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Why woodpeckers are giving energy bosses a headache

Power threat: the great spotted woodpecker. Credit: PA

We've all heard stories about threats to our power supplies, from lack of power stations to cyber hackers - now energy bosses have identified a new threat - Woodpeckers!

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Rising numbers of great spotted woodpeckers have led a utility company to test out a new way to protect wooden electricity poles from the birds.

UK Power Networks, which distributes electricity in the south east and east of England, said in the last year alone it had seen some 6,000 wooden electricity poles across Kent and East Anglia damaged by woodpeckers who confuse them for trees.

Now it is trialling a new wood filler which contains a fragrance that repels woodpeckers to try to persuade them not to drill their way through poles to make nests, helping keep costs down for customers and preventing power cuts for residents.

Woodpeckers often return to places where they have already pecked holes to hunt for food such as insects and worms.

So filling up the holes made in electricity poles with the filler is a safe and environmentally friendly way of encouraging them to look elsewhere, the company said.

Great spotted woodpeckers have seen their numbers rise 136% in the last 20 years, while green woodpecker numbers are up by 31%, figures from the British Trust for Ornithology show.

Ian Cameron, head of innovation at UK Power Networks said:

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We've noticed an increase in the number of our poles that had to be replaced because of woodpecker damage resulting in loss of power for our customers, so we researched how we could do something about it before it becomes a big problem.

We trialled a new product developed in the United States that fills the holes and emits a harmless scent to persuade woodpeckers to pick a more suitable home.

We think it's a perfect way of ensuring that we're keeping our customers' lights on while respecting the wildlife population.

– an Cameron, head of innovation at UK Power Networks