The refinery seems a bland and hostile habitat especially for wildlife, the industrial world taking over the landscape in every direction.
Since joining Exxon in 2007, I’ve been astounded by the variety of wildlife inside the perimeter fence, which facilitates a secure undisturbed habitat for a number of species. At Fawley we have two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, an ancient Lammas Wood and the foreshore, there is also a huge reservoir, these varied habitats attract over 150 species of bird, including rarities like the Bittern, Osprey and Black Redstart.
Upon closer observations I found that Peregrine Falcons used the refinery as a fast food destination, regularly culling the pigeon, wader and sea gull populations. Each day I then observed the falcons. In February 2013, I then become involved in a conservation project that has caught the interest and imagination of people inside and outside of the fence.
In May 2013, I discovered a pair of falcons nesting on a narrow ledge on one of our highest stacks. However, successful fledgling of the youngsters was hampered by the lack of practice area, for them to build up their strength before they took their maiden flight or fall. Consequently the season was unsuccessful with only one youngster surviving.
In late 2013, I contacted Keith Betton from the Hampshire Ornithological Society and The Hawk Conservancy Trust, in a bid to help the Fawley Falcons. With their knowledge, the backing and support of the Fawley’s Community Affairs Team and the expertise of Delta rope access, we mounted a nest box the size of a large dog kennel just above their existing nesting ledge. This we hoped would give the young birds a better chance to build up their strength before they took the plunge.
In early 2014, the peregrine’s made the nest box their new home, I watched the adult pair display in-between the large stacks, chasing each other and performing food passes. In late spring it was obvious they had a brood to rear, as the teircel (male) terrorised the local bird population in order to feed hungry youngsters. Late June was the first time I observed the three youngsters and by early July they all successfully fledged.
I observed them throughout the summer into autumn, one youngster unfortunately died after colliding with one of the many high structures in the refinery. This was disappointing but hardly surprising, watching them learn to fly in this habitat was like a newly qualified driver, attempting to drive a formula one car around a busy city.
In the future, I hope to fit a nest camera so local pupils will be able to follow the life cycle of this remarkable predator. Until then I will provide regular updates via my blog about their journey.