Published on 08 October 2004
Published in the Daily Mail
Trafalgar Square was once home to 5,000 disease spreading 'rats with wings'.
Now there are just 150 left, thanks to a bloodthirsty hawk called Nelson with a taste for pigeon…..Verminator!
From his perch high above the capital, Nelson peers out haughtily across Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, and Parliament and beyond, supremely confident that he is lord of all he surveys.
This particular Nelson, though is not on top of a column guarding Britain against the threat of French invasion. He is a ten-year-old Harris hawk flying around Central London guarding our national monuments (including the great Horatio) and the rest of us from the threat of germ-filled parcels of bird droppings.
So the ancient sport of Falconry has become today’s humane pest control of choice, Particularly as the costs soon starts falling. Once a pigeon population has been scared away, it requires only a token hawk presence to keep it away.
So One chilly dawn I climb up on to Gordon Browns roof to see Nelson at work.
Not long ago, the treasury would have been covered in pigeons and caked in their corrosive residue. But Mr Brown has recently spent £120 million on a very smart, PFI-Funded refurbishment of his headquarters and he would rather not have stinking, diseased mess on his walls.
Now, the pigeons have been expelled, just as they have also disappeared from numerous institutions, including the BBC, London’s Paddington Station, the British Museum and the Post of Liverpool. Today all these places enjoy hawk protection – or avian management as its known in the trade.
Pigeons can do serious damage to a building and this is the green way to deal with them. No pesticides, no guns says Richard Lewis of Bovis Lend Lease which maintains the treasury. His words tail off as we gawp in silent admiration, watching Nelson sweep imperiously around the inner courtyard and then soar at a terrifying pace up to the roof and straight on to the arm of his handler David Van Vynck.
Down below a couple of civil servants en route to an early meeting stop and stare. It’s not everyday, I suppose, that you see a glorious bird of prey circling above you in Whitehall.
Twice a week long before most mandarins are awake a hawk arrives from Mr Van Vynck’s Essex base to terrify any Pigeons insolent enough to roost near the chancellor.
Those, which do not move fast, are soon reduced to a pile of feathers and bones. As a result, even the most bird-brained are starting to get the message: the treasury is now a no-fly zone.
There are still no pigeons to be seen. But Nelson is not alone. A handful of crows, which regard the Treasury as their personal fiefdom are outraged by the new bird on the block. When Nelson lands on one parapet, the crows go bonkers and start dive-bombing him, pulling away at they last minute and uttering crow expletive at the top of their voices.
Nelson is Supremely indifferent and does not even flinch. He knows he can see off this lot whenever he feels like it.
Mr Van Vynck and his team of ten handlers and 20 hawks also look after Trafalgar Square. Mr Van Vynck is keen to stress that there is very little carnage. The hawks very rarely catch anything because that’s not the point. They are a deterrent and they certainly wouldn’t be very cost-effective if they were trying to kill pigeons. But the pigeons know the hawks are a very serious threat and they vanish.
In Trafalgar Square, according to Mr Livingstone’s office, the hawks actually kill no more than two pigeons per month.
After an uneventful hour on Gordon Browns roof, we finally see our first pigeon, a short sighted or profoundly stupid specimen which lands on an air conditioning unit, Nelson as laid back as ever needs to dive this moron just one look and it is soon beating a frantic retreat. I don’t blame Nelson for having a go. It is a very grotty looking pigeon.
By Mid-morning Mr Van Vynck concludes that the treasury is probably pigeon free for a few more days and it is time to turn his attention to some of the other buildings on his client list – the cabinet office and even the Palace of Westminster itself.
This does of course raise one question: where do all these pigeon’s exiles go? Mr Van Vynck points out that as their feeding grounds are diminishing so the pigeon population is shrinking.
And just in case Mr Livingstone recently passed a new bylaw whereby anyone caught feeding pigeons can be fined £50.00.
They may carry diseases, foul our monuments and soil our clothes. But at this rate, I am almost starting to feel sorry for them.
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