Vodafone engineers dispatched to fix a Southampton mobile mast found a nesting Peregrine falcon - a protected species which must be left alone until its eggs hatch - leaving local residents with limited mobile coverage.
The BBC tells us the eggs can be expected to hatch in June, but until then the nest and the attending pair of birds must be left alone under all but the most extenuating of circumstances. Vodafone engineers were trying to fix a dodgy base station when they came across the nest and have since switched off the transmitter entirely, leaving students and residents in the Highfield area of Southampton without coverage and threatening to take their business to a less avian-friendly network unless a workaround can be found.
Vodafone says it has spoken to the RSPB and Natural England about what might be done, but anyone disturbing the birds before the chicks leave the nest risks a fine of up to £5,000, and/or six months' imprisonment under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. That's aside from being labeled as a murderer of baby chicks - probably more paramount in Vodafone's mind. It might be possible to fix the problem by setting up an alternative in-fill transmitter, but it won't be cheap.
There are, apparently, around 1,400 breeding pairs of Peregrines in the UK but it's not known how many are nesting in mobile-phone masts. Oddly enough, the middle of an antenna array is probably a very safe place to bring up chicks, visiting engineers notwithstanding, and as long as Soton residents can be discouraged from illicit catapault construction with a view to avian projectile use, then normal service should be resumed within a couple of months. ®