Pecking order

02 November 2006

FOR more than 100 years they left it alone, but recently the woodpeckers in White Colne, in Chelmsford diocese, have found the cedar spire of St Andrew's irresistible. "They make holes two to three inches across, big enough for other birds to get in and build their nests there," says Christopher White-Thomson, a churchwarden. "It's becoming an exclusive aviary."

One theory is that they are looking for insects under the cedar shingles, "though a more romantic one is that they are tapping out mating calls". The church had a similar but short-lived trouble with the birds a few years ago, and was able to patch the hole, but now it is more serious.

The building is Grade II*, originally put up in the 12th century or earlier, but the spire was added by the Victorians in 1870, and English Heritage insists that it must stay in the same style. The architect says that re-cladding the spire in some other wood - possibly oak - that woodpeckers don't peck is the only solution, but the total cost, including the preparatory work of building a platform inside the spire to see exactly what is going on, will be in the region of £100,000.

English Heritage is prepared to foot a substantial part of the bill, but only if the parish can show that it can raise a shortfall of £26,000. In a parish of 400 souls and a regular congregation of 15, that can be done only by appealing to other funding bodies.

Meanwhile, Mr White-Thomson tells me he has attached a plastic kestrel to the top of the spire in the hope it will deter the drilling woodpeckers.

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