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Rabbit and pigeon deterrents

Tiffany Daneff / 29 May 2015

Gardening editor Tiffany Daneff defends her garden against hungry rabbits and pigeons, recruiting some very unusual allies in the process.

Rubber snake
A rubber snake tasked with deterring pigeons

How happily I fell asleep the other night, congratulating myself on having won the battle of the flower beds.

Yes, my rabbit-proof fence really is rabbit proof. (There have been plenty of rabbits this year but not one pesky bunny have I seen near the house.) No, the sheep have not managed to step over the low garden wall since I strung across some thin wire. While the one year old plants are bigger, bolder and perhaps that little bit tougher tasting than they were last spring - and all are producing nice fat juicy buds filled with the promise of summer flowers.

But, hello? Was that so hubristic? Apparently, yes. Even with that gentle self congratulation I invited punishment. For with the kind of timing that I refuse to believe is entirely random the very next morning, on wandering outside with a cup of coffee to enjoy the sun and the burgeoning borders, I discovered that something had gobbled the tops of every single flowering stem of the campanulas. (Those, that is, that were not sitting under a wire cloche.)

Insert short digression on the subject of cloches... last year, having spent a lot on new plants, I couldn’t afford to buy wire cloches and, in any case, I wanted to experiment making my own from prickly holly. This year, having tired of the joy of making holly cloches – which is quite a time consuming occupation when you have a lot to make – I decided to invest in a couple of wire ones. Next year I’ll buy two more and so on. They’re not cheap, these things.

Anyhow, back to Tuesday morning. On further investigation – and hugely to my relief - it turned out that only the campanulas had been attacked. But whatever was responsible had made clean cuts straight across the stem about three inches from the tip. There are not many slugs in the border and it was quite a climb so the finger was pointing at the woodpigeons which, it must be said, are looking particularly sleek.

With fat pigeons in mind I brought out the chicken wire tubes I’d resorted to last spring. Not pretty, but effective. The tubes are simply cut-offs from a roll of chicken wire that I pin to the ground with pea sticks, curling in the tops so that I don’t blind myself when bending down to retrieve ping pong balls, as you do.

But, on the advice of a friend, I have also laid down some rubber snakes. Luckily I managed to retrieve these just in time from the charity shop bag. Coincidence again? The week before the campanula catastrophe my daughter and I had had a clear out of toys and decided that the old bag of toy rubber snakes really wasn’t worth keeping any longer. So off to the charity shop they were heading. Now they are patrolling the borders. Not all of them, I am keeping back half a dozen for the veg garden. (Yes, we were rather keen on rubber snakes in our house – perhaps something to do with the herpetologist father-in-law.)

The question is, will they work? On Googling there seem to be plenty of rubber snakes on sale for said purpose and plenty of references to using them but one commentator in the US said they only worked if you regularly move the snakes around. So that’s what I shall do. Of course, for a true test I ought to leave the campanula buds unprotected. But I’m too chicken.

I’d love to hear if anyone else has had success with snakes and if so how and how many? And did you have to move them every few days? Please email me at


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