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Why do British farmers use bird scarers?

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Bird scarers and bird deterrents are essential to protect many crops including oilseed rape and fruit and field vegetables from damage by wild birds. However, if used thoughtlessly they can seriously annoy and disturb the public. The National Farmers Union designed a code of practice, providing advice and guidance to farmers and landowners on how to use bird scaring devices in an appropriate manner minimising the disturbance.

What are bird scarers?

Bird scarers are devices designed to scare birds, used by farmers to dissuade birds from eating recently planted arable crops in the spring time. Bird scarers and bird deterrents are essential to control and limit the damage caused by birds. 

When and where can farmers use bird scarers?

The advice in the code of practice advises taking practical steps to minimise the impact of bird scarers on surrounding neighbours. These include:

  • Avoiding the use of bird scarers within at least 200m of residential buildings before 7am, or before 6am elsewhere, and after 10pm.
  • Minimising disturbance by placing the scarers as far away as practical and pointing away from neighbours.
  • Avoiding using on a Sunday. 
  • Avoiding positioning bird scarers adjacent to rights of way.
  • Avoiding positioning scarers near roads or bridleways.

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Are there other ways farmers can reduce the damage wild birds cause to crops?

There are steps that farmers take to reduce the need for scarers. These include:

  • Planting crops vulnerable to bird damage next to roads or other locations where the birds will be disturbed. 
  • Locating scarers as far away from buildings where people sleep or where quiet is important, so that if it is necessary to resort to the use of auditory scarers their impact will be minimised. 
  • Grow small-scale crops under netting. Fencing or electrified netting can protect crops near watercourses from swans and geese. Strings or tape suspended roughly 50 metres apart may prevent waterfowl flying into crops.

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Related categories: Crops

Last edited: 06 April 2020 at 10:58


Have your say

8 comments
John Turner - 12/03/2020 12:08:23

The farmer here has been using gas guns constantly since about November. I think they are growing rape. They are near the edge of town and sound every day from before sunrise to after sunset, maybe twenty times an hour around dawn - less often during the day. Apart from breaking all the advice, is there actually any point in using them month after month? I've never known anyone do so, and this farmer has never used them at all before. We think it's just to upset the neighbours because they fought off a huge housing development on the land. I'm particularly interested to know whether there is any justification for such long term use. Thanks.

Countryside website team - 05/02/2020 12:24:28

Tracy Lowther: Sounds like this farmer is trying to be considerate and has read the CoP: “Use reflective or absorbent baffles (of say corrugated iron or straw bales) to concentrate the sound onto your field and away from neighbours wherever nuisance could be caused”. It may also be to hide its location as scarers can be a target for thieves when close to footpaths or bridleways.

Countryside website team - 05/02/2020 12:23:53

Neil Wiltshire: Scarers usually aren’t required once the crop is established, but woodpigeons can also target the crop around harvest. Scarers are an expense so farmers won’t use them if they aren’t needed. Many crops are sown (drilled) during the autumn ready for harvest the following summer. Hard to be certain what crops they are protecting, but likely to be winter wheat or oil seed rape which are usually drilled in the autumn. However this year due to the wet conditions many farmers have been drilling much later so scarers could be required at a different time.

Neil Wiltshire - 04/02/2020 10:50:28

With reference to my previous comment, 31-12-19 can I ask what crops are being protected during winter and will the use of bird scarers cease once the crop is established

Tracy lowther - 25/01/2020 16:17:40

Hi do farmers have to put bales of hay around the scares as there really bothering our horses he as moved it to the other side of the field but still not good

Countryside website team - 08/01/2020 10:35:06

Thanks for your comments. Many farms can be plagued by large populations of certain wild bird species, including woodpigeons that eat emerging crops and crows that attack weak lambs. To protect their crops and livestock, farmers use a range of methods to control the birds, including bird scarers, shooting, scarecrows and wind spinners, and they find that a combination of deterrents and shooting is the most effective way to minimise the damage caused by these species. During the past year, the government has been reviewing the lethal control of these pest bird species and has encouraged farms to use non-lethal controls wherever possible. This may explain an increased use of non-lethal methods such as bird scarers. However if bird scarer gas guns are used carelessly they can cause disturbance. This is a matter the NFU takes seriously, and the NFU's bird scarer Code of Practice (linked to in the article above) aims to assist in the reduction of noise problems from bird scarers. The NFU believes that following the code of practice can help to reduce complaints. It publicises the code of practice on its website and through its electronic publications. However, while the NFU actively encourages its members to comply with the code, it cannot enforce compliance and unfortunately not all farmers are members of the NFU.

Jacintha - 05/01/2020 11:21:01

I was informed farmers are not supposed to use bird scarers on a Sunday.. wish someone would inform the farms/ businesses by me

Neil Wiltshire - 31/12/2019 12:37:43

I would be interested to know why the farmers around Saxmundham use bird scarred to the extent they currently do, I have lived in Kent for 65 years and can honestly say that I have rarely heard a bird scared, a year ago I bought a holiday home near Saxmundham as it was apparently very quiet however, the noise recently has increased amazingly due to what can only be described as the excessive use of bird scarred locally, at times it sounds like an artillery battle is going on around us, surely the bird problem can’t be so bad that such a barrage of noise is necessary and the bill for the gas bottles must be enormous


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