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Airports: Canada Geese

Volume 708: debated on Monday 23 February 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to prevent an influx of Canada geese from causing damage to airlines, runways and other infrastructure at Heathrow and other United Kingdom airports.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as the president of BALPA.

My Lords, I am glad to say that, contrary to some press reports, there is nothing unusual about the number of Canada geese in the vicinity of Heathrow at the moment. However, all airports are required to have effective bird control measures, and this is monitored by the Civil Aviation Authority. Techniques exist in risk assessment, habitat management and safeguarding to reduce the risk of a bird strike. Heathrow also has a full-time bird control team.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is it not right that large flocks of birds, or large birds, constitute a special problem that ought to be avoided if possible? Does it not illustrate the dangers of the development of estuarial airports, such as Maplin, favoured by the Mayor of London? It is one of the reasons, is it not, why the CAA turned that proposal down?

My Lords, before I respond to my noble friend, perhaps the House will allow me, on behalf of us all, to pay tribute to Lord Dearing, whose death was sadly announced earlier. I am one of many Ministers over the years who owes Ron Dearing an enormous debt of gratitude for his wise advice and counsel, which was always generously given. Few public servants have made a greater contribution to the national well-being over recent decades. For the past 10 years, he was a highly popular, effective and respected Member of this House. He will be hugely missed.

In respect of estuarial airports, as part of the evaluation of the proposal for an airport at Cliffe in the Thames estuary, in 2002 the Government commissioned a study from the Central Science Laboratory and the British Trust for Ornithology. The report concluded:

“Without a comprehensive and aggressive bird management programme in place, incorporating careful and considered airport design, appropriate habitat management and active bird control, an airport could not operate safely in this location … However, it is clear that the hazard posed by birds at this site, even with world class mitigation measures in place, is severe and would probably be higher than at any other major UK airport”.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Canada geese are without doubt the most disgusting birds that visit these shores? I used to be responsible for Kew Gardens, where children and pets like to be allowed to sit and play on the grass. The Canada geese absolutely ruin the grass in every public park, and they eat farmers’ young crops. Could they not, by any means possible, be persuaded not to come to these shores at all?

My Lords, I am told that we have effective bird-scaring policies in place. I imagine that if the views of the noble Baroness were made known to the Canada geese, they would not dare come to these shores. I stress that our concern about the Canada geese is based not on their appearance but on the danger that they pose to planes. It is on that basis that we seek to ensure that they are kept well under control in the vicinity of airports.

My Lords, surely the answer is to eat them. Does my noble friend not think that roast Canada goose sounds rather attractive? Surely the answer is to cull them much more effectively and allow them to be eaten and sold. Perhaps the whole process would then be cost-effective.

My Lords, my noble friend clearly has a virtuous circle in mind in terms of culling Canada geese, but our concern is simply to see that they keep well clear of the vicinity of airports.

My Lords, do the authorities have sufficient powers to control the Canada geese population outside the immediate vicinity of the aerodrome?

My Lords, yes, we do believe that we have sufficient powers to do so; the bird control teams to which I have referred work in close partnership not only with the airports concerned but also with local landowners.

My Lords, the bird book in which I looked up Canada geese describes them as vagrant or feral. I think that that may also apply to muntjac deer, mink and the grey squirrel, to which my noble friend often refers. Do the Government have any real coherent policy for dealing with these pests, which are being imported into the country, of which wolves and beavers are apparently the latest examples?

My Lords, I think that that question is a bit wide of the original Question. In so far as they pose a threat to planes taking off or landing, we will keep them all under control.