The protest started after the nests were removed to allow maintenance work to take place on the famous Algarve landmark, causing residents and bird-lovers to take to social media in their droves in objection.

The common house martin (delichon urbicum) which belongs to the swallow family, is a migratory passerine bird of the swallow family commonly spotted in Portugal during the warmer months, where it builds muddy nests in spring to breed, before migrating to Africa as the weather cools after summer.

An in-depth investigation by regional newspaper Sul Informação revealed that, according to authorities, the work was carried out in November last year, outside the nesting period and with the proper authorisation from the Institute of Nature Conservation and Forests (ICNF).

According to Decree Law No. 140/99, and regarding “all species of birds found naturally in the wild in national territory, it is prohibited to destroy, damage, collect or keep their nests and eggs, even if empty”.

But, as Julieta Costa, from the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA) told Informação Sul, “with regard to swallow or stork nests, those who want to remove them must ask permission from the ICNF, which then stipulates the period in which such a removal may be done so as to avoid the height at which the birds are there”.

A request for the removal of the nests was made to the ICNF last September by municipal company Loulé Concelho Global, Sul Informação established, and authorisation was granted around one month later, albeit stipulating terms and conditions.

Among the requirements, the document explicitly stipulated that the removal “must be done by 31 December [2018]”, so that it did not coincide with the nesting period; it was done on “5 November, late-afternoon”, the ICNF confirmed.

In addition to the request to the ICNF, Loulé Concelho Global also sought opinions from other entities, including Loulé council and the Loulé branch of the PAN party for People, Animals and Nature.

The suggestion was made that the company installs removable shelves on which the birds could build their nests, to limit mess and make maintenance easier in future.

Work on the façades of the market is part of a larger project involving the external and internal painting of the emblematic building, as well as the creation of a food court inside it, due to begin early September.