Birds of prey used to protect Peacehaven’s giant grass roof

The great horned owl
The great horned owl

Birds of prey are being used to prevent one of the largest grass roofs in the UK from being dug up by hungry crows and seagulls looking for food.

The 18,000 m2 living roof covers Southern Water’s new wastewater treatment works at Peacehaven.

It is made up of a mixture of downland grasses to reflect the surrounding landscape.

A team of goshawks, harris hawks, a golden eagle and a great horned owl have been brought in to scare away the other birds which have been digging up the newly-mown turf in the hope of finding insects and worms to eat.

Southern Water project manager Richard Hodgson said: “This is one of the largest green roofs in the UK which has been designed to blend these new works into the surrounding landscape.

“The crows and gulls see it as a freshly mowed field and have starting foraging for food.

“To protect the grass roof, and allow it chance to mature, we are using this natural approach to bird control.”

The crows and gulls are certainly liable to opt for a quick exit when they see the golden eagle heading their way, as well as the other birds of prey.

The golden eagle’s wing span can measure up to 2.3m and it can be up to one metre in length.

It is most commonly seen in Scotland and the north of England, as well as Europe and North America.

The great horned owl is the second heaviest owl in North America, with a wingspan of about 1.5m and a body length of more than 60cm.

All four of the birds of prey are capable of snapping up seagulls and crows, while golden eagles have even been known to kill birds twice their size.

To ensure the plant, built on land at Hoddern Farm, fitted in with the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty of the South Downs, the building itself was constructed below ground level and a grass roof was put on top.

The green roof also means the plant protects key downland views.

The grasses selected for the roof were barkoel crested hairgrass, crested dogstail and quaking grass.

The roof only needs to be mowed once a year and was designed to blend in with natural characteristics of the South Downs National Park.

It is the equivalent size of three football pitches.

To get the turf on to the roof, a crane was used to lift 40m2 sections on to it. The roof was finished in 2011.