Flea collars put false alarms to flight

RICHARD BATSON They normally adorn the necks of humble moggies in a bid to keep fleas off pampered pets and out of family homes. But insecticide collars for cats are now being used at an historic Norfolk mansion - to stop flies setting off the fire alarms.

RICHARD BATSON

They normally adorn the necks of humble moggies in a bid to keep fleas off pampered pets and out of family homes.

But insecticide collars for cats are now being used at an historic Norfolk mansion - to stop flies setting off the fire alarms.

Workmen were yesterday installing them in the National Trust's flagship stately home Blickling Hall in the hope of keeping creepy crawlies out of the smoke sensors, where they are triggering off 999 calls.

It does not, however, mean the ceilings of the Jacobean mansion's stunning state rooms, filled with priceless paintings and antiques, will be glistening with diamante-studded, fluorescent hoops bearing a tag saying Tiddles.

For the problems at the property near Aylsham are in the rather more humble setting of a visitor toilet block at the Lothian Barn.

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And staff have stressed that every effort would be made to camouflage the collars, in the same way as detectors were painted to ensure they blended in with the historic surroundings.

Luckily the flies seem more drawn to the alarms in the richer air of the public conveniences, than in the rarefied atmosphere of the Long Gallery library, great hall, or state bedroom where the gentry met, ate, slept, studied and socialised from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

House manager Jan Brookes said thunder and cluster flies getting into the fire alarms in the barn area were increasingly setting off false alarms - which were costly and disruptive to staff having to deal with them at all hours of day and night.

"It costs us £400-£500 a time from the fire brigade, and £30-40 for an engineer, each time there is a false alarm," she added.

If they went off at night the emergency services were called automatically. If it was during the day staff checked to see if the alarm was caused by fires or flies.

The false alarms were caused by a build-up of bugs in the detector heads. It was hoped that a trio of collars fitted in the toilet area would be a cost-effective way of dealing with the problem.

Collars, costing around £3 each in a typical pet shop, have been successfully used in other Trust properties, including Knole in Kent, where premises manager Martin Benson confirmed: "It seems a bit strange, but they do work."

He had installed them in a series of courtyard rooms, stable blocks and a clock tower for the past two years and the number of false fire alarms had dropped considerably.

"We wrap them around the base of the detector heads - normally in July and they last through to about December. It costs us about £100 a year but it definitely discourages the flies. But you get raised eyebrows when you go the supermarket and buy 60 flea collars," he added.

It also meant staff got a good night's sleep without having to dash down in the dark to deal with insect-instigated false alarms

Staff at Blickling will also now be hoping that the collars are the cat's whiskers when it comes to ensuring the hall's list of noblemen does not include the Lord of the Flies.

Blickling's garden, shop and restaurant are open from December 27-31 from 11am-4pm, reopening on January 4 for its standard winter hours of 11am-4pm, Thursday to Sunday. The house reopens on March 17.