Firm which uses hawks and falcons to deter nuisance birds is seeking new markets offshore
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016
A firm which trains hawks and falcons to deter unwanted birds is looking to the offshore energy industry for new pest control markets . SABAH MEDDINGS reports
It's an unusual approach to pest control – scrambling a squadron of hawks and falcons to chase away nuisance birds.
But a Norfolk firm has turned the hunting instincts of these predators into a valuable commercial service.
Now, having moved into a new base at Snetterton Park, the company is spreading its wings even further, by seeking out new markets in the offshore energy industry.
NBC Bird and Pest Solutions, which has a network of falconers across the UK, trains hawks and falcons to patrol construction sites, waste management plants and office roofs. They can rid football stadiums of pigeons and deter pests from nesting in industrial sites, saving developers thousands of pounds.
But, in the case of the offshore industry, the firm's service involves bird-proofing structures, laying mesh on beams to prevent roosting and nesting which can make routine maintenance unsafe.
NBC already has a contract to clean and pest-proof offshore gas platforms.
- 1 Body found in the sea at Great Yarmouth
- 2 North Norfolk road closed with drivers asked to avoid area
- 3 Norwich firm part of growing number of businesses working four day weeks
- 4 Holiday Inn to become 'care hotel' to help struggling hospitals
- 5 Popular teacher, 55, died after falling down stairs, inquest hears
- 6 Teenager died of injuries six days after crash
- 7 One of East Anglia's largest property builders is sold to investment firm
- 8 John Lewis CCTV footage leads to Norwich gun arrests
- 9 A year on: Tributes to teacher who died following tumour diagnosis
- 10 1920s bungalow up for sale in one of the Broads' most sought-after villages
And it is hoped this foray into the energy sector can be extended with the growth of wind farms including with Dudgeon, Galloper and Sheringham Shoal off the coast in East Anglia.
Marketing director Duncan Jones said the company wanted to take advantage of this new market.
'It's something we want to expand on while offshore wind is in its infancy,' he said.
For nuisance birds on land, Harris hawks and falcons are used to deter pests, rather than to kill.
Birds are protected by law, which means a nest on a building site could delay a construction project and cost developers hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Where there are concerns a bird will nest on a construction site, NBC sets up a protected conservation area close by, encouraging birds to find an alternative home to raise their young.
Mr Jones said: 'The birds are trained to deter. You can train a bird to hunt, but we don't want our birds to kill because then they would have had a meal, and would not fly back to us.'
The business was founded by managing director John Dickson in 1993, with a grant from the Prince's Trust and a Harris hawk called Hazel.
The young entrepreneur was in Ipswich and out of work when an environment consultant informed him he could build a business managing waste sites from his falconry hobby.
Now the firm has a revenue of £4.5m a year, a network of more than 200 hawks and falcons across the UK, and its move into Snetterton Park signals its launch of a new breeding programme - its first for several years.
Head of falconry Andy Hulme was brought on board from Suffolk Owl Sanctuary to lead the programme, joining the firm in September.
'If we breed our own we'll know how they have been reared,' he said.
'A lot of the training is working out the psychology of the bird.'
And along with the new breeding programme, the firm also has its eye on expanding abroad, with the glass-topped sky scrapers in Dubai providing a potential market in NBC's three to five-year plan.
The latest move comes as the firm is becoming more centralised, reversing the franchising process which Mr Dickson launched several years ago.
'There are challenges with franchising,' he said. 'It's hard to manage a franchise network when everybody has their own different objectives.
'Reversing the franchising process enables the business to better the services we deliver and the experience for the people in the business and the customers.'
Growth had also stagnated, according to Mr Dickson.
'We always had growth year on year and now we are back to 10pc growth this year,' he added.
The firm's former site in Attleborough meant the office and staff were separated from the aviaries, which is something Mr Dickson wanted to bring together on the new site.
He added: 'It is nice to have somewhere where the birds are on the base.
Racing to the Middle East
?A growing trend for racing falcons in the Middle East could provide a fresh market for NBC's breeding programme.
Breeding super-fast falcons has become a million-pound industry, with wealthy Arabs paying a high price for premium birds, which are flown thousands of miles across the world to compete in races in the United Arab Emirates.
Head of falconry Andy Hulme said he hoped to build a niche for the firm, by providing fully-trained racing birds.
Some will be trained to race to helium balloons, others to reach a remote-controlled helicopter.
It is part of the five-year plan to create a line of successful peregrine falcons.
'We're hoping within five years we will be producing around 50 to 60 falcons a year,' said Mr Hulme.
When a breeding pair lay eggs, the first clutch will be taken away and placed in an incubator, in the hope the female will lay another clutch.
Mr Hulme said: 'When the first chicks are five days old, I go in to the parent birds and take the second clutch of eggs and put the five-day-old chicks back in with mum and dad.'
The second clutch will be fostered with other birds, allowing two sets of chicks to hatch each year from one breeding pair.
?NBC's birds are kept in outdoor shelters – known as weatherings – during the day, and are brought inside at night.
They are trained to fly for food, which is primarily day-old male chicks – a by-product of the poultry industry.
Among the most common nuisance birds are gulls, which have moved into cities.
Duncan Jones said: 'Gulls have become more of a nuisance. They have adapted to an urban environment. No one has really done a study to understand why but a lot of office roofing is a perfect replica of their natural habitat.'
NBC will survey a site first, evaluating the 'bird pressure' – the number of birds – and then decide how often a bird of prey should visit.
Visits are staggered over a year, usually increased in the nesting period. Mr Jones added: 'Falcons are used for gulls and corvids (such as crows) but we do sometime also use Harris hawks at the same site. Harris hawks will fly in a straight line whereas falcons will seek to gain height and speed so Harris hawks are more able to manoeuvre in the tighter urban or industrial environments.'
The falcons will disperse nuisance birds over a wider area but are not suitable for close urban work.
Have you launched an unusual business? Email email@example.com