The Solar Association estimates that there are now over 800,000 homes in the UK with PV electricity generating solar panels, and another 200,000 with thermal solar panels.
But what the solar panel companies generally fail to tell you when fitting them, is that they are creating the ideal nesting spot for pigeons. In the UK, pigeons nest all year round, and if the female has a reliable and safe food source, she may give birth to five or six clutches of young a year. They are either expecting or nesting, most of the time.
Once they have found a food source, the next job is to find a safe place to nest and bring up their young. Yes, they want somewhere high up, but importantly pigeons are looking for cover over their heads, and that’s where solar panels come in.
The bars and fittings that support the panels on the roof, and coils of cables left behind, create a firm point on a sloping roof to build their nest, and that’s where the problems for the residents start.
Pigeons are not only noisy, but they also create a huge amount of fouling and pigeon guano as it’s called is nasty stuff. It’s high in uric acid and corrosive over time. But more importantly, pigeon fouling is a vector for some very nasty pathogens and bacteria that can cause very serious illness indeed in humans if accidentally ingested, if it gets into cuts, or if dried pigeon guano is breathed into lungs.
As such they are a health hazard if on your roof, and as long as they have the necessary licences in place to act on public health grounds, pigeons are one of the few birds that pest control companies are legally allowed to act against when they are nesting.
We have spoken to a number of companies offering a solar panel pigeon proofing service to find what it costs to prevent pigeons from nesting under solar panels.
They report that although a few customers act as a preventative measure, getting the panels proofed soon after installation, most of the time proofing solar panels to stop pigeons nesting under them is a reactive service.
Interestingly, other birds are not such a problem. Occasionally squirrels nest under solar panels, but most of the time they prefer to build their drays in attic spaces. So the service is specifically about stopping pigeons getting under there. As such a fine chicken wire style of mesh is a poor option. Fine wire is too weak and pliable and larger birds pike pigeons may be able to push it out of the way.
The best companies use a very sturdy mesh with a strong gauge (thickness) of wire that stays solid once cut to shape. When cut the prongs remain solid and this allows the mesh to be cut to ride the waves of the roof tiles, creating a solid barrier in the low rides of the tiles that birds can’t possibly move out of the way.
Companies using a galvanised steel mesh with at least a 2.0 gauge and a 50mm mesh size ), the same as pigeon netting, are strongly advised over anyone using a finer, thinner mesh.
So what does it cost to proof solar panels against pigeons? Well, that, of course, depends on the property and the panel configuration. Working at height on roofs always requires a minimum of two men for safety, so beware of anyone saying they will be doing it on their own, as they will be breaking the law if they do so, as well as severely risking their own safety.
A bungalow with eight panels is going to be relatively straightforward access wise. But if you have a conservatory below the panels or a three-storey property, the company you use is going to need to go through a series of safety measures, looking at safe access and possibly needing specialist scaffolding or a cherry picker, and that will, of course, add to the costs.
Typically, and as long as access isn’t too difficult, you are looking at £500-£650 + VAT for a reputable solar panel pigeon proofing service on a normal domestic property, and the firms you choose should be offering you a guarantee. Some of the best firms offer a ten-year guarantee with their solar panel pigeon protection service. If access is more difficult, or you have a large number of panels prices are more likely to be in the £700-£1200 + VAT range.
The company you use should be able to demonstrate that they have the Natural England licences in place to act against nesting pigeons on public health grounds and should be willing to provide a RAMS (Risk Assessment/Method Statement) on request.
Note that such is the volume of fouling created by pigeons nesting under panels, that gutter clearance may well be required on properties with established problems. This has to be done by a technician who knows what they are doing, using personal protective equipment, including breathing and cut protection. And the company you use should have something called and EA Waste Carriers licence in place in order to be able to dispose with the fouling in line with legislation.