There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to use a fireplace when you want. But imagine having to go without it from winter until the following autumn.
That’s the position you could find yourself in if birds decide to nest in your chimney.
Historically, the nesting season in the UK usually starts around March time. However, over recent years, jackdaws and starlings have started nesting much earlier – sometimes as early as January. They’re also getting more territorial, often returning to the same location year after year.
And once they start building a nest, it is protected by law. Under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to destroy an active bird’s nest without good reason. Simply wanting to use your fire isn’t a good enough reason, and any professional sweep will not break the law.
The truth is, that if your chimney isn’t properly protected and you get caught out, then you simply have to be patient.
So how can you guard against all this?
One of the most most effective ways to keep your flue from being blocked by a bird nest is to have a suitable guard fitted. There are numerous makes and models on the market, and the type will depend on the sort of fuel you use and also the type of appliance fitted to your flue.
As a generally rule, the cheaper the cowl or birdguard, the less effective they are. Those which simply push into the chimney pot are, in my opinion, worse than useless as they either end up being blown or knocked off. Same with those which are bolted into the chimney pot. They corrode over time and are easily pushed off.
Clay inserts must also never be used, as they restrict the passage of gases and get get clogged very easily. I see this a lot.
With all due respect to roofers, builders or hardware shops, they don’t always have the knowledge to advise on what terminal to use on ‘live’ flues so my advice is always speak to a professional sweep about it.
For traditional flues which are in use for solid fuel, I personally use stainless steel birdguards which are securely attached to the chimney pot using a suitable clip or tough stainless steel wire.
Even if you have the correct bird guard, they can and do corrode/fall off, so it’s important to keep an eye on them. In that scenario, it’s important to have them replaced as soon as possible. Birds are very quick at building nests, and once they take up residence in your chimney, the law is on their side.
Please don’t even attempt to take a nest out on your own. Nests can be huge – most customers are flabbergasted at the size of them. They also harbour pests and diseases. It’s a specialised job and should only be undertaken by a professional sweep.
Trying to ‘burn out’ a nest is also a very silly idea, as it could cause a massive chimney fire, not to mention putting you at serious risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
So do I always recommend a cowl? Generally yes, and definitely on lined chimneys and those with closed appliances (woodburners, multi fuel stoves etc). However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend one for an open fire where there has been no sign of bird activity. Some open fires can struggle with them, and in some cases an open pot is the best solution. However, if you or your neighbour has had a nest in the past, then I’d definitely recommend one as the chances are heightened.
Make no mistake, if you do get a bird nest, you’ve been a unlucky as some people can go a whole lifetime without having one in their chimney. But, like most things, it’s sensible to err on the side of caution.
An appropriate, well-fitted birdguard will help prevent wildlife from entering your chimney – and allow you to continue to use your fireplace as and when you choose.
Mr Soot Chimney Sweep is a HETAS Approved Sweep, and member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, offering a professional and friendly chimney sweep and stove service in Wigan, Stockport, St Helens, Ormskirk, Chorley and surrounding areas. Book Mr Soot online or call 0800 0541154.