Meet Layla Bennett and her ten-year-old Harris Hawk, Hope.

Hope is likely to become a familiar sight in the skies above the Port of Southampton after port owner and operator ABP decided to take a natural approach to pest control.

Experienced hawk handler Layla is part of the expert team from Rentokil Pest Control which has been tasked with keeping the port pest-free for the next two years. She will be flying Hope to scare off nuisance birds from the port estate without causing them any harm.

Southampton is the UK’s number one vehicle handling port, with around 750,000 vehicles passing over the quayside during 2013, and gulls’ feeding habits of dropping seashells from height pose a risk of damaging the ranks of new cars awaiting import or export on the port estate. Hope’s frequent patrols of the sky will deter the gulls from nesting around the port and put an end to the problem.

The bird flying work is just one element of the contract between ABP and Rentokil Pest Control, which will tackle all manner of unwanted visitors to the port and covers all pest species.

The arrangement will also see Rentokil tackle feral pigeons at ABP’s Town Quay and rodents on the port estate as well as monitoring and controlling insects on site.

The contract was awarded after a competitive tender involving four pest control companies. Southampton Port director Nick Ridehalgh said: “The gulls are a genuine problem for our vehicle handling business but we were keen to take an environmentally sound and humane approach to the issue.

“Hawking represents a natural way to drive the birds elsewhere without causing any harm and protect our growing business.”

Chris Turner, safety officer for ABP, said: “When we issued the tenders Rentokil was the only company which came out to assess our site and discuss a way forward with bird flying. Appointing them was a unanimous decision between me, the safety manager and head of port operations.”

John Shipton, of pest control survey at Rentokil Pest Control, said: “We are delighted to be working with ABP Southampton, providing safe and humane methods of pest control to the area.”