At this time of year, I get a lot of calls from people whose stoves, woodburners and open fires are smoking back.
This puzzles them as they’ve been using it quite happily for months now without any apparent issues. Once I’ve inspected the flue, the problem usually becomes clear.. they’ve got a bird’s nest in the chimney, and it’s blocking the passage of smoke and gases.
Having confirmed that it is indeed a nest, the next question is usually: “Can you remove it?”
The answer is yes, but not until the nesting season is finished.
See, it is actually a criminal offence to disturb or destroy a nest during the nesting season. Birds are protected by the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Breaking the law can land you with a unlimited fine, up to six months imprisonment or both.
There are a few exceptions; and one of these relates to public health – usually when the homeowner relies on the fire as their only source of heating. This is rare nowadays and, in any event, most sweeps would seek further advice be removing a nest on these grounds.
Jackdaws and Starlings are among the most common inhabitants of nests in chimneys.
Nesting season is usually over by the end of August, which is when most sweeps will start to remove nests. Many are surprised by the sheer size of the nest. Don’t be fooled into thinking they are the same sort of nests you see in trees and you can hold them in the palm of your hand. We can be talking six bin bags’ worth of twigs, mud, twine, cigarette ends… you name it birds will use anything to create a nest, and they can fill the entire length of a chimney.
Although frustrating for the homeowner, there is very little that can be done. Don’t be tempted to have a go at getting rid of the nest yourself. Burning the nest out is exceptionally dangerous – it could very well either start a chimney fire, leave you with Carbon Monoxide poisoning, or both. Likewise, don’t think you can simply go onto the roof and lift a nest out. They are so compacted that you are likely to seriously injure yourself or worse.
And did I mention that birds are very protecting of their eggs, and there have been cases where people have been attacked?
If you have a nest, or suspect you have a nest (smoking back and twigs falling into the grate are indications that a nest could be blocking the flue), then get a registered, professional chimney sweep in.
Not only will they be able to properly diagnose the problem, but they will be able to remove it safely and within the constraints of the law.