Ken Livingstone: Why we must remove the pigeons from Trafalgar Square

'When I saw campaigners covered from head to toe in pigeons, I found the whole display ghastly'

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From the first day of taking responsibility for the management of Trafalgar Square on 1 October 2000, I have tried to outline a new approach for the Square based on its landmark status as a symbol of London. Like Times Square and the other great squares, what Trafalgar Square looks like is representative of the city as a whole. It is a public space for the enjoyment of Londoners and visitors alike.

From the first day of taking responsibility for the management of Trafalgar Square on 1 October 2000, I have tried to outline a new approach for the Square based on its landmark status as a symbol of London. Like Times Square and the other great squares, what Trafalgar Square looks like is representative of the city as a whole. It is a public space for the enjoyment of Londoners and visitors alike.

One of the problems of the Square at present is that most Londoners rarely stay long in the Square. The closest most get to it is waiting for a bus or driving through. At night it seems like a black hole in the middle of London. From the point of view of most Londoners - and even a substantial number of tourists - the Square has little to offer except for impressive statuary.

I hope to change this. Beginning in March 2001 the GLA hopes to introduce new activities, including entertainments reflecting the cultural diversity of London, as well as the sale of refreshments. Starting last October, I put in place new by-laws to maintain good order on the square.

This was combined with the introduction of Heritage Wardens to assist people visiting the Square and to ensure that the by-laws were upheld. As a result, the problem of illegal trading on the Square has been removed. In just four months there has been a drop in alleged crime on the Square by over 50 per cent, a significant achievement in such a short period of time.

As part of this process of regenerating the Square, a detailed review of the licence for the sale of pigeon feed on the square was undertaken. I was concerned that the numbers of pigeons on the square were in conflict with the new activity proposed, particularly if we are to move to the granting of licenses to sell food and drink. I, therefore, decided last year not to grant a licence for the sale of pigeon feed on the square.

This decision was challenged, and, because it became clear that some evidence submitted to the GLA had not been made available to me at that time it was agreed that the decision would be reviewed.

To be absolutely fair, and to ensure that there was no possibility that the formerly licensed feed seller could allege that I had treated him unfairly through having prejudged the matter, I delegated my powers on the decision to the Deputy Mayor, Nicky Gavron.

Nicky considered the advice of a specialist consultant, officers, many representations from animal welfare groups, submissions from members of the public and other groups, and legal advice. She decided in the light of all the evidence that no licence should be issued. In order to ensure that no possible distress should be caused to the pigeons while aiming to secure a reduction in their number on the square she agreed that a phased reduction in the supply of feed on the square should be implemented by the Authority. This is in accordance with a plan drawn up by the GLA's Biodiversity Manager.

Contrary to claims of the misinformed or the deliberately misleading, there can be no question of animal cruelty in Nicky Gavron's decision. Not only were acknowledged experts consulted, but the most conservative approach was taken in order to ensure a phased and humane reduction. The external adviser - Dr Allan - is an acknowledged expert in bird ecology, as is the Authority's Biodiversity Manager. Both were of the view that removing the feed could occur immediately without cruelty. In reviewing the position, Dr Allan considered papers and documents from the public and from animal welfare and pigeon groups.

Dr Allan suggested a phased withdrawal of food over one month as a precautionary measure. The Authority's Biodiversity Manager supported this approach in his advice to Nicky Gavron and devised a feeding programme, which was based on visual evidence of the numbers of birds in the square and the numbers of food sales. He validated the figures by reference to information obtained from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which indicated the levels of past feed sales. To be ultra-cautious, all figures were rounded up. The two experts are in agreement.

So, contrary to the arguments of some of the animal rights campaigners, the impact of GLA decisions on the birds has been carefully and scientifically considered.

For my part, when I saw campaigners pictured in Trafalgar Square on Monday covered from head to toe in pigeons, I am sure that I was not alone in finding the whole display ghastly, given the mess and mobbing that occurs when you feed pigeons. Alfred Hitchcock himself couldn't have done a better job.

The problem for the pigeon protesters is this: Nicky Gavron's decision was taken humanely, after consulting the experts, and it errs on the side of caution. It is part of an overall process to clean up and improve the square for the benefit of everyone. And it is just not logical to argue that it is cruel not to feed pigeons indiscriminately, which are wild animals, not pets.

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