One shoot is having great success at keep the raptors away, using a very unsual method – some rather lifelike mannequin ladies
I know they’re not real ladies, but even so catching a glimpse of the mannequins still causes a double-take. They are eerily lifelike and possibly the strangest addition to a pheasant pen that I have ever seen.
West Sussex gamekeeper John Harris has been deploying some striking scarecrows to deter raptor attacks on his poults. His raven-haired, sequin-clad mannequins have virtually stopped buzzards killing his stock.
Trialled over the last four seasons, the ladies are looking a little worse for wear, but John says that despite their bedraggled appearance, their effectiveness has been tried, tested and proven.
“They are brilliant. A lot of my mates thought I was mad when I started using mannequins. They thought it was a bit of a joke, but let’s face it, having your poults taken by buzzards or sparrowhawks is no joke.”
He’s right there. On a small DIY shoot like John’s – the loss of just a dozen poults can be a good deal more significant than similar losses on larger, more commercial shoots.
John’s mannequin experiment was borne out of frustration. Like many other keepers, he had tried plastic eagle owls, windmills, stringing up mirrors, CDs or feed bags, using streamers, flashing lights, or a radio left on 24/7. These may work for a time but the raptors are canny and soon habituate. He initially had the idea of making wooden scarecrows, but these proved heavy and cumbersome to move around. They also looked very unrealistic. A walk by a department store window proved inspirational.
I asked John why he preferred mannequin ladies – surely a male mannequin dressed in camo and a flat cap would be more effective? “The simple truth is that when I looked on eBay, female mannequins were a lot cheaper than male dummies,” he told me. Full price, a decent mannequin costs over a hundred pounds, but keep your eyes on the eBay and Gumtree auction sites and there are plenty for around £50 (John got both his ‘ladies’ for £100 complete with wigs).
“You only have to stop a half dozen poults being taken, and the mannequins have paid for themselves,” said John. A keeper pal of his on a larger commercial shoot was very sceptical until he borrowed John’s ladies.
They proved so successful that John had great difficulty getting them back. “Basically I had to buy a couple for him. He gave me the money, but he did not want to be seen buying lady dolls,” said John.
That same bashful keeper met some hikers while on his way to the release pen with a ‘lady’ in the passenger seat of his Land Rover. He blustered and started to explain, but was cut short; “It’s OK mate, I’ve got one at home,” said the hiker with a wink.
On a serious note, John has no regrets about his exotic looking pens. “Let’s face it, you have to do something. Twenty years ago, you never saw a buzzard and now they are everywhere,” said John.
Being hollow, the mannequins are light and therefore very easy to move around. John fixes them to a scaffold pole to stop the wind blowing them over. For winter storage, the arms and legs come off making them easy to lay-up (although John’s mannequin ladies have proved so popular locally, that they usually take a winter busman’s holiday protecting stock on a local turkey farm).
“You have to admit, they’re more attractive than the average under-keeper,” said John.
Do you have any other surefire ways to keep the raptors at bay? If so, please let us know, by emailing email@example.com