Feathers fly as dispute over Kelso bird mess goes on

Kelso councillor Euan Robson shelters from pigeon mess at Henderson's Court.
Kelso councillor Euan Robson shelters from pigeon mess at Henderson's Court.

A dispute over whether pigeons roosting on a rooftop is a private or public health matter looks set to continue as both residents and council chiefs refuse to take the issue under their wing.

Around 400 pigeons have set up home on Kelso’s Henderson’s Court, much to the dismay of residents calling upon Scottish Borders Council to deal with the feathered fiends and the mess they generate.

Kelso councillor Euan Robson at Henderson's Court.

Kelso councillor Euan Robson at Henderson's Court.

They say the roof has been overrun with birds since one neighbouring building was demolished, another was renovated and a third was boarded up last year, leaving the pigeons homeless.

But in an update to community councillors this week, town councillor Euan Robson said he fears there will be no quick fix.

“The responsibility here lies with the owners, and therein lies the problem because of the mixed occupancies,” he said. “Some are owned by housing associations, others are private owners and some are rented out.

“All together it’s a difficult set of circumstances, with collective ownership and lots of legislation to consider.

“There’s capacity for one lot to say another lot is responsible, and therefore we go around in circles.”

But with some residents claiming there’s a health risk and that the council needs to act, a different sort of stalemate could lie ahead too.

Fellow Kelso councillor Simon Mountford said environmental health experts only consider pigeons and their droppings a public health hazard in a confined area.

“Although it’s a nuisance, it’s a private problem, not a public health problem,” he said. “If the council were to intervene, they would most definitely get the bill. It would be cheaper for them to sort it out with the factors.

“The long-term solution here is to make the roof of Henderson’s Court unattractive to pigeons.”

So far, options bandied about for doing so have included an estimated £18,000 electric shock deterrent system, spikes or netting on the roof, a trap or kill effort and using a hawk as a scare tactic.

But none of those options will be plain sailing, according to Mr Robson.

“A cull has to be licensed under an act and even then they may have to be trapped first,” he added.

“We can’t shoot them because clearly the bullets could end up anywhere in Kelso, and we don’t want that.

“And the birds are not stupid, while a hawk may work in the short term, they will just come back.

“It’s a difficult one to know what should be done. A combination of spikes and netting on the roof perhaps?”

Kelso-based land agent FBR manages the 40-plus-flats, and it told residents last week that until the paths are adopted by the council it will charge to carry out clean up work.

Property manager Lois Renton quoted twice-weekly path-cleaning and monthly gutter-clearing at a cost of £2 and £50 respectively per flat, plus value-added tax.

Residents aren’t keen to foot the bill, though.

With that in mind, councillors say the next step is to push on with the adoption of the four-storey development, officially completed around six months ago.

“We are investigating the options of the adoption of the courtyard area,” Mr Robson added.

“That is a process not yet completed, but we are trying to pursue it so that the council will then have the responsibilty of keeping that part clear.

“The development is not long completed, so that’s why the adoption stage is taking so long.”

The pair have vowed to speak again with officers to completely rule out any health risks, using the example of how a pigeon excrement infection outbreak at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital contributed to two deaths there last month.

“There has been concerns raised around the incident at the hospital in Glasgow but that was a very different set of circumstances,” Mr Robson said. “This is an open air problem- but we will ask the question to make sure there is definitely no real health hazard being caused.

“We will obtain chapter and verse on that in due course.”