Back in the early 19th century, the squire of Walton Hall in Yorkshire was called Charles Waterton, a man for whom the term 'eccentric' might have been invented.
For example, it is said that he would crawl around on the floor pretending to be dog, biting people's calves. And he apparently rode on top of a cayman (a type of crocodile) on a trip to South America. I think he sounds great fun!
However, this was the same man who, on his estate, watched his birdlife through a telescope and decided that he wanted to encourage them to nest. So he set about making a stone box for Barn Owls to use.
He didn't stop there. He built homes for Jackdaws, for Tawny Owls, and used 50 drainpipes to make nesting chambers for Sand Martins.
Of course, there had long been dovecotes, while the Dutch had used clay pots to entice House Sparrows and Starlings which then ended up on the dinner plate. But we don't know of anyone prior to Waterton going out of their way to make homes for birds to try and help them.
What a long way we've come! Nowadays, it is a fairly common sight to see a nestbox in a garden or on the side of a house, and you no longer have to be eccentric to put one up - quite normal people do it these days, I'm told.
The big winner over the years has been the chipper little Blue Tit, which relishes the simple square boxes with a 25mm (1 inch) diameter hole. Such boxes have made a wonderful alternative to natural tree holes, given that few gardens have old enough trees.
But maybe we've come to the next turning point in the history of the nestbox. All those gaps in the eaves and roof tiles and house walls and barns and outhouses which once made such brilliant nest sites for House Sparrows, Starlings and Swifts? Well, such sites are disappearing fast.
So, with National Nestbox Week looming, we need the great British public to take on the mantle of Charles Waterton and adorn house walls everywhere with nestboxes to help in the battle to give nature a home.
So far, I've gone for a Starling box...
...four Sparrow boxes
...a Swift box
...and I've even had nesting holes built into my front door porch roof.
I know many of you are also walking in the footsteps of the great Charles Waterton - the more the better if we are to save nature, I'm sure he would take his hat off to you. And probably eat it!
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