a lot more attractive as a potential nesting site, as it now looked like a ready-made habitat. Once everything was in place all that was to be done was to wait and see if the birds would arrive!


It was a number of weeks before any activity was logged but in the second week of May a small number of inquisitive sand martins were seen checking the site out. After giving it the all clear further numbers arrived and now a small colony of birds appears to be happily nesting there. The area has been cordoned off to allow for minimum disruption and it’s hoped that next year they will return in greater numbers. There’s even the possibility of extending the habitat further along the embankment if necessary.


Sand martin fact file:
• Sand martins are from the same family as swallows (Hirundinidae)
• Their Latin name is riparia riparia
• Large colonies can contain more than 100 pairs
• They migrate overseas to warmer climates during our winter

Words by Fergal Cushen, Greenkeeper

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