Laser pens have emerged as the latest means of trying to banish the long-running pigeon problem from the Scottish Parliament.
Contractors NBC Bird and Pest Solutions, which regularly fly hawks to scare the pigeons away from the Holyrood building, have now resorted to using laser pens or pointers as well.
But today, pigeon specialists voiced fears that the pens could blind the birds and said they would never recommend them.
The £414 million parliament has been plagued with a pigeon problem for years.
When the building first opened, muck and feathers were blown through vents on to researchers’ desks and some birds even got into MSPs’ offices. Nets, wires and spikes had all been installed in a bid to keep the birds away before the hawks were brought in.
The use of laser pens only came to light in documents obtained under Freedom of Information.
In monthly updates on the contractors’ work, parliament bosses were told: “Targeted pen lasers have been used to disturb and disperse pigeons roosting at night. Most visits concentrated on the dawn and dusk periods to disturb and deter roosting activity.”
The reports said the laser pens were being used “outwith daylight hours to target any areas with roosting pigeons”.
Last month, there were claims the hawks had effectively eliminated the pigeon problem.
Documents show that contractors are being called out almost every month to deal with pigeon issues, often to remove dead, trapped or injured birds.
In addition to the laser pens, the contractors are also using “optical gel” – a substance which is spread on surfaces and makes it appear to pigeons that the area is on fire.
Emma Haskell, of the Pigeon Control Advisory Service, said: “If the hawks were working, why are they resorting to these other methods?
“The use of optical gel and laser pens demonstrates that hawk flying is not working and they are still looking for new ways of deterring pigeons. Laser pens can be lethal and blind animals and birds. They are definitely not something we would ever recommend.”
A spokesman for animal welfare group PETA added: “Laser pens can damage pigeons’ eyes just like they can humans’. Humane, non-harmful methods of deterring wildlife exist that do not cause birds any suffering. These gentle and intelligent birds were the first recipients of the Dickin Medal – the animals’ Victoria Cross – for delivering messages that led to the rescue of human airmen. This is no way to treat the forgotten heroes of two world wars.”
Last year, Britain’s main air pilots’ union was so concerned about the danger of laser pens that it issued emergency advice to members on how to avoid being blinded and losing control of their planes.
Earlier this month, a man in Wales was handed a five-month suspended jail sentence after being convicted of recklessly endangering the lives of a police search helicopter crew through the use of a laser pen.
The parliament said laser pens were used as an additional deterrent, but insisted they were not harmful, adding: “Our contractor uses a range of humane measures to deter pigeons from the building.”
Preyed upon to follow a parliament no kill policy
HAWKS were brought in by Holyrood bosses in 2009 on a £44,000 contract to scare away the pigeons – but with a strict “no kill” policy.
The parliament was warned the birds of prey could lead to a PR disaster if they began eating the pigeons alive in front of schoolchildren.
But the Holyrood birds had a closer call in 2004 when a “service agreement” document carried instructions to clear pigeons from part of the MSP block, then added: “Shoot pigeons if possible during first visit; if not, a second visit may be required.”
Early attempts to combat the problem by stringing anti-pigeon wire across ledges failed because they just hopped over it. Anti-roosting spikes were first rejected as “visually unattractive”, but later installed.