Scare tactics that work

It’s a fact most oilseed rape growers this year won’t be surprised to learn – pigeon numbers are increasing, according to bird surveys.

Their ability to survive well through winter has been attributed to grazing growing crops, particularly oilseed rape, by the British Trust for Ornithology.

So improvements in the design of bangers and the hawk-mimicking helikites could be particularly valuable.

An increase in the size of the disposable helium balloon has helped make it more buoyant and able to fly better in the wind, says helikite designer Sandy Allsopp.

The keel is now also longer giving the new balloon more stability and better ability to fly in higher winds, and there is no adjustment required for first time use.

It has made the helikite easier and quicker to set up and launch, he says.

But it was because the kites, which can hover and move over 60m with or without wind, were silent scarers that Surrey veg grower John Emmett decided to try them.

It is far more acceptable to the local neighbourhood, he says.

“Because we are in a built up area, Environmental Health won’t accept auditory bird scarers, and the bangers are often vandalised.”

He uses helikites mainly on vegetable crops, caliente mustard and herbs on his 1600ha (3954-acre) farm, where he also grows cereals and oilseed rape.

“Pigeons have been worse here this year than for many years.”

Cold weather both on the continent, which has encouraged migration, and here, combined with a shortage of food in woodlands has meant the birds moving onto arable crops, he believes.

Oilseed rape crops are worst affected, but their location allows bangers to be used, plus regular shooting, farm manager Hugh Bulloch says. “The oilseed rape fields are also too big for just one helikite.”

One helikite can cover around 8ha (19 acres), making them ideal for the veg crops.

“The pigeons have been very hungry this year but the helikites have kept them off.”

As well as the advantage of being silent, the helikites will fly even when there is no wind.

Heavy rain will bring them down, but as they dry they relaunch themselves, says Mr Bulloch.

However, they do require some management, checking daily to ensure they are flying.

Each kite is supplied with five balloons which should last about three weeks each.

Extra packs of 10 balloons cost 70.

Helium can either be bought from Allsopp Helikites or direct from BOC.

Small 30cm cylinders can also be bought to use for topping up.

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