At one point or another you’ve probably parked under that tree.

You know, the one where you left your relatively spotless car for a couple hours and returned only to find it a befouled, bird poop-covered mess. Maybe it was just an errant dropping or three — an impolite splatter from a passing friend. On some occasions, the state of your automobile would suggest that a vengeful flock — five, 10, maybe 20 birds — enjoyed a large, multi-course meal together and then decided to defecate, en masse, directly onto your windshield. Not a pretty sight.

The smart thing to do would be not to park under that particular tree again. Perhaps it’s a designated latrine for local sparrows. Or, more likely, your car was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Droppings happen. If you really like parking under that tree, maybe it’s time to invest in a squeegee and a roll of paper towels or new wiper blades. Or better yet, if bird poop is a recurring annoyance, try riding your bike more often. Unless they have excellent aim, birds will have a harder time hitting that target.

Apparently, residents in a well-heeled suburb of Bristol, England, couldn’t be bothered to do any of these things. They've resorted to more extreme measures to prevent birds from eliminating while perched over cars: installing spikes — yes, spikes — on the branches of two popularly parked-under trees.

Birds vs. Bentleys

Sometimes called "porcupine wire," the strips of small plastic spikes found affixed to tree branches in this verdant village are the same kind you might find on a building ledge to ward off pigeons and prevent them from roosting. That’s understandable. But tiny, needle-like barbs on branches … c’mon.

Firstly, it detracts from the natural beauty of the tree itself. When have you ever glanced at a tree and thought gee, that London planetree would look so much better weaponized. Putting spikes on trees is an act of arboreal desecration. Many species have their own natural defenses — if they didn’t want birds perching on their branches, they’d have done something about it eons ago.

Second and most obvious, it’s an incredibly hostile act against our feathered friends. They live in trees. Where else are they supposed to poop?

One local resident tells The Guardian: “The spikes are solely to protect the cars [parked under the trees]. There is a big problem with bird droppings around here. They can really make a mess of cars, and for some reason the birds do seem to congregate around this area.” (The affluent Bristol suburb in question, Clifton, is in close proximity to Clifton Down, a 400-acre expanse of public open space as well as the scenic Avon Gorge, a veritable paradise for local wildlife.)

The resident, who spoke anonymously, goes on to note that residents have attempted less egregious methods of deterring birds from congregating on the trees along Pembroke Road, including installing an owl decoy. But in the end, the faux bird of prey and other tactics “didn’t seem to do anything.”

Another unnamed local points out to the BBC that the spiked trees aren’t totally unfriendly to wildlife — they’re “full of squirrels,” they claim — before bemoaning the dearth of nearby car washes: “It's quite hard to wash cars out here because there's no washing facilities so it's quite a problem for residents.”

Hillcrest Estate Management, which installed the spikes on behalf of luxury car-owning residents, has defended the move: “"Bird detritus can cause permanent damage to the paintwork on cars if not removed promptly and the worst affected leaseholders wanted action taken to try and improve the situation."

A barbed response

Public reactions to the spiked tree branches of Clifton has — understandably — been swift and condemning.

However, as Paula O’Rourke, a local councillor with the Green Party explains, there’s little that can be done from a legal standpoint given that the spike-embedded trees are located on private land.

“However, I will be looking into this at the council,” she says. “Whether allowed or not though, it looks awful and it’s a shame to see trees being literally made uninhabitable to birds — presumably for the sake of car parking. Sometimes it’s too easy to lose sight of the benefit that we all gain from trees and green spaces and from the presence of wildlife around us in the city.”

A spokesperson for the Bristol city council echoes similar sentiments to O’Rourke, noting that because the trees are on private property, authorities cannot swoop in and force Hillcrest Estate Management to remove the spikes, which apparently have been around for some time.

Here’s hoping that a thorough internet shaming does the trick.

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Bird spikes in trees ruffle feathers in England
Affixing spikes to tree branches as a means of preventing cars from being bombarded with bird droppings has understandably caused a stir in Bristol.