400-Foot-Wide “Sand Castle” Brings Migratory Birds Back To England

It took months of work, 400 tonnes of sand, and 3 teams of construction pros, conservationists, and scientists, but the results are undeniably stunning — a 400-foot wide sand castle positioned on a wetland reserve in Surrey, England.

Why all of this work? For a welcoming party!

The migratory sand martin, which returns in large numbers every Spring from Africa, loves to nest in England’s sandy cliff faces. However, some of their habitat is now being lost to development, and droughts in Africa have sent the species’ numbers into decline. To help, the Surrey Wildlife Trust has jumped into action.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“Creating this nest bank is important to protect them against the boom and bust nature of their nesting sites and give more security for the population to expand,” explained project manager James Herd.

“They are sociable birds that roost together in large numbers and so the scale of the sand bank is as important as its sustainability.” With minor touch-ups every six years, the team expects the structure to last indefinitely.

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To accomplish this massive feat of engineering, the Surrey Wildlife Trust worked with the specialists at Sand In Your Eye, a construction and sculpting company that works to sustainably craft and carve custom designs in the UK. In 2014, they completed a similar project for kingfishers and sand martins, sculpting a small habitat for the migratory birds to safely nest in.


In both cases, the land donated for the project actually came from an industrial company that was using the area for mining and development.

While this might seem an unlikely partnership, it actually makes perfect sense — due to the protected status of the sand martin, any development or digging on the land comes to a stop when the birds return. By giving a portion of their developed land to the nest bank and the Surrey Wildlife Trust, the owner, Sibelco, is able to continue working the land without disturbing any endangered species year-round.


“Sand martins like to nest in active extraction sites because they like the fresh, clean, vertical sand faces,” explained Nick Allman, Sibelco’s site manager to the Surrey Wildlife Trust. “But this can cause problems for Sibelco because if they are found then we have to stop work in that part of the quarry. The sand martin bank is a way of naturally drawing them away from the active sites to where it is safer for them to nest.”

The sandbank will also be a habitat for insects and should prove resilient even to heavy weather and flooding, which aren’t uncommon in the wetlands area where it’s set up. Aside from Sibelco and Sand In Your Eye’s help, the Surrey Wildlife Trust received financial assistance from Coast to Capital and the Chessington Conservation Fund.

See more amazing sand work at Sand In Your Eye’s Instagram, or keep up with the Surrey Wildlife Trust’s work on Facebook!

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