|Hawks fly in to save Roman ruin from ultimate risk: pigeons|
The Times 21/1/2005
Herculaneum, the Roman town threatened for centuries by volcanic eruptions, pollution and the encroachment of illegal housing, is tackling another menace: pigeon droppings.
This week British and Italian conservationists at the ruins of Herculaneum, on the coast south of Naples, deployed a potent "anti-pigeon weapon" in the form of two Harris hawks and a falcon.
Supplied by Angelo Canape, an Italian falconer based in Southampton, the birds — named Airon, Gari and Miura — have the job of patrolling the skies above Herculaneum to stop pigeons from nesting in the ruins and corroding them with their droppings.
Hawks and falcons have long been used for clearing pigeons and other unwanted birds from public areas. In the 1850s, when sparrows nested in the roof of Crystal Palace while it was under construction, with messy consequences, Queen Victoria turned to the Duke of Wellington for advice. "Sparrowhawks, ma'am," was his reply.
Herculaneum's most celebrated building is the Villa of the Papyri, once the seaside villa of Julius Caesar's father-in-law, much of which still lies buried beneath solidified volcanic mud. It is believed to contain a lost library of Greek and Latin masterpieces.
Professor Robert Fowler, head of classics at Bristol University, recently advocated "urgent excavation" of the villa before it is again overwhelmed by Vesuvius, which has not erupted since 1944 but which is still active. However, Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the British School at Rome, which helps to run the Herculaneum Conservation Project, said it would be "scandalous" to conduct a costly and arduous excavation before the existing ruins had been saved.
He said that the carbonised wood was crumbling, roofs were collapsing, and that frescoes, marble floors and mosaics were being damaged by rain and ground water.
But much of the damage was due to pigeons. As well as leaving their messy mark, the pigeons peck at the wooden structures that survived the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, when Herculaneum and neighbouring Pompeii were buried.
Maria Paola Guidobaldi, the chief Italian archaeologist at the site, said the pigeons were their "No 1 target". Jane Thompson, the Herculaneum project manager, said that Italian experts had joked that British hawks would be no match for wily Neapolitan pigeons. "But we have full confidence in them," she added.