Plastic scarecrows restore rural peace

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DESIGNER scarecrows, sophisticated heirs to the scruffy rag dolls farmers used to prop up in their fields, are coming to the broad acres of rural England. Twirling in the breeze on metal frames, the life-size white PVC figures come with an optional extra - the superimposed face of a sworn enemy taken from family snapshots or passport photographs.

'Mother-in-law is the most common suggestion,' says the inventor, Charles Tweedie, who runs a pest control business near Little Hereford, on the Herefordshire-Shropshire border.

Mr Tweedie's patent crop- saving contraption promises to restore a touch of tradition and tranquillity to the countryside, where electronic bird-scaring equipment has become increasingly raucous. A serious problem for farmers (11 per cent of Britain's oilseed rape crop was lost to birds in 1989) has led to fierce competition among little companies specialising in producing rural ghetto-blasters.

This summer, for example, villagers in the Blackdown Hills in Devon complained to local health officials after being assailed by a local farmer's mind- numbing cocktail of inner-city riots and trumpeting elephants.

'There's a possibility that some people in this business are going too far,' says Mr Tweedie, whose own Phoenix Wailer produces 90 different distress noises. 'Volume for volume's sake is not the way to go.

'I'm a strong believer in variety. My scarecrows complement gas bangers, for instance, because gas bangers just make one noise and after a couple of days the birds get used to it.'

Mr Tweedie, who was managing director of a pounds 60m chicken- processing plant until it was swallowed by Unigate in the late Eighties, got his idea for the twirling figures while digging near a beech hedge in February.

'I saw a beech leaf twisting in the wind - now you see it, now you don't - and I thought a scarecrow appearing and disappearing like that would be very effective.'

Three models are being offered at pounds 120 each. Following tradition, Mr Tweedie has given them names - Whirly Ozidge, Spinny Mawkin and Major 'Twirly' Tattie-Bogle.

But he draws the line at designer scarecrows posing as John Major or Tony Blair, fearing that they would see him in court.

(Photograph omitted)