Tribute to bird management expert, Nigel Horton

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It is with much regret we have to announce the sudden death of Nigel Horton on 1 December aged 60. Prof Chris Feare, who worked with Nigel for many years at CSL, records this tribute.

Well-known throughout the industry for his expertise within the world of bird management, Nigel died suddenly at his home in Southport. This comes as a big shock, as Nigel attended PestTech on 4 November and was his usual self, chatting and exchanging the latest bit of news with colleagues.

Nigel spent more than 25 years with the UK Government”s Aviation Bird Unit, firstly a part of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Pest Infestation Control Laboratory, which became the Defra’s Central Science Laboratory’s (CSL) (now FERA) Birdstrike Avoidance Team. He undertook research and provided advice on all ornithological aspects of the bird strike problem to aircraft. Throughout his career he spent much time abroad working throughout Europe, the Middle East, SE Asia, East Africa, South America and the South Atlantic.

Nigel was a down-to-earth and practical man, appearing happiest on the airfield or lecturing to aviation personnel, or in the field working on practical studies of birds both in relation to airfield bird management and to other problems caused by birds. He was particularly well known for his work formulating bird avoidance strategy (particularly at airports) along with his work collecting recordings of bird distress calls. The latter form the basis of the digitised broadcasts that are now used on airports worldwide to keep birds and jet engines at a safe distance from each other.

In addition to his field studies, he took on the microscopic examination of feather remains, recovered from aircraft parts that had experienced bird strikes, in order to identify the species involved and thus to estimate their weight. He also took responsibility for safeguarding, the process through which airport managers can object to planning applications that might include a risk of increasing bird numbers in the vicinity of airfields. He was a member of the CAA Safety Regulation Group (part of the UK Birdstrike Committee).


Nigel Horton Nigel Horton 1949 – 2009

Following a period of illness, Nigel retired from government service in 1995 and set-up his own consultancy – NH Bird Management – initially based in Guildford and latterly in Southport. During this period he frequently worked with Scarecrow Bio-Acoustic Systems based in Uckfield, East Sussex, again using his expertise with bird distress calls and how they should be used and also extending his knowledge to other situations where birds can cause problems.

Nigel was never afraid to speak his mind and he combined this honesty with great kindness and generosity. He was always active in social events, helping to cement together people working in small teams, and even applied his knowledge of sound systems and recording to special effect at the laboratory’s Christmas parties! When the laboratory began a project to investigate the biology of the country’s burgeoning population of Canada geese, which required birds to be rounded up for ringing during their annual moult, Nigel arranged for those willing to venture out in canoes to have appropriate safety training. In addition to exercises in Guildford swimming pool, this led to wonderful early summer evenings kayaking along the river Wey, practicing manoeuvres that would be useful in herding geese into traps. Many of these practice sessions also involved passing waterside pubs!

Nigel had an elder brother, Tony. Messages of condolence can be passed to Tony via Tony Walker, managing director of Scarecrow Bio-Acoustics – click here to email him.

Nigel’s funeral was held on 15 December. For those who wish, donations in Nigel’s memory can be made to The Pituitary Foundation, c/o Woking Funeral Service, 119-21 Goldsworth Road, Woking, Surrey GU21 6LR. 

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