Sophie Atherton poses the question "Can Somerset make more of starlings?"

PUBLISHED: 16:42 06 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:15 20 February 2013

Starlings Sturnus vulgaris, gathering above reed bed at Ham Wall RSPB reserve, winter roost, patterns seen were caused by predator Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus

Starlings Sturnus vulgaris, gathering above reed bed at Ham Wall RSPB reserve, winter roost, patterns seen were caused by predator Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus

It's one of the county's greatest wildlife spectacles: hundreds of thousands of starlings flocking over the Levels at dusk. Even if it isn't cold you know it's winter once the starlings fill the skies.

Its one of the countys greatest wildlife spectacles: hundreds of thousands of starlings flocking over the Levels at dusk. Even if it isnt cold you know its winter once the starlings fill the skies.



In autumn the birds gather, twittering, on telegraph wires, but as the seasons turn the whooshing sound of flocks catches the ear and draws eyes skywards.



Visitors travel from far and wide to see them; some happy enough just to watch, others determined to get the perfect photograph with Tauntons Obridge Viaduct a favourite spot for would-be starling snappers. People are mesmerised by these murmurations, but do starlings deserve the rapturous accolades their flocking behaviour provokes?



Meare Manor guesthouse owner Sue Chapman thinks so. She says they boost business in the quiet winter months and works with the RSPB offering starling watching walks ending up at her place for homemade soup or tea and biscuits and she enjoys watching the birds herself.
They come in from all directions and then they just drop. Theres chattering, chattering, chattering then its dead silent. Its magical. People think its marvellous and they dont want to leave, she says, adding that shes picked up quite a lot of extra winter business off the back of birdwatching events including customers who decide to stay the whole weekend.



People are mesmerised by these murmurations, but do starlings deserve the rapturous accolades their flocking behaviour provokes?



But Michael Bendle, landlord of The Railway Inn, Meare isnt such a fan. He says people driving to the area to see the starlings block the road causing problems for him and other local businesses.
There is a car park at the RSPB nature reserve, but its just not big enough, he complains, they all park down the road. Unlike Sue he doesnt benefit from much extra business saying that for every 200 visitors just 10 come to his pub so he doesnt think its worth the effort to trying to convert birdwatchers into customers.



But the problems caused by starlings are even worse for the countys farmers. The birds not only eat cattle feed but also pollute it with their droppings. Somerset spokesman for the National Farmers Union, Ian Johnson, says: Farms near Glastonbury have been hit by what can only be described as plague proportions of starlings. They get into the feed and our members are finding that cattle cant get to eat because of the high numbers of birds so it is a problem.





He adds that traditional deterrent methods only seem to work for a short time before the starlings get wise to them, but cautions farmers against illegally harming the birds as they would not only fall foul of the law but may lose out on farming grants they are claiming too. What we need is practical solutions to the problem, so if people have methods that work other farmers would like to hear about them, he says.




Things that threaten peoples livelihoods obviously need to be taken seriously, but when you have a natural resource (that could boost the countys economy) like Somersets amazing starling flocks, shouldnt we make the most of it rather than grumbling?


Let us know what you think by commenting below.



Decembers starling walks are fully booked but there are more on 12, 16 and 23 January. Call Meare Manor on 01458 860449 for availability and bookings.

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