Bird scarers ruffle feathers at reserve

A ROW has broken out after a visitor to a bird reserve found contractors scaring starlings on behalf of the RSPB.

David Green

A ROW has broken out after a visitor to a bird reserve found contractors scaring starlings on behalf of the RSPB.

The society has employed a specialist firm to disperse huge flocks of starlings which have been roosting in the reedbed at the Lakenheath Fen nature reserve.

It has made the move because of concerns the birds may pose a threat to planes taking off and landing at the nearby United States Air Force base at Lakenheath, just under four miles away.

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However, conservationist and keen bird watcher, John Walshe , of Stowmarket, has criticised the RSPB following a visit to the nature reserve. He said he had heard and seen volleys of “fireworks” and loudspeakers emitting alarm calls.

The RSPB claims that tens of thousands of starlings have recently been roosting in the reed bed at Lakenheath Fen, a wetland reserve which was created to help replace similar habitat on the Suffolk coast likely to be lost as a result of sea level rise.

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When the reserve was created from former carrot fields, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was consulted and expressed concern about an increased risk of “bird strike” - the threat of birds causing an aircraft to crash.

It was thought the main threat would come from gulls, ducks and geese and, because of this, the RSPB took steps to ensure there were no significant areas of open water.

However, it is starlings that have emerged as the biggest threat to safety at USAF Lakenheath.

Mr Walshe said that during a visit to Lakenheath Fen he had been shocked to see staff “waging world war three” on the starlings. Volleys of fireworks were being let off and alarm calls were being played from loudspeakers.

“The starlings had nowhere else to go so they eventually came down on the reedbed. In the meantime, the huge disturbance scared off a marsh harrier, 23 cormorants and some wildfowl,” he claimed.

Chris Durdin, RSPB spokesman, said the starlings had been dispersed at the request of the MoD. “They were concerned about the bird strike risk,” he said.

Tens of thousands of starlings had begun to roost on the reedbed this autumn and an aerodrome bird management firm had been employed to disperse them.

“Numbers have now dropped and we have stopped the dispersal programme.

“It is not an ideal thing to have to do on a nature reserve but we have done it because bird strike is a real danger to aircraft.

“We accept that bird strike incidents, when aircraft in flight collide with birds, can inflict critical damage and can cause accident, resulting in damage to property, injury and even loss of life.

“The nature reserve was designed in consultation with the MoD to avoid concentrations of large or flocking birds such as ducks, geese or gulls. This is not a problem for us as this fitted well with our plans for a predominantly reedbed nature reserve with small areas of open water,” he said.

Mr Durdin said the scaring technique - using firecrackers in a short period before dusk - had not frightened away the reserve's more important residents - over-wintering bitterns, marsh harriers and cranes.

No comment was forthcoming from the US Air Force at Lakenheath.

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