Hawks face axe in battle to scare off pigeons at Holyrood

Holyrood bosses are considering ending the use of birds of prey. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Holyrood bosses are considering ending the use of birds of prey. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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HOLYROOD bosses are to consider ending the use of birds of prey to scare away pigeons from the Scottish Parliament building.

Hawks and falcons were brought in seven years ago after other measures failed to stop pigeons plaguing the £414 million building.

Monthly reports by the contractors show there are still between 11 and 18 of the birds regularly on the Holyrood campus.

But parliament officials believe the pigeon population may have been reduced to the minimum which can be expected.

And the birds of prey could be grounded when the £16,000-a-year contract comes up for renewal next year.

The hawks and falcons were withdrawn for two months during the summer on a trial basis to see what effect it had. The number of pigeons increased by nearly 40 per cent – and an influx of gulls was also reported.

But parliament bosses say they realise they can never eradicate the problem completely.

Edinburgh Southern SNP MSP Jim Eadie said the decision on whether to continue with the birds of prey had to be based on the evidence and the advice of experts.

But he said: “When I’m going around the parliamentary campus, I don’t see any evidence that pigeons are a huge problem. It suggests the mitigation measures have been successful.

“Pigeons have been a persistent problem at the Holyrood building since before MSPs moved in, back in 2004. It has so many ledges, nooks and crannies that it was described by one consultant as “a custom-made, multi-million pound pigeon loft.”

At first, birds of prey were rejected as a suitable method of dealing with the nuisance. The parliament fixed bird wire to ledges as a deterrence but pigeons were then reported “trampolining” on the wires.

Fine mesh nets were used to stop birds getting into many of the recesses on the building before anti-roosting spikes – originally dismissed as “visually intrusive” – were also installed.

Then, in late 2008, parliament officials announced birds of prey would be introduced after all.

There was a strict “no kill” policy as parliament bosses were warned it would be a “PR disaster” if hawks were to start eating pigeons alive in front of visiting schoolchildren.

Under the contract, NBC Bird and Pest Solutions visits the parliament several times a month, with hawks and falcons in tow.

Monthly reports detail how an average of 17 pigeons were recorded in November last year, reducing to 14 the following month and then hovering around 11, 12 or 13, with the number of pigeons typically reducing by more than half by the end of each visit.

After the temporary suspension in June and July, the number was up from 11 in May to 18 in August and four pairs of adult gulls with ten young were also reported.

Up to 16 pigeons were said to be roosting over the public gallery and Canongate entrance. And the following month there was a “temporary spike” of 29 recorded in and around the campus.