Work on a Buchan energy plant’s £350million regeneration scheme has ground to a halt, thanks to a family of young kestrels.
A nest of chicks has been discovered on a 150ft stack at the St Fergus gas terminal.
The column is at the centre of a rejuvenation project, launched in April, which aims to extend the life of the terminal by at least 13 years and safeguard around 300 jobs.
Immediately following the discovery of the nest, Shell UK bosses ordered workers to down tools.
A spokeswoman for the company said the operation at the demethaniser column where the five fluffy chicks were found would be halted for at least 12 weeks.
The delay is expected to cost the firm thousands of pounds.
The spokeswoman said: “The chicks have recently hatched and mum and dad are busy with feeding duties.
“The delay will incur a cost, but given our ‘no harm to the environment’ policy it’s a cost that will be borne.”
She said kestrels had nested at the plant before, but usually in more secluded areas on the pipe rack. They usually produce one brood of chicks each year, which feed on small animals, birds and insects.
The nest on the demethaniser, which separates methane from natural gas, was inspected by staff from the company’s environmental office, as well as Grampian Police wildlife liaison officer George Sangster.
They made sure correct procedures were followed and everyone was satisfied with the decision to delay work until the chicks leave the nest.
The rejuvenation plan involves creating a new link for gas imports from Norway. St Fergus bosses say without further investment, operations at the plant would soon be forced to wind down, having reached the end of their 25-year life span.
Earlier this year, Shell drafted in pest-control company NBC to reduce the growing population of herring gulls at St Fergus which have, in the past, wreaked havoc among other ground-nesting birds.
Areas around the flare stack and fire pond have seen large nesting colonies of common and Arctic terns, but their chicks are targeted by gulls and oyster catchers.
In recent months, peregrine falcons and Harris hawks have been flown over the herring gulls’ nesting sites by NBC workers. The plant is also home to other species of birds, including ringed plovers, black-headed gulls, coots and moorhens.