Wanted: High-fliers, £40k, for Holyrood pest control (but killers need not apply)
SINCE the Scottish Parliament building was opened in 2004, its officials have been battling against constant bombardment from winged menaces.
Now Holyrood bosses have finally admitted the only way to tackle the pigeons and stop them fouling the building is to introduce their own air force. They have asked falconers to tender for what could be a 40,000 contract to chase off the pigeons.
But the idea, originally conceived by independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald, has been taken up on the condition that the bird of prey used does not actually kill any pigeons.
There had been concerns that visiting schoolchildren might be shocked by the sight of a hawk tearing a bird apart.
Instead, it is hoped that the birds of prey will be enough to scare them away.
The clean-up bill for pigeons at the Scottish Parliament is footed by the taxpayer and costs thousands of pounds each year. Officials have already spent about 35,000 trying to tackle the problem, including taking nesting baby pigeons away and introducing netting and metal spikes to stop pigeons landing.
MSPs' main complaints have centred on birds nesting in the tower where they have their offices and in the vents and roofing above the members' restaurant.
There have also been regular gripes about the bird mess around the Canongate entrance.
Parliamentary authorities have been quicker to respond to some complaints than others. It took almost a year for the pigeon mess covering the windows of offices in the media tower to be cleaned.
But, after a successful month-long trial last year, costing 4,000, parliamentary bosses have finally opened the tendering process to provide a falcon service for a 12-month, 13,000 contract.
If it is successful, the contract may be extended for a further two years, making it worth almost 40,000.
Kilmarnock-based Stephen Neville, who ran the successful trial last year, said a year-long falcon programme should banish the pigeons.
"I think whoever takes on the bid would need to fly three or four birds for about five hours a day and four or five days a week," he said.
However, he questioned whether it would be possible to guarantee that no pigeons would be killed.
A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman acknowledged that falconers needed to be called in because previous measures had failed.
She said: "Despite some success in the installation of anti-roosting measures, there is still an ongoing problem with pigeons and we've decided to use a falconry service as an additional means to help combat the problem."
Hawks and falcons are used to drive pigeons and seagulls off Portcullis House, the MPs' office building at Westminster, as well as at Hampden Park.
Former London mayor Ken Livingstone also used hawks to tackle the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.
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