Scarecrow Bio-Acoustic System installed at the RNLI in Poole.
Formed in 1824 by 'pulling together' the disparate sea rescue organisations based around the coast of Britain, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution is now one of the most efficient and highly respected bodies of its kind anywhere in the world. Such is its professionalism and profile that it is a complete surprise to many that it remains a publicly funded charity, staffed largely by volunteer crews who receive little more than expenses for risking their lives without question.Working in close co-operation with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (and the Irish Coast Guard), the RNLI has over 230 stations around the coast of the UK and Republic of Ireland, averaging 19 launches per day.
That's a pretty impressive statistic for a body that is financed entirely by voluntary contributions. Administratively, the institution is based in Poole, Dorset, where its workshops can manufacture specialist equipment for its fleet, and its stores contain anything required for maintenance: from the smallest nut or bolt to a complete engine.
Also at Poole is the headquarters, based in a 4-storey office block. From here, everything is carried out to ensure the uninterrupted daily running of the organisation. Fund-raising, human resources, design, development, accounting, general management: there's a lot more to saving lives than you might imagine in addition to those brave souls who set out in extreme weather conditions to face whatever the elements throw at them. Poole is the heart of the organisation, endeavouring to enable those men and women 'at the sharp end' to concentrate on doing their jobs with the best possible equipment and without distraction.For the last few years, one of the problems experienced by the Poole headquarters was from an unexpected quarter ' Herring Gulls.
For an organisation used to dealing with storm force winds and the treacherous unpredictability of the seas, this might seem no more that a minor niggle, but like the drip of water wearing away a stone, this particular nuisance could soon become more serious. With the modern day curse of so much waste food being available (from fast-food outlets and plastic bin bags) these birds are now becoming not just more numerous, but also, literally, threateningly large. This creates two particular problems for inhabitants of an office block.The first of these is particularly apparent during the nesting season ' the physical threat. It might seem ridiculous, but an overly protective parent, sporting a wingspan in excess of 2 metres, can make anyone think twice about stepping outside when the birds perceive them as a threat. There are many recorded instances (not at Poole it has to be said) of people requiring stitches to head wounds from such attacks, so this is a very real problem.
The other problem is the more obvious fouling. Again, a bird of this size can make quite a mess, so it needs clearing up regularly. There are health risks here as well as the damage that can be done by the acidic properties of the droppings, so it's not something that can be ignored.
The RNLI at Poole looked at various solutions to this, and initially came up with netting the roof. Known locally as 'the hairnet' the visual downside of this can be imagined. It has proved effective as far as it goes, but apart from being costly to install, remains a sizeable ongoing cost for year round maintenance.So when the RNLI looked at extending the protection to the attached 4-storey annex, it was hoping for something less 'visual' and yet every bit as effective.
The new RNLI Facilities Manager, Pat Pica looked at the options with a fresh eye, drawing on his previous experiences working for the Environment Agency. He had heard of electronic bird distress call systems ' but was not convinced. The idea that you can create the sound of a bird in distress and every bird in the area will promptly move away is something of a myth. He knew from experience that there was more science to this than might appear obvious, so he called in Scarecrow Bio-Acoustic Systems for a demonstration to see what they had to offer.
The development team at Scarecrow had carried out numerous tests and installations around the UK and relied a good deal on the experience and knowledge of bird experts to develop their system. They had created a system of digital sampling of bird distress calls based on the real thing! In addition, they were aware of the exact nature, duration and (crucially) sound level and natural start point of the call from distressed birds, so were pretty confident they had the answer to Pat's problem.
On a demonstration from the existing netted roof of the main building, an adjoining factory showing 6 pairs of nesting gulls was cleared in less than 90 seconds. The birds returned when they felt it was safe, and the demo was run again ' with the same result. With an installed system, triggered on a random basis, the RNLI gull problem would be cured. Repeating distress calls would eventually convince the birds that this was not a safe place to stay, and they would move on.Pat was convinced and commissioned Scarecrow to install a system over the annex roof.
Now, after four months, he is impressed with the result. The problem has gone, maintenance costs are virtually nil, and there is no environmental downside. Even the broadcast distress calls go unnoticed by the general public being, as they are, natural bird sounds.It seems incredible that in this modern scientific age we still can be seriously troubled by birds. It is fitting that the solution is, at first glance, surprisingly low-tech, but there is a lot more science in Scarecrow systems than you might think. Whatever the arguments, it is a fact. The system works.