Southern Water has defended using hawks to stop seagulls fouling in the sea in efforts to improve water quality.
Chris and Norma Carter were on a lunchtime walk on Tuesday, July 2, when they said they saw two men wearing military-style clothes and holding ‘birds of prey with wicked beaks’ on Worthing promenade near Heene Road.
The couple got talking to them, and they revealed they had been hired to scare away seagulls along certain stretches of beach in an effort to stop them defacating in the sea and polluting the water.
Chris, 78, from Christchurch Road, Worthing, said they were ‘a bit shocked’ by the scheme, adding: “I don’t believe it will make a difference. Seagulls have always been here.”
An angry Norma, 73, phoned up Southern Water’s head office to complain.
She said: “I was very annoyed, because when I first saw these men with these big birds, I thought they were people from one of these local charities that hold owls.
“We know what is going on with Southern Water, so this was like a red rag to a bull.”
The water provider was recently given a record £126million penalty by industry regulator Ofwat for manipulating test results at some of their waste water treatment sites that they otherwise might have failed.
Worthing’s bathing water quality has also been getting worse since 2014, according to the Environment Agency.
Norma feared the birds might turn on other avian prey. She said: “I don’t like the idea of these birds flying around locally, because they are hunters. They won’t just go for seagulls; they will target other small birds too and I certainly don’t want carnage in my back garden.”
However, a Southern Water spokesman made clear that the birds were always tethered to the falconer’s arm and ‘acted as a positive visual deterrent’.
They said Tuesday was a test ahead of the project starting later this month.
A statement said: “We have demonstrable evidence that bird pollution can affect the quality of bathing water.
“This work is part of our ongoing Bathing Water Enhancement Programme, which the public very much supports, and our aim is to tackle all the different pollution sources – sewage, litter, agricultural and birds. We’re committed to protecting these coastal waters to ensure they are of the highest quality and have invested millions of pounds in doing so.”