Magazine article Natural History

Hole in the Wall

Magazine article Natural History

Hole in the Wall

Article excerpt

Repairing old buildings is fraught with ethical dilemmas, from preservation to attempts at modernization. Often in the repair process we overlook the fact that buildings are borrowed vessels, used for a few years before we move on, and that our journeys through them overlap with those of many other species.

Not long ago, as part of my ongoing work with historic buildings, I stumbled across a curious niche in the stone wall of a house. While standing and staring at this rather tatty piece of wall, I pondered what might have caused this hole to form and decided that it might have originated as a "lug hole" for the support of scaffolding when the building had been reroofed about sixty years ago. The generous overhang of the eaves had meant that the wall had remained protected from the elements, and although the hole had been leftunrepaired for two generations, it didn't really require re-pointing.

Some of the adjacent walls on the same property included deep voids occupied each year by blue tits. The niche seemed like the perfect place to provide the birds with some alternative accommodation in the form of a nest box, while I busied myself with other necessary repairs.

The hole was not exactly the right shape, so I applied a weak mortar (six parts sand to one of white cement) to create a smooth interior for the new homestead. Cement was chosen as the binding agent because a lime mortar might prove to be a hazard to young and curious chicks. I chose a piece of old oak floorboard for the front of the "box" and used a thirty-two-millimeter drill bit to create the entrance hole. …

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