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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 17:11 GMT
Pigeon protest ruffles feathers
Dead pigeons shown during the protest
Protesters want humane ways of dealing with pigeons

Trafalgar Square saw scores of protesters, a celebrity animal rights campaigner, an MP, three hawks and of course thousands of pigeons - their future being the focus of the demonstration.

Ever since London Mayor Ken Livingstone stopped licensed feed sellers two years ago in an attempt to reduce the numbers of the birds, several groups have taken flight to help save them.

Volunteers turn up every day to scatter seeds often clashing with people employed to scare off the flocks using megaphones, a vacuum device to suck up the seeds and three Harris hawks.

One 72-year-old woman claims to have been pushed over by the men and has registered a complaint with the police and the Greater London Authority (GLA) which employs them.

Jake the Harris hawk
A Harris hawk is used to scare the pigeons

Mr Livingstone claims the pigeons are a health risk, and cleaning up after them is going to cost Londoners 140,000.

But demonstration organiser Julia Clugstons, from the Save the Trafalgar Square Pigeons group, said Mr Livingstone is "promoting bloodsport" by using the hawks.

"This is just not acceptable for a 21st century London," she said.

"The pigeons are semi-domesticated - Trafalgar Square is their home.

Carla Lane
Carla Lane cradles an injured bird

"If Mr Livingstone wants these pigeons moved or gone he can do it more humanely. Starving them or killing them with the hawks is not the way.

"We have suggested a sanctuary for the pigeons and Mr Livingstone has said he will consider this but he is pursuing other ways."

A spokesman for the GLA said that they will consider a sanctuary if they can find one that will accommodate 4,000 pigeons.

But she added that because they are feral pigeons it is illegal to capture one and keep it locked up.

What have pigeons ever given us?
Lyme disease

In fact, Trafalgar Square is home to about 350 pigeons but because of the seeds, thousands more are attracted to the square.

On Tuesday there were approximately 3,000 pigeons, but according to Terry, who handles the hawks employed to scare his fellow birds, the number can rise to about 4,500.

Terry - who has been ordered by the GLA not to reveal his full name - said: "The seeds these people [protesters] are spreading, is making the problem worse because the more feed there is the more pigeons are attracted from around London.

"The hawks don't kill the pigeons. The pigeons are much faster than him. But a few have been killed. He goes for ones he can catch like the old or ones that have been injured."

Tony Banks MP
Tony Banks MP feeds the pigeons

Carla Lane, creator of TV comedies The Liver Birds and Bread, was also at the protest in her guise as an animal rights campaigner.

She said: "The whole situation is ridiculous. Pigeons can procreate faster than they can be killed. For that reason they are called vermin.

"It seems that any animal that outsmarts man is called vermin."

The GLA would agree that they are vermin.

"I thought you were meant to be a nation of animal lovers?"

American tourist

There are recorded cases of pigeons passing on diseases such as flu, tuberculosis, Lyme disease and toxoplasmosis.

But the authority admits there have been no instances of anyone becoming ill due to contact with pigeons in the square.

Tony Banks MP, who said his father bred and raced pigeons, said: "These animals are not pests. They are becoming more of a nuisance because the methods the mayor and the GLA have used to reduce the numbers has backfired.

"There's now more pigeons here than ever before. It's time to sit down and discuss the best way forward. Humans create more mess than they do."

Propest placard
Protesters blame Ken Livingstone for the problem

But the loss of pigeons from London's most famous square may have the greatest impact on tourism.

One couple from the USA, witnessing the scenes on Tuesday, said: "We hear so much about the pigeons here. They are so friendly. Why do you want to get rid of them?"

"We've heard of the British bulldog spirit but you should have pigeon spirit as well.

"I thought you were meant to be a nation of animal lovers?"

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19 Jan 01 | UK
31 Oct 00 | Politics
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