It was while I was browsing the Internet that I came across the Angling Trust’s website. One of their news articles was about the problem that anglers and fisheries were having with cormorants devastating fish stocks. The article went on to say that they had come up with an innovative idea and had purchased some old realistic mannequins from Germany in order to simulate the presence of more wardens along the riverbank. However, rather than dressing them in the usual greens and browns that the wardens would normally wear, they dressed them in high visibility orange rail clothing. This initially seemed counterintuitive to the wardens, but eventually they came round to the idea. The mannequins have been in place for over two years now, an initially worked well in keeping the cormorants away, but the cormorants are clever birds and after a whole, when the mannequins hadn’t moved for a while, the birds perceived no threat and came back. That’s when I contacted Jake from the Angling Trust and offered my services to animate one of the normally static mannequins. The idea being to reintroduce the birds’s wariness of the mannequins.
After a few conversations we agreed on a date and location, the Hampshire Avon. We had to wait until late January as the river had been much higher than normal; the mannequin I was going to replace was in a sitting pose. The idea was I was to wear his clothing but a recent picture showed this to mot be practical as he had been submerged up to his neck for the last month, and his clothing was in a very poor state. I drove down the day before and met up with Jake in order to orientate myself and get the lie of the land, and the lie was very wet and muddy. We also met the warden and he mentioned that he was planning to change the mannequin’s clothing soon and I thought great, I can wear that clothing first and then we can reclothe the mannequin afterwards. The mannequin was down stream about 30 mins walk away, so we set off, and it was heavy going underfoot.
When we got to the location it was apparent that the mannequin had experienced some extreme conditions. Jake loosened the mannequin from the stake it was chained to, to make it easier tomorrow for me to take the mannequin’s place. Then we made our way back and agreed to meet at 7:30am the following morning. I then found my way to my hotel and tried on the clothing. The clothing was a bit musty so I gave it an air by the radiator.
Next morning I’m awake at 4:00am, the alarm had been set for 5:30, but I decided to get up anyway. As there was nowhere to makeup on site I was planning to do this in the hotel and hope that I didn’t get odd looks from reception. I had a bit of dilemma regarding the makeup, originally the mannequins were flesh coloured but over the years they had faded and now they were bleached completely white. As we weren’t going to replace the mannequin I thought the best option would be to try and look like the current faded mannequin. I then put on the mannequin’s clothing and a green balaclava. I managed successfully to get out through reception without being noticed. The site was about 25 minutes from the hotel and I left just before 7:00 and arrived just before 7:30.
After Jake arrived we made our way to the mannequin’s location. Jake took the old mannequin away and I took it’s place, trying to copy the mannequin’s pose as much as I could. I had been given a starting pistol. After staying still for a while, I noticed a few cormorants starting to circle and checkout the new mannequin. Whenever they came close, I fired a blank shot or two, which kept them away.
All in all the conclusion from the day was that this had been a success. Ideally you’d replace the static mannequins with ones that could move in some way to simulate a real human, and that may be the next step, but until then, they only have me.