Menai Strait Bridge Repair Delayed After Falcons Nest In Tower

Planned refurbishment works on the Grade II listed Britannia Bridge in Gwynedd, North Wales, have been altered after a pair of peregrine falcons were found nesting in the middle tower. Network Rail were due to carry out restoration work on all three towers, but work on the middle tower has now been paused, New Civil Engineer reports.

The historic bridge was originally designed and built by the renowned railway engineer Robert Stephenson, to form a rail link across the Menai Straits from the mainland to Anglesey. The rail line linked the Chester to Holyhead route, allowing goods to be transported from London to the port of Holyhead, and shipped over to Ireland.

Prior to the completion of the Britannia Bridge in 1850, the sole bridge linking Anglesey to the mainland was Thomas Telford’s iconic Menai Suspension Bridge, completed in 1826. However, this was a road bridge only. After years of debate and deliberation, the construction of the new railway bridge received royal assent.

The original materials of the Britannia Bridge were comprised of wrought iron and stone. After a devastating fire in 1970 which caused extensive damage, it was rebuilt with a two-deck configuration, allowing for the passage of both rail and road traffic. The stone substructure remained, but the rest of the work was completed with steel and concrete.

In all, the rebuild process took 10 years, and the second tier was finally opened to road traffic in 1980. During 2011, a £4m four-month long maintenance programme was carried out to strengthen the bridge. Eroded steelwork was replaced, the drainage system was repaired, the parapets and stonework were restored, and the steel portals painted.

The current restoration work began in February, and is being carried out on behalf of Network Rail by AmcoGiffen. After the nesting birds were discovered, Network Rail asked ecological consultants Whitcher Wildlife for advice on how best to protect the falcons. The birds of prey are a specially protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Whitcher Wildlife ecological consultant James Campbell said: “We are working closely with Network Rail to continue to monitor the birds over the next few months, with work on the central tower now paused until the young peregrines have fledged the nest, later in the year.”

Campbell added that it was usual for falcons to nest in high places, but this was the first case he had seen of them nesting in the tower of a bridge. Network Rail project manager Peter Caulfield said the team is conscious of the impact of work on the local environment, and they were trying to keep any disruption to a minimum.

Work has been postponed on the central Britannia tower until later in the year. Restoration work will continue on the other two towers. In May, support beams made from fibre-reinforced plastic will be hoisted into position under the stone lintels located at the top of the towers, to strengthen the bridge and enhance its lifespan and safety.

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