Gulls adapt to urban life in search for top pickings

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The Independent Online

Seagulls that have terrorised coastal resorts for years are fast proving a problem for urban areas as colonies of the voracious birds move inland at an alarming rate.

New research has revealed that the scourge of fishing villages will present a serious problem for most towns in Britain within the next 17 years.

Despite measures to control the booming population of herring and lesser black-backed gulls - such as destroying their nests, wringing the necks of baby birds, deploying robotic raptors and improving rubbish collection - few have shown any sign of success.

In the past two years, an 80-year-old man died of a heart attack after being swooped on by birds in Wales, a woman suffered head injuries and her pet dog was pecked to death in south-west England and, in Scotland, a primary school has had to hire a team of falconers to protect children in the playground.

Now a study by the bird biologist Peter Rock, Europe's leading authority on urban gulls, into the rise of herring and lesser black-backed gulls in Bristol has discovered that in 20 years the city's colony has grown from about 100 pairs to more than 1,200.

"From a gull's point of view, buildings are simply cliff-sided islands, with no predators and lots of food near by," said Mr Rock. "We even provide them with lighting to help them find the top pickings."

The trend is the same in places as far apart as Gloucester and Aberdeen, spurred by the demise of the fishing industry and the opportunity of a richer lifestyle amid urban rooftops. "At breeding time the birds become very vicious," said a spokesman for Aberdeenshire Council.

Without the danger of predators and with an endless supply of food, more city chicks survive each year to become accustomed to urban living. They in turn breed even more birds with less reason to undertake a winter migration.