Bird-repelling grass on offer

Last updated 08:14 25/03/2013
Auckland Airport grounds and wildlife planner Peter Robinson with Avanex grass which keeps birds away from the airport runway.

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A bird-repelling grass designed in Canterbury is being marketed to the world.

Avanex is a grass engineered to lower the amount of insects it harbours while making birds that eat it sick enough to not come back.

A symbiotic fungus that grows within the grass is what the birds and insects can't stand.

It was developed a few years ago after decades of trials funded by PGG Wrightson, the Foundation for Arable Research, Christchurch International Airport and Crown- owned AgResearch through its subsidiary Grasslanz, which owns the patents for the technology.

Tests have shown it lowered bird numbers by 95 per cent on test plots at airports in Christchurch, Auckland and Hamilton.

PGG Wrightson Seed and Grain general manager David Green said a roving technical conference had toured New Zealand to show the grass in different environments and allow potential customers to speak with people using the technology.

PGG Wrightson has the rights to market and sell the grass in New Zealand and around the globe.

About 40 people, mostly from abroad, were taking part in the conference and they were movers and shakers in the field of mitigating bird strike for aviation industries. It was a massive, billion-dollar industry.

"We probably wouldn't get very wealthy if we only had New Zealand as a market, but we see this has good application in many temperate areas around the world and this is the first step in taking it to these markets," Green said.

The feedback from the visitors was "fantastic", he said, and there was a genuine interest in using the grass at airports overseas.

Avanex was not a silver bullet, but would be a strong part of a multifaceted plan to prevent birdstrike, he said.

"The key thing is to get this core group of international people immersed in the technology and we're hoping they will be the catalyst for developing this in those countries."

The grass could be used in parks and sports fields as well, as it had all the usual properties of grass, he said.

Christchurch International Airport chief operating officer Andy Lester said the company had been involved in the project from the start because it realised the benefits of such a product.

About one-fifth of the grass around the airport's runway - roughly 35 hectares - was bird repellent. The effect was noticeable with flocks of birds landing on neighbouring paddocks, but rarely on the Avanex grass, he said.

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Birdstrike was a hazard relative to the size of the birds.

Sparrows hitting a larger plane would not be much of an issue, whereas a flock of canadian geese caused the much-publicised crash of an Airbus A320 into the Hudson River, New York, in 2009.

- The Press

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