Ministers declare war on plague of urban seagulls

Nets, spikes and culling don't work, so scientists are being asked to come up with a definitive solution


They may provide the soundtrack for a trip to the seaside, but the invasion of gulls in towns and cities across the country has created such havoc that they are now routinely branded "rats with wings".

Now the Government is poised to launch a research project that will aim to find a permanent solution for the noise, mess, disease and aggression that blights ever more of urban Britain.

One bid for a study into the eating, nesting and breeding patterns of urban gulls was turned down in June last year, as the axe fell on swathes of government spending. However, the environment minister, Richard Benyon, has now agreed to "look at the research proposal from Bristol University to see if it could deliver new measures to tackle the problem" once and for all.

Total numbers of herring gulls, the most common bird traditionally seen at the seaside, are actually falling, down 60 per cent in the last 30 years. Numbers of the lesser black-backed gull have fallen by 30 per cent in 25 years. As a result, they have been identified as species in decline that need protection. However, in towns and cities their populations are soaring, though not enough to compensate for their overall decline.

Gulls began nesting on roofs in towns and cities in the 1940s, as the post-war boom led to the emergence of landfill sites, as increasing amounts of food were thrown away, coupled with a ban on burning rubbish.

"When I see photos of gulls on piles of rubbish, I don't see the gulls as the problem, it's the rubbish," said Tony Whitehead, a spokesman for the RSPB. "We have got to get a grip of the rubbish problem; it's as simple as that. And we need a more strategic approach to gull-proofing buildings. There is no point simply gull-proofing one or two buildings because they just move elsewhere."

As numbers have grown, a whole industry has emerged promising to drive the birds out of town. Netting for a large roof can cost up to £70,000. But spikes and tension wires on window ledges and plastic decoy birds such as eagles have done little to halt the surge in numbers.

In Bath, tourists and residents alike have been plagued by a colony which at one stage was growing by almost 25 per cent each year. The council spends £10,000 annually on fighting the problem, including using artificial eggs to convince the gulls to settle down and brood, and experimenting with stronger refuse bags.

Don Foster, the local MP who has lobbied the Government for more research, said: "The current methods simply are not working. The problems are getting worse, and unless we understand what it is that makes them so successful, we are not going to be able to find a solution."

The Bristol University research project, expected to last three years and to cost around £400,000, could begin as early as next February, with satellite tracking devices fitted to birds. The gull expert Peter Rock, who will head the research, said: "Gulls are at the high end of animal intelligence. In the past couple of decades the pest control industry has had a fair crack of the whip at offering possible solutions. The fact is they haven't worked. Either we understand what we are dealing with or we continue to spend loads of money to no effect."

But do not expect the team to recommend a cull. "We need to find solutions that are socially acceptable," Mr Rock adds. "Shooting in towns would require an army."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say


Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

Primary General Cover Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Southampton: We are looking for Primary School ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album