Airport wings it with hawk to reduce threat of gulls

THEY have remained undeterred by nest removal, protective netting and even an imitation raptor – but they will now have to contend with Jasper.

Prestwick Airport hopes a determined flock of seagulls posing a threat to aircraft can be banished from a nearby building by the four-year-old Harris hawk.

Scottish Water has drafted in the bird of prey in the latest round of its war against hundreds of the birds that have taken up residence on the roof of its depot, just west of one of the airport's runways.

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The Ayrshire airport – Scotland's fourth-busiest – is the latest to have a raptor brought in to scare away other birds, after their use at others such as Leeds Bradford and Exeter, and major United States hubs including JFK in New York.

In 2006, in the last major incident at Prestwick, a Ryanair aircraft which had just taken off for Paris with 143 people on board was forced to land after seagulls were sucked into one of its engines.

A single-engine RAF Tucano training aircraft based at RAF Leuchars in Fife was forced to divert to Edinburgh Airport yesterday after suffering a bird strike while airborne.

In 1980, both pilots of an RAF Nimrod were killed after the aircraft suffered multiple bird strikes and crashed shortly after take-off from RAF Kinloss in Moray.

Scottish Water said a series of measures had failed to dislodge the gulls since they occupied its depot as a breeding site, using moss from the roof for nests.

Officials removed their nests, erected special netting costing 40,000 and installed imitation hawks. Ten seagulls became trapped in the netting and at least one died.

Now, chestnut-coloured Jasper has been drafted in from pest control firm Rentokil's cast of hawks, to be used at regular intervals over the rest of the breeding season.

Scottish Water said Jasper would be an effective deterrent, scaring off the gulls, rather than harming them.

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Rob Crusher, its head of energy and facilities management, said: "This is a very serious problem and we are making every effort to solve it and stop seagulls using our building."

Steve Thomson, Prestwick's airfield operations manager, said: "The action Scottish Water is taking is excellent because the gull colony that was there was a severe hazard because it was so close to our runways."

Prestwick, like Scotland's other main airports and RAF bases, also uses recordings of birds in distress, broadcast from patrol vehicles to scare birds from runways. Grass is kept short to deter nesting.

Pigeons, starlings, waders, rooks and crows all cause problems. The greatest risk is to aircraft taking off or landing.

At RAF Kinloss, no take-offs or landings take place around sunrise and sunset because of the risk of airborne geese.

Edinburgh Airport is surrounded by an eight-mile "no-grow zone" where large-scale planting of berry trees such as rowan and hawthorn, which attract birds, is banned to cut the risk of bird strikes.

The Royal Bank of Scotland was prevented from building a fountain and pond outside its headquarters at nearby Gogarburn, and planned water features at the Edinburgh Park business park were reduced in size.

The RSPB, Britain's biggest bird charity, said single birds were unlikely to cause problems for aircraft, but a flock could cause a serious incident.


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BIRDS of prey such as hawks and falcons are multi-purpose pest controllers.

They are used to keep a range of vermin at bay, such as rabbits, rats and mice.

Michael Waugh, a falconer at Dalhousie Falconry, in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, said raptors had been used to protect a variety of sites, including Motherwell FC's stadium and Saughton Prison in Edinburgh. They were also stationed at RAF bases in the past.

He said many landfill sites used birds of prey, with one served by a golden eagle.

The National Archives of Scotland uses hawks to frighten seagulls from its store at Sighthill in Edinburgh, which includes medieval records about falconry and birds of prey.