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Falcons in church in view

St Mary Magdalene Church in Taunton, Somerset, found itself with a pair of peregrine falcons at the top of its 163-foot church tower earlier this year. The church asked naturalist and ecologist, Michael Leigh-Mallory, to lead the Taunton Peregrine Project. A local installer, Coomber Security Systems, fitted five Hikvision cameras to monitor the birds, with all the video feeds wirelessly transmitted to a Hikvision NVR and 4K monitor within the church.

In the heart of Somerset’s county town, St Mary Magdalene since the 12th century has been made mainly of sandstone and this provided the first challenge for the installer as drilling or permanent fixing to the listed building’s structure is not allowed. Naturally, the birds chose the highest point possible to establish their perch, providing the second challenge: placing all five cameras at a height of more than 160 feet within the confines of the tower and in positions that would allow the Peregrine Project to observe behaviours, including in-flight as they arrived and flew off site. Finally, the ornithologists were determined that the monitoring should not disturb the birds. This meant placing the NVR and 4K monitor at ground level at the opposite end of the church.

Coomber took on the bespoke job, using Hikvision PoE Switches to provide power and data handling for all five IR-equipped cameras sited on the tower. The three 4K Vari-focal bullet cameras were mounted on wooden poles and then strapped to the tower to overcome the prohibition on any permanent change to the building. Between the three feeds, the project team can see the birds in the air arriving at and departing from the tower, plus coverage of the nest box that they installed in the hope that the birds would be encouraged to breed.

The Project also captures video and sound from a 4MP Mini Dome IP camera mounted within the nest box and a small 2MP PTZ camera mounted at the top of the tower to capture all round views. So the birds are not disturbed, a Ubiquiti AC Nano wireless bridge was used to create a secure connection between the top of the tower and the far end of the church, for video and sound recordings from the cameras 24/7.

Michael Leigh-Mallory said: “With two months of operation under its belt, the new system has been providing 24-hour coverage of the falcon pair, including highly-resolved images of the peregrines flying in to the perch with their prey. Despite the difficult and potentially hazardous installation on the ancient building, and the use of an unorthodox mounting system that puts the cameras in very exposed positions, the 4K video from the IP bullet cameras is of amazing quality both day and night. The Hikvision equipment has recorded ground-breaking images of a wide range of behaviours, including nocturnal hunting, and all in incredible definition. These 4K images are most probably a first for peregrine observation in the UK. What’s more, this unique 4K footage has been providing valuable information to external Peregrine experts, like Ed Drewitt, naturalist, broadcaster and writer of the book Urban Peregrines.”

An Open Day was held at the end of March allowed locals to see for themselves the result of their donations that fund the project. Somerset Ornithological Society and the BBC Springwatch team have shown interest; and a following is emerging on social media (@tauntonperegrines).

The plan is to raise more money so the views of the birds can be live streamed to the internet via their website, which is under construction.

Michael Leigh-Mallory said, “The Hikvision cameras have provided images of incredible definition! We have been able to record ground-breaking images of nocturnal hunting and a wide range of behaviour. The 4K images are probably a first for peregrine observation in the UK and this unique 4K footage has been providing valuable information to Peregrine experts like Ed Drewitt, naturalist, broadcaster and writer of the book Urban Peregrines.”


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