Laser technology initially developed to scare birds away from airports is becoming increasingly popular in the horticulture sector by farmers wanting to protect their crop.
Already, a small handful of Australian growers use laser beam devices to keep bird pests away, but now the Dutch inventor of the product wants to see if it will work on bats too. Steinar Henskes, the founder of Bird Control Group, said light devices were an eco-friendly way of controlling birds, but he wanted Australian farmers to help him understand if the technology was also effective against bats that caused crop damage. “We in Europe don’t experience the bat problems like Australians do, so I would love to talk to the industry and innovative farmers to trial the equipment on the bats to see if we can reduce the damages,” he said. “There’s definitely the potential, as the bats come during night time and during night time the laser is much more effective.”
Mr Henskes said striking a balance between keeping crop on trees while still managing pests was critical for the reputation of the farming industry, and new technology could help to facilitate that. “You want a win-win where you can live with nature and keep animals at a distance from commercial activities,” he said. “You don’t want to shoot them and you don’t want to kill them, which is bad from a company perspective and a regulatory one. “It’s important to do it in a sustainable way from an ethical point of view.”
Birds and other animal pests are known to adapt to many of the eco-friendly methods used to control them, such as sound scaring devices and even common scarecrows. However, Mr Henskes said lasers offered more security as a long-term solution because the birds, and maybe even bats, perceived the laser beam to be a physical threat. “The birds perceive the laser beam as a physical danger, so by moving it towards them they get scared and fly away,” he said. “We really approach them in a comfort zone, so it’s the same reflex they use when a car drives towards them.”
The challenge for those wanting to use laser technology to control pests was that it was more effective at night time than during the day. “Basically during the day it can be effective, but the range is way less,” he said. “During dawn, dusk and night time it can be 2,000 metres in range compared to day time where it can only do 300 metres. “It’s still effective but the range is less, but it could be combined with other techniques. “As a standalone it can still be effective. It just depends on which time of the day the birds cause problems, and then you might need denser implementation of the devices.”
Mr Henskes admitted there was the potential for lasers to be misused by those wanting to cause trouble, particularly by shining them at aircraft. However, he said the company had a social responsibility to only sell lasers to those who would use them to scare pests away. “We make sure we have very good instructions and make sure we know who to sell to,” he said. “Economically the laser also has a barrier, because the laser is too expensive for a teenager to play around with. “So it comes down to[issuing]
instructions, training and safety instructions in terms of how to deal with it, what to do and what not to do with it.”
He said the technology had little to no impact on ground pests, such as rabbits and foxes.