September 18, 2007 / 1:03 PM / in 10 years

Banning rice at weddings to keep pigeons away

VENICE (Reuters) - Throwing rice at newly-weds will soon be banned in Venice as the city steps up its fight against pigeons soiling its squares and chipping away at monuments.

The mayor of the canal city is preparing a measure to stop pigeons banqueting outside the central Palazzo Cavalli, where civil weddings are celebrated, municipal police chief Marco Agostini said on Monday.

“Throwing rice at the bride and groom brings hordes of pigeons who then wait around until the next ceremony. The situation has become unbearable,” Agostini told Reuters.

Another measure in the pipeline is a ban on the sale of grain to feed the pigeons in St Mark’s Square, the only place in the city where it is still allowed. But the 18 licensed sellers do not want to go and animal rights activists have also expressed concern.

“The square is not a hen-house and you can’t have pigeon’s droppings all over the place,” Agostini said. “The square is washed and cleaned up weekly but it’s not enough.”

Droppings are only part of the problem.

Authorities say the pigeons are chipping away at the city’s marble statues and buildings by pecking at small gaps in the facades to reach for scraps of food that have been blown inside.

A recent study estimated that cleaning up monuments and repairing the damage caused by pigeons cost each Venetian taxpayer 275 euros ($381.3) a year.

The battle against pigeons is part of a broader campaign to improve decorum and cleanliness in the city, a Unesco World Heritage Site which received nearly 20 million visitors last year.

Since June, stewards have been patrolling St Mark’s Square and other historic sites to slap a 25-euro fine on tourists found laying out a picnic, walking around bare-chested or dropping food wrappers.

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