Scots cry fowl over a new nuisance: the urban seagull

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Once the shrill cry of a seagull was associated with a fresh sea breeze but now it's just as likely to send a shiver through many inner-city communities.

Once the shrill cry of a seagull was associated with a fresh sea breeze but now it's just as likely to send a shiver through many inner-city communities.

Attacks on people, property and pets by gulls drawn away from their cliff-top habitats to urban areas, where food sources are rich, has led the Scottish Executive to launch a parliamentary inquiry.

A £20,000 research contract, announced by Allan Wilson, deputy Environment minister, is expected to begin next month to find a solution that could include a possible cull.

"We want to produce a comprehensive review of the current knowledge on the ecology of the urban gull species in Scotland and why they are attracted to towns, identifying key issues and possible solutions," said a spokesman for the Executive yesterday. The contract is likely to be awarded this month and work is expected to start next month, it won't be completed until next year.

Up to 40,000 gulls live on rooftops across Britain and the average gull takes just 23 minutes to find its daily food requirement.

At least one person has been killed - an 80-year-old Welshman suffered a fatal heart attack after being swooped on by gulls - postal deliveries in one London street had to be abandoned following attacks by a "slightly psycho herring gull", and a primary school in Ayrshire was forced to hire falconers to safeguard its children.

The problem is particularly bad in the fishing communities of north-east Scotland.

In Montrose 11 people were attacked in one year, while other towns such as Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Banff, Ellon, Lossimouth, Stonehaven and Aberdeen have all suffered from the birds, which many experts fear are becoming almost as big a nuisance as rats.

But the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds believes other options should be implemented before a cull is considered. Adam Harper, a spokesman for RSPB Scotland, said: "It's a myth that the number of seagulls are growing. It's just that people are seeing more of them because the birds are being forced from their traditional coastal habitats into towns in search of food.

"Cleaning up the fast-food industry, with the litter that is associated with that, and landfill sites which are presenting the birds with a constant source of food should be looked at before a cull is even considered."

Robotic hawks, netting wire and spiked railings on buildings are failing to drive away the birds, which breed from the age of three and can live to be 40. The numbers of gulls invading towns has continued to increase and so has the risk of them spreading E.coli , salmonella and botulism.

They have also been blamed for damage to buildings as their nests block water pipes and wreck roof insulation. The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (Rehis) is advising householders to clear rooftops of old nests and fitting mesh to prevent seagulls returning.

"Fully-grown gulls have a wingspan of up to 1.6 metres, and they have fearsome beaks. Every year, from April onwards, the birds can become aggressive for several weeks," said Dr David Cameron, Rehis's president, who warned that adult seagulls are capable of causing injury to people.

"Without a licence, it is illegal to kill them or to disturb active nests or eggs, so it is in householders' best interests to take preventative measures.

"People should also discourage gulls from the neighbourhood by ensuring that discarded takeaway foods and household waste are put into secure bins."

But environmental officers in Fraserburgh abandoned plans to use robot peregrine falcons to deter seagulls after the seabirds ganged up on their fibreglass enemies.