Bird strike

This will be the first ‘post’ in an ongoing series on the topic of the ‘Militarisation of Nature’: this will explore how the military has harnessed or manipulated Nature.

In 1956 a military radar engineer working on the Sussex Downs witnessed the effect of new radars being installed, because of the Cold War, on migrating birds.

Before leaving the UK the birds would normally gather at high altitude, between three to ten thousand feet, spend some time circling chosen landmarks for up to 20 minutes, then disperse. This was a well-known and documented phenomenon witnessed by technical personnel at coastal radar stations.

One day, when testing the new 3 Hz radar with a very fast rise-time and very short duration (similar to pulses today used in digital communications systems) the engineer noticed that the echoes from the flock of birds (mainly Swifts and House Martins) suddenly disappeared from their radar displays. Later the engineers received reports from veterinary sources and other parties that thousands of birds had been found either dead or dying, spread over a wide area.

The specific frequencies and pulse widths used in the 1950’s are no longer used by the military. However, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Simon Best and Cyril Smith, tried to publicise the potential biological hazards of similar frequencies and pulse widths which had become commonly used for civilian broadcasts and telecoms. However, the warnings were overruled by senior members of the fore-runner of today’s Health Protection Agency. Jonathan Mantle, who has been collaborating with the Human Ecological Social Economic project (www.hese-project.org/en).

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