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Why scarecrows could be wiped out by laser beams

The humble scarecrow's days could be numbered.
The humble scarecrow's days could be numbered.

Trials involving the use of laser beams to keep birds away from crops have shown “great results”, according to a European research consortium which is now planning to test the same approach to keep deer, rabbits and rodents from also causing damage.

Part of a three-year, £2.5-million EU-funded project called LIFE Laser Fence, current attention is focused on the ability of Agrilaser, a novel light technology developed by the Bird Control Group (BCG), to keep birds away from crops and ground animals away from both crops and storage areas.

While trials to date have shown that an approaching laser beam can deter such animals from these areas, there have also been some inconclusive results.

Specialists from BCG and project leaders Liverpool John Moores University are therefore working on developing new light beams with alternative characteristics, including colour and modulation.

This is based on research evidence that different animals have varying perceptions of different light specifications.

“We expect to identify which light characteristics are best suited for each species and adjust our light beams accordingly,” said BCG’s Steinar Henskes.

“For example, first trials with new wavelengths showed different responses from animals. For instance, blue beams may be more effective than red beams.”

With the damage caused by rats on farms in the UK alone put at up £28 million a year, interest in new non-pesticide solutions is high throughout Europe, with consortium researchers drawn from England, Scotland, the Netherlands and Spain.

Having already completed more than two years’ work, and with an end point set for later this year, the consortium is planning a new phase of extensive testing for Agrilaser’s functionality across many different types of animals.

Trials are due to begin soon in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and UK in relation to preventing crop damage  due to deer, rabbits, wild boars and rodents such as rats, squirrels and mice.

In addition, specific trials with rats will be undertaken in isolated barns in England and Scotland to evaluate the system’s efficiency in scaring rats away.

“From our trials with the current light beam, we are aware of excellent results for birds, but for rabbits and other pest animals there is a variation in response,” said Dr Martin Sharp, Laser Fence’s project manager.

“We hope that with the new light beam modules we can increase consistency in the deterrent effect and offer an effective and sustainable solution to limit crop damage due to intrusion of animals.”

Final trial results will be communicated during a conference in Liverpool at the end of this year.

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