Manufacturer Euro-Matic has come up with a unique way of keeping birds off lakes and reservoirs close to airport perimeters – plastic balls. Co-owner and director Helena King explains the thinking behind this innovative idea
What was the genesis of the idea of using plastic balls for keeping waters around airports free from birds?
Euro-Matic developed the water-filled ball over 20 years ago as a result of initial discussions with Heathrow Airport, because they had a real issue with escalated bird strike in the area. It was recognised that our existing water-filled balls used on reservoirs to prevent algae formation actually also acted as deterrent for birds, as they couldn’t land on the water. Heathrow agreed to adopt the concept and installed the balls in 2003.
What makes the Euro-Matic concept unique?
The advantages of the balls versus other bird strike solutions are many. They are a one-time installation with no ongoing maintenance: once the initial investment has been made, they can be left for around 20-30 years; this is because they are injected with a UV stabiliser (which is weather-resistant) and made from durable High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) plastic.
There are other options, such as netting, that whilst cheap to install deteriorates very quickly and poses a hazard to wildlife as they can get trapped and require human intervention.
Netting will also not prevent birds using the open water, as they will still attempt to land. Other options to deter birds include sounds/sonar and drones, all of which scare the birds off but don’t prevent them from returning.
Our bird balls are patented and the only option on the market that permanently deters birds and isn’t something that scares them away before they then return. Another benefit is that a blanket of balls reduces evaporation by 90% and reduces algae and duckweed such that an emergency water supply (EWS, used in the event of a fire) again becomes maintenance free.
It is the most effective bird control solution, irrelevant of the size of the airport.
Which airports are currently using the product?
Heathrow installed the product in 2003 and acted as our original case study, but we have spoken to many airports of different sizes, and currently operational ones as well as gateways in various stages of construction. Belgium’s Brussels Airport, Austria’s Klagenfurt Airport and the UK’s Humberside Airport have also had installations in the last 18 months.
Some of the current discussions we are having are not only to reduce bird strike but also to protect EWS (ie, reduce evaporation), as the balls also ensure that the EWS can be maintenance free.
Do you have high hopes for any other airports in particular coming on-board soon?
Over the last 10 years, the frequency of bird strikes has increased by 47%, so we are focussed on addressing this by attempting to become more widely known. We have also increased our capacity for production and are currently in conversations with a number of airports to solve their bird strike risk.
So what sorts of airports are you targeting?
Any airports that have any water within 15km of the runway are deemed as hazardous and these are our target market. Some of these have natural water reservoirs and also need to consider protecting the local wildlife in those places – our balls allow local wildlife to still flourish.
Other airports need to protect their EWS or even their run-off systems, and ensure the water is useable while also not posing a risk. One of our current discussions is looking at a combination of solar panels and balls to protect the water not only from birds landing there but also to minimise evaporation, as the airport is in a very warm climate.
In the UK, a big issue is algae and duckweed, so any airports with pumping systems or drainage would need to also protect against this. This is a simple product with multiple benefits.
And why should these airports be specifically interested in bird balls?
The bird balls are targeted specifically at the larger birds that are attracted to open water, such as ducks, geese, herons and migratory species that can cause substantial damage to an aircraft. Whilst the smaller birds such as pigeons, sparrow and starlings that reside in grassy areas are a problem, the risk is less of an issue.
Airports spend millions on bird control methods each year, but the beauty of this system is that it’s a simple product: it’s the only product that prevents a bird landing and everything else is designed to scare a bird away. Then a bird can return. A blanket of bird balls is quite simply not somewhere a bird will be able to use.
Environmental sustainability is also at the core of our business, Firstly, our balls are produced from HDPE, which is one of the most commonly recycled plastics on the planet.
We also don’t waste any plastic in production and we use material that will give the product the longest lifespan, which means they are not single-use but last for 25 years or more.
Other positive aspects are that our method does not cause harm to wildlife and in natural habitats other wildlife can use open water in harmony with a blanket of balls.
What else can you tell us about Euro-Matic and its various product lines?
Established in 1967 in Hungary, Euro-Matic manufactures over 140 different types of hollow plastic balls, selling them internationally with various distribution agreements around the world.
In August 2016, I and my husband Paul King took the UK business over and established new markets.
The number of applications for plastic balls is surprisingly vast. As well as being used on open water such as ponds and reservoirs to stop flocks of birds settling on the water, other uses include: playpen balls for children (and adults); protecting emergency water supplies in large-scale manufacture from clogging up with algae; in reservoirs to stop algae forming, so reducing the amount of chemicals the local water authority has to use and enabling wildlife to flourish; to keep Koi carp ponds and the Koi carp they contain warm in winter; and heating or cooling chemical or water tanks during manufacturing processes for a range of different products.
Plus, every Henry Hoover contains a Euro-Matic ball as part of the valve system.