Calls for rethink as Holyrood pigeons now ‘wise’ to birds of prey

Hawks were brought in to scare off the pigeons at the parliament. Picture:  PHIL WILKINSON
Hawks were brought in to scare off the pigeons at the parliament. Picture: PHIL WILKINSON
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HOLYROOD bosses have been urged to think again about their decision to spend £80,000 on using birds of prey to scare pigeons away from the Scottish Parliament building over the next five years.

Hawks and falcons are brought in regularly to fly over the parliament in a bid to deter pigeons from making it their home – but MSPs claim the pigeons have got wise to the practice and now just wait for the birds to be driven off by their handler before settling back on the roofs and ledges of the £414 million building.

The parliament has renewed its maintenance contract – of which the birds of prey are now a part – for another five years with a possible two-year extension.

Overall pigeon numbers are thought to have been reduced as far as they are likely to go, but the parliament believes the hawks and falcons are necessary to stop them increasing again.

However, Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs, a member of the cross-party animal welfare group at Holyrood, said it was time to reconsider spending so much money on a bird handler coming to Holyrood and flying birds of prey.

“I don’t think they have looked at how effective it is actually being,” he said.

“For a lot of building users it has become a bit of a joke. The pigeons are sitting up on Arthur’s Seat waiting for him to go away.

“The pigeons seem to be quite bright. The effectiveness of him turning up now and again is questionable at least.”

The Holyrood building was plagued by pigeons even before it officially opened in 2004. Muck and feathers were blown through vents onto researchers’ desks and some birds even got into MSPs’ offices.

The cross-party Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, which oversees the building, brought in birds of prey as a deterrent nine years ago.

Mr Briggs said: “When the MSP office block was first built there were so many nooks and crannies it was like a massive pigeon loft, but that has all been netted off now.

“That probably had more effect displacing the pigeon population than the man 
coming to fly his birds of prey. The corporate body needs to review this decision and whether it’s an effective use of taxpayers’ money to have the man coming with his birds of prey. The pigeons seem to have got wise to it.”

Monthly reports by the contractors to the Scottish Parliament, obtained by the Evening News under freedom of information, claim between 50 and 65 per cent of pigeons are 
dispersed during their presence on site.

But the numbers seem to return to roughly the same level after they have gone.

A parliament spokesman said: “Like many buildings in Edinburgh, a small number of pigeons visit regularly. We are aware the problem can never be fully eradicated and we will continue with the current approach.”

The idea of trapping pigeons as a way of cutting the numbers has been ruled out.

Five of the contractors’ monthly reports – from January to May – included under Recommendations: “Trapping of birds can also be considered to further reduce numbers on site.” But any reference to trapping was then dropped from the reports.

A parliament spokesman said: “We have no plans to use traps.”