A ROW between hospital trust bosses and animal rights activists has broken out after nets have been installed to prevent a public health risk from pigeons which nest in hospital courtyards.

The move has been made to prevent pigeon guano, or droppings, which carry a potentially fatal fungus called cryptococcus, being excreted on hospital ward window sills, roofs, ledges and air conditioning, which prevents windows from being opened in the summer.

Hospital bosses say they are acting within the law and have said the nets are being used as a last resort.

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They say humane traps with food and water have been set below the netting because it was not possible to remove all the pigeons before the net was erected.

The cull is being carried out by specialist contractor Rentokil, who are visiting reguilarly to remove pigeons from traps and netting, and the site has been inspected twice by the RSPCA.

But animal rights activists from as far afield as India have complained to the trust, claiming the nets are cruel, and have resulted in pigeons becoming trapped in the nets and being unable to get to their young in nests below the netting.

They have also questioned the methods used in trapping pigeons which have been caught below the netting.

In an email to the trust, Angela Lockyer and Andrew LLoyd said: “It is incredibly inhumane and cruel to treat animals in this manner.

“I am sure we are not the only people that are distressed to hear about the situation at your premises and we would be grateful if you could arrange for the trapped birds to be freed immediately and for any orphaned young birds to be given help.”

Ken Holt, from Stockport, Lancashire, wrote in an email: “As a former Mayor of Stockport and RSPCA member who has campaigned, amongst other things, against the use of fur in mayoraI robes, bullfighting in Beziers the twin town of Stockport, and the serving of foie gras and battery eggs in council buildings, I was saddened to read the message below on animal welfare, or lack of it in this particular case.

“There can be no excuse or good reason for the mutilation and torture of animals.”

However, a trust spokesman said: “There is a public health risk associated with pigeon guano and the trust is not prepared to jeopardise the health of our patients.

“We have for the last nine years tried to control this by installing ‘bird points’ (spikes) on the window sills and ledges. “Unfortunately this has not worked and therefore the installation of the netting is considered very much a last resort.

“Comments have also been received that a hawk has been put into the courtyards to kill those remaining pigeons - this is untrue.”