Tourists upset by hawkish crackdown on feeding Trafalgar Square pigeons

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The Independent Online

Kate Shirshov beamed into her father's camera as she tried to divide a bread roll between the five squabbling pigeons nestling on her arms in Trafalgar Square.

"They're just so cute. I want to take them home with me," said Ms Shirshov, 14, a tourist from Moscow, while two more birds landed on her head for the mid-morning feed.

Minutes later, the flock had flown when the Greater London Authority's (GLA) hawk, Squirty, made for them.

The hawk - and a new by-law that bans visitors from feeding the 200 or so resident birds and the thousands of nomadic pigeons that drop in daily - are part of the GLA's efforts to clean up the square's image.

Those who flout the regulation, which comes into effect today, will face a £50 fine.

Ms Shirshov's family regards the by-law as a draconian measure that will sanitise the square and remove its allure for tourists. Her father, Gennady Shirshov, said: "The birds are Trafalgar Square pigeons. That is why we come here - to see the birds. They are a good example of how nature can flourish in an urban environment. It seems to me that bureaucrats are taking over Europe and imposing rules."

He also doubted the success of the regulations. "The birds will remain here. You cannot scare them away," he said, pointing to rows of birdson the National Gallery's roof.

But the GLA insisted that a ban on feeding the birds was necessary for public health, due to the risk of infection from the birds' droppings. Cleaning the square has become difficultand the fall in pigeon numbers is expected to save the authority £140,000 a year. Grain sellers have stopped trading in the square and the GLA runs a "humane control" feeding programme, in which the birds are fed at 7am every day by wardens. A GLA spokesman said the newly redesigned square had a more enjoyable ambience where people could relax without the annoyance of hungry pigeons. "The reduced number of birds certainly makes people's visits to our summer concerts and winter carols more enjoyable," he said.

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, said: "None of the improvements would have worked if the square was still infested with thousands of pigeons."

But others were dismayed by the absence of the birds. Helena Alston, a visitor from Basingstoke sipping coffee in the new Costa café, acknowledged that in the past she would not have been able to eat her cake without being mobbed by pigeons. But she disapproved of the by-law. "This café is nice but it is part of the square's commercialisation. The birds made the place into something we all remember and love. I don't like using the term 'nanny state' but this is just removing our personal responsibility," she said.

Not everyone objected to the measure. Adrian Gibson,from north London, said it was the first time he had visited the redesigned square and he wholly approved. "It's very cute for tourists to see pigeons flying around but we have to live with the filth and health risks," he said. "This city is not just for tourists."