There's been a murmur ... ration: Mystery over Airth's power supply problems solved

A village had been experiencing mysterious interruptions to its power supply until investigations uncovered the real culprits in a shock discovery that would have made Hitchcock proud.

Just like Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic The Birds it was our fine feathered friends who were the baddies in this case, as engineers from SP Energy Networks eventually discovered.

Regular checks on the power lines and investigations into the incidents by experts in Airth all saw no issues to report with the trips, which affected around 50 homes locally, some only lasting minutes at a time.

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With incidents often happening at dusk, lead district engineer Neil McDonald set out to investigate while on his way home and what he found stunned his colleagues back at base.

Stunt flying starlings have been causing power problems in Airth
Stunt flying starlings have been causing power problems in Airth

A swooping mass of thousands of birds akin to the sights seen on a David Attenborough wildlife documentary– or the aforementioned Hitchcock thriller – were dancing around and alighting on the overhead power cables causing them to bounce – and the power to trip – in response.

Neil managed to capture the whole spectacle – known as a starling murmuration – on camera and showed the evidence to his colleagues.

Ross Galbraith, SP Energy Networks district general manager said: “It’s completely breath-taking to watch, although not something we’ve ever experienced before. There’s been several unexplained outages around dusk in recent weeks but given the work we’ve been doing to make sure our network is resilient ahead of winter, we haven’t been able to get to the bottom of it until now."

Neil added: “It was a mass aerial stunt by these amazing birds and in all my 14 years working for SP Energy I have never seen anything like it. For all the birds looked small, the sheer number of them caused the wires to bounce up and down as they danced on and off – there’s actually three wires between those poles and when they clash together, the power will go off for around 10 seconds or so at a time.

“That’s what’s been happening quite frequently, with some of these clashes causing wider damage and longer outages. We’re looking at ways to discourage them from impacting our power lines and will work with the RSPB for the best advice.”

Starlings often gather together to keep warm in the evening and perform their wheeling stunts before roosting for the night.

Toby Wilson, of RSPB Scotland, said: “Starling murmurations are one of the great spectacles of the natural world and can be enjoyed across the UK during the autumn and winter months. I have heard of one or two instances of them causing local issues with power lines but this is the first I am aware of in this area.

“Unfortunately, starling murmurations are becoming a rarer sight, as starling numbers have suffered serious declines over the past few decades due to loss of habit and changing farming techniques affecting food supplies.

“We have a good relationship with SP Energy Networks and have worked together before, although never on a fantastic spectacle such as this. Obviously, we recognise the need to maintain energy networks and hope the birds can be sensitively encouraged to relocate to a suitable, nearby site. We are happy to work with SP Energy Networks to advise on this.”

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