The Stirrer

news that matters, campaigns that count

for Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond

GIVING PIGEONS THE BIRD

25-09-2007

This month it became an offence, punishable by a 500 fine, to feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. Now there are reports the birds are starving. Yet as Lynn Hawthorne reports, Sandwell Council wants to follow Ken Livingstone's example.

I've just sat for two hours at a town council meeting, full of the usual gubbins - litter, vandalism, where are our police officers? - but one item reduced me to a fit of giggles: The Sandwell Responsible Bird Feeding Campaign.

Yes, good old Sandwell Council!

I may have just lost the third car tyre in a month because they no longer sweep the roads properly, uncollected litter is blocking up alleyways, families with more than the required 2.4 kids are stuffed into cramped accommodation because they haven't bid for houses in time and you can never get a social worker when you want one, but as long as we all know about responsible bird feeding, all's right with the world.

Sandwell has linked up with PiCAS UK Limited (Pigeon Control Advisory Service) to 'assist in natural population control.' All sounds a bit 1984 to me, but the theory is that if we stop feeding feral pigeons and wild water fowl, their numbers will be limited naturally. Or is that starvation?

Anyway, they claim that what we feed them is bad for them (fair enough) and that certain foods can contaminate pools (fair enough, again) and cause pollution. But is this the real reason behind the campaign?

There is a claim that pigeons in particular are a pest and that their droppings spoil the environment. Ok, I understand that, but I'm not too sure about that feeding encourages rats, as has been claimed.

Anyone who has spent any time on a park or town centre bench with a sandwich will tell you that any crumbs dropped immediately disappear down the cooing throat of a pigeon and don't stay on the ground long enough to encourage anything.

I could happily argue that, after years of trying to persuade Sandwell Council that emptying town centre rubbish bins after the public have used them on a busy Friday night or Saturday afternoon rather than at 7.30 in the morning is a much better idea, pigeons actually tidy up the town rather more efficiently than the humans.

There is also an argument that there are cultural reasons for some religions to feed pigeons. I have often seen Sikhs throwing away scraps of food rather than wasting it and understood it to be for religious purposes.

However, a senior councillor, himself a Sikh, has denied any religious connotation, but suggested that it is more of a cultural ideal around the subject of waste and frugality.

The Sandwell Council Report for Neighbourhoods and Housing has confused religion and culture, it seems. If there are, indeed, certain sectors of the community that regularly feed wild birds against the council's wishes, surely it is those sectors that should be targeted?

Seems not, because the Sandwell/PiCAS leaflets are currently only resolutely available in English.

These leaflets, I think, give away the council's motive. They suggest that: Inappropriate feeding of birds can result in the birds suffering. They may become someone else's problem and the target of a pest control operation by private and commercial companies for whom they become a nuisance. So paying a private, commercial pest control company takes away revenue from the council's service. Umm. Is that it?

They then go on to outline the establishment of designated feeding areas, which have already been set up the Smethwick area and will be rolled out to the rest of the borough.

Failure to comply with these feeding regulations may result in a fixed penalty notice of at least 75 for a littering offence. Ah, good old income generation targets! I know the old adage that you have to speculate to accumulate, but how much how much has this latest caper cost?

I foresee great trouble ahead. If all these accounts of ludicrous 'jobsworth' wardens are true (of which I have no doubt), like the case I heard of recently when a woman reached into her coat pocket for a tissue to cope with her cold, inadvertently dropped an old bus ticket and copped a seventy-five quid on-the-spot fine for littering, how are you going to argue that the bit you dropped off your over-hot Greggs' pasty wasn't intentionally feeding the birds?

And designated feeding areas? Is anyone going to attempt to educate the birds to arrive in certain places at certain times? It's no co-incidence that these leaflets also promote council-owned farms as sales points for 'correct' food.

The council is trying to reduce the amount of droppings on buildings, yet in Wednesbury, pigeons are roosting in derelict, unsafe buildings in Union Street compulsorily-purchased by Sandwell Council for the Morrisons' development.

These buildings belong to the council and yet are the main roosts for the feral pigeons they are claiming to want to control. When this was pointed out at the meeting I attended, a representative from the council's Town Team asked for the location of the building.

Surely a regular walk around the town that person works in would keep them abreast of such issues?

I seriously wonder whether this responsible bird feeding malarkey has anything much to do with the welfare of birds and a cleaner, greener Sandwell at all.

I am all for green issues, as you may know from previous articles, and I want the council to be more proactive but I actually think it's more about ticking the right boxes in consultation documents and income generation than genuine social concern.

However, I'm open to persuasion.

Is it irresponsible to feed pigeons? Leave a comment on the Message Board.

Leave a comment or raise new issues on The Stirrer message board.

The Stirrer home

©2007 The Stirrer