November 24 2014 Latest news:
Michael Pollitt, Agricultural editor
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
A “shoo-before-shooting” policy to control pigeons has been described by a leading Norfolk farmer as “completely bonkers”.
Natural England has proposed that before shooting pests, including pigeons, “appropriate warning” must first be given.
Broadland farmer Richard Hirst, who heads one of the country’s largest pea groups, has branded the suggestion as “ridiculous, quite ridiculous” and “bonkers”.
The National Farmers’ Union has calculated that the cost of pigeon damage and loss of winter oilseed rape yields was about £49.3m in East Anglia alone.
Mr Hirst, who is chairman of the Anglian Pea Group, which will start planting more than 8,600 acres of garden peas for the table next week, said that pigeons were a major threat to the crop.
“We’ve now got a serious problem with these numbers. We don’t wipe them out completely, they need controlling,” he said.
Natural England, which is the government’s adviser on wildlife, wants shooters to scare or shoo away pests like wood pigeons, rooks and crows before resorting to the gun.
Currently, bird species including wood pigeons, feral pigeons and crows can be shot if a farmer is satisfied that other methods, including scarecrows, flags or gas guns, have not been effective.
Mr Hirst, who farms at Ormesby, near Great Yarmouth, even had to have people walking fields of newly-drilled pea crops last year to keep pigeons off.
While young pea plants were damaged by pigeons, they also grazed ripening crops.
“Last summer, when it was very dry, the pigeons were attracted to the pea crops because of the shortage of moisture. It was like bees to a honeypot and it was almost impossible to keep them off,” said Mr Hirst.
The proposals, made in a consultation document, have also drawn fire from the British Association of Shooting and Conservation. Chief executive Richard Ali said: “This proposal to make people try to scare pigeons before shooting, under threat of legal action, fines and prison, would hamstring crop protection in England. Shooting is the only viable and effective method of protecting growing crops which are vulnerable to flocks of pigeons and other pests. Pigeons soon become used to scaring – scarecrows have long vanished from our fields and the birds soon become used to other methods such as noise-making gas guns.
“The proposals would also be completely unenforceable. Who will be going around farms checking that each pigeon shooter has tried scare tactics before getting on with the job of protecting crops?”
Mr Hirst asked how many civil servants would be going around and counting “the number of times we flap our hands or count the scaring equipment”.
Former Defra secretary Margaret Beckett introduced a “shoo before shooting” policy in 2005 but the last Labour government made a hasty U-turn after the proposals were ridiculed by farming and countryside groups.
Natural England is seeking comments on its proposals by May 19 at www.naturalengland.org.uk
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