Monday, September 16, 2019

Mr Packham and the pigeons

June 4, 2019 by  
Filed under Clodhopper

Farmers cannot be expected to stand by while crops are destroyed, says Clodhopper.

As long as I remember, my rights to protect my way of life and crops have never been in doubt. Until now, that is, following Natural England’s abysmal and muddled decision to withdraw the general licence which allows farmers to control a range of pests.

I may be a rarity among farmers, but I actually look forward to the mass arrival of my favourite pest. I am of course talking about the pigeon. After a quietish autumn or winter, come spring I am ready to spring into action.

I honestly believe my sole purpose for growing peas is to feed the local pigeon population. It has been suggested by some that a loss of around £250 per hectare can occur due to the damage these birds cause.

I eagerly await the day when the first peas put their heads above ground and become visible to both shooter and pest. On many occasions, I drive by my fields secretly looking for an excuse to open the gun cabinet and exercise the black labrador.

Camouflage net

So out comes the camouflage net, gun, cartridges, docky and flask. But wait, following an intervention led by TV celebrity wildlife campaigner Chris Packham, I can no longer shoot wood pigeon or a number of other vermin.

Since Natural England withdrew the general licence a few weeks ago, my right to protect my pea crop from the wood pigeon without an individual licence makes me a law breaker. Worse still, no-one seems to know when these new individual licences will be open for applications.

I did actually think while watching a recent wildlife programme that Mr Packham talked mostly sense. But he seems to have very quickly lost the plot. Working with a group called Wild Justice, he challenged Natural England, arguing that the general licence was unlawful.

Mr Packham argued that birds should only be killed if it could be proved that alternative non-lethal control methods had been tried and failed to work. Natural England took legal advice, decided it would loose any legal challenge and withdrew the licence.

This leaves farmers like me in an unenviable position – especially when it comes to the pest that affects me the most, the wood pigeon. My attempts to control these birds have included at least six different methods.

Old tricks

First, I cut some old plastic fertiliser bags into small thin strips, attached them to a wooden post and planted at least 10 of these devices per acre. The pigeons shied away for a day or so then used the plastic strips as beacons to focus their landing skills – as if they had their own private landing strip.

My second failed control method involved my old CD collection that flashed and blinked in the sun. This had no effect other than encouraging my neighbours to complain that the light was glinting annoyingly in the windows of their house.

My third attempt involved a bird scarer, gas cylinder and battery. It worked well but I needed one gas gun every three or four acres. My gas cylinders were soon being stolen – presumably by people wanting to service their barbecues.

Mr fourth attempt involved kites – or rather fancy look-a-like birds of prey attached to a flexible pole by a small thin rope. Too much wind meant the bird ended up upside down on the floor or the wind snapped the pole or string.

In desperation, attempt number five involved pointing a laser light at the pigeons while on the field. It didn’t work either, so my sixth attempt was to rely on the trusty old side-by-side and a well-placed number six shot.

Scare tactics

That’s right Mr Packham. After years of scare tactics, the only control method that works on pigeons is to kill them. It is an art to correctly set your decoys to entice enough into the circle until the plastic ones can be removed and replaced with the real thing.

Which reminds me, the last 20 or so that I shot last winter still remain in the bottom of the freezer –  alongside the beef wellington and strawberry cheese cake, much to the annoyance of my wife.

I am confident I have tried every bird scarer known to man. They have all been tested and failed – apart from the well placed number six shot. Where will it all end? What’s next? The pheasant shoot, grouse shoot or even the rabbit?

In the meantime, I challenge any government inspector to find me protecting my peas. If a sharp-eyed wood pigeon cannot see my hide, then what chance has an eagle eyed inspector? It is one pair of eyes against 20 million. I will take my chance!

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