New Bird Hide at Sissinghurst Castle – Paul (Estate Ranger)
In my last couple of blogs I talked about two tasks that we carried out during winter, that of coppicing and hedgelaying. For the reasons mentioned in those previous blogs we must now leave those tasks to be completed next winter and concentrate on the more immediate jobs on our “to do” list.
Here at Sissinghurst we are always striving to improve our visitor experience. We must be careful, however, that what we do is done sympathetically and fits in with our natural surroundings. We thought long and hard about how we could promote and show off our rich and varied bird life. We already have early morning bird walks led by our Senior Ranger, Peter Dear, and our resident bird man, Alan Pavey, but not everyone has the time, or the inclination, for a 5am start! The idea of building a bird hide came up and as we have recently created a fairly sizable pond that will, in time, attract birds, it seemed the obvious place to site our hide. With generous funding from The National Trust Tenterden and District Association we had the financial means to construct the hide. As none of the Ranger team had any previous bird hide building experience it was going to be a fun exercise but one that our volunteers and especially our Hadlow College volunteers could treat as their own project.
Sourcing the material was not going to be a problem as we had a felled oak that would do the job nicely. The thing was that we didn’t have any means of milling the wood…..but we knew someone who did! A quick call to our man secured his services and his mobile sawmill.
After levelling off the site and sinking in a few breeze blocks on which the hide would sit, we set about constructing the frame. Working to a 3 metre length and 2 metre depth and height together with a pitched roof, the plans were, shall we say, modified on a regular basis! We decided on weather boarded sides for a more aesthetic look with glass windows at the side. At the front were viewing points that could be shuttered off when not in use with more glass to each side.
For the roof we took on a challenge and went for shingles. Securing the shingles to the roof batons on the lower levels was not so much a problem but the nearer the apex we got manoeuvring space became limited. But with the odd scrape here and there the shingle tiles were finished. There was always going to be a gapping issue between the tiles as although the timber had been cut accurately some tolerances were only to be expected. It didn’t affect the ability to keep the rain out though as the tiles soon weathered and slightly expanded. With the glass in at the front and sides and the shutters installed the hide only required a few more additions.
A seat and a shelf where bird ID books and binocular holding arms could be rested were soon added along with a door to keep out any cool winds. As we anticipated many comings and goings at the hide we needed to add screens that would temporarily hide this activity and so not scare the birds. The screens would only be temporary as we also planted some Hawthorn on both sides on the screens. As the Hawthorn grows and matures it will give a more natural look and eventually the screens will be taken away with our new “mini hedge” hiding visitors.
In time the seed sown around the perimeter of the pond will grow providing shelter and food for visiting birds making the area more attractive and hopefully a little less man made. We know this will take time so we shall be putting bird feeders at the front of the hide which will give something for all budding ornithologists to focus their binoculars on. The hide is a short walk from the ticket office. Take the path that runs along the bottom of the vegetable garden till it takes a sharp right and the hide is another 150 metres along on the left hand side.
Good luck with your bird spotting and I’ll speak to you again soon.
Paul Freshwater, Estate Ranger