Starlings causing havoc on Garstang farms

Starlings Sturnus vulgaris, gathering above reed bed at Ham Wall RSPB reserve, winter roost, patterns seen were caused by predator Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Starlings Sturnus vulgaris, gathering above reed bed at Ham Wall RSPB reserve, winter roost, patterns seen were caused by predator Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus

“Tens of thousands” of continental starlings have been wreaking havoc at farms in the Garstang area.

The starlings, which winter in the UK because of freezing conditions abroad, have been causing farmers a headache by descending on barns and eating the animals’ feed as well as creating a mess.

Andrew Hall, of Hale Hall farm, Inskip, said: “I have never seen anything like it. We have never had the problem in other years.”

Mr Hall employs a gas gun which fires from “dawn till dusk” to scare the birds away. But the farmer gives his family a break by “turning it off at weekends.”

“When people watch these programmes the starlings look pretty but they don’t realise the damage they cause,” said Mr Hall.

Starlings remain on the UK’s protected birds list because, according to RSPB North’s Chris Collett, native breeding numbers are in “steep decline”. This has forced farmers to think of non-lethal methods to scare the birds away as the cost of replacing the feed and cleaning up after the starlings mounts up.

On Fairfield farm in St Michaels, Janet Eckersley says they “have tried mixing a substance in the feed which gives starlings belly ache but for us it did not have much effect,” adding: “We do not have a problem with the British starlings, it is these foreign ones.”

Andy Walling, an agricultural consultant from Bilsborrow, said: “One of the major problems is that you cannot shoot anything and get shut of them. The big concern is the health risk.”

Both the RSPB and local bird clubs are opposed to any culling of the birds, though licenses can be legally obtained from Natural England.

Mr Collett said: “If you start killing starlings you cannot distinguish between UK birds and ones that have come over. If all farmers take sensible action together, it should sort the issue.”

Fylde Bird Club’s Paul Ellis said: “Attracting large numbers of birds by providing easy meals and then wanting to kill them all is unreasonable.”

At Fairfield farm they now use a bird scarer which emits the sound of a starling in distress, but the birds are notorious for becoming accustomed to the noise.

“We have had a serious problem for about five years and it has been getting worse and worse. We had another scarer about three years ago but they just got used to the sound,” said Mrs Eckersley.

Starlings have taken a liking to the cereal-based animal feeds increasingly used by farmers instead of previously used grass-based feed.

National Farmers’ Union spokesperson Car Hudspith said: “The NFU is not advocating wide-spread management of these birds.”

Instead, the union wants to work with groups under existing guidelines, and carry out further research to understand an issue which Mr Hudspith described as “a very localised problem.”