Attacks by gulls ruffle feathers in fishing town

Paul Kelbie Scotland Correspondent
Saturday 12 January 2002 01:00

The scenes may not be quite as frightening as those depicted by Alfred Hitchcock in The Birds, but the residents of Fraserburgh want to appoint a gull-buster after a spate of attacks in the Aberdeenshire fishing port.

They have had to put up with the screeching and mess of seagulls for years, but the winged invaders have now taken to dive-bombing assaults on terrified locals.

The decline of the fishing industry, a lack of natural predators and a rise in the easy pickings from junk food have resulted in increasing numbers of seagulls abandoning their traditional cliff-top habitats to nest on buildings in and around the town centre.

The problem will soon peak because the birds become particularly aggressive at the beginning of their breeding season in March.

"Coming up to breeding time the birds become very vicious and loud. They are known to have attacked people and swoop on them and they also create a tremendous amount of mess," said Ian Tait, Aberdeenshire councillor for Fraserburgh East.

"The council has had extra sweeps of the pavement and tradespeople constantly have to clean the mess themselves.

"It might sound amusing to some people, but it's a very serious matter if you have to live with it every day. This is not just a Fraserburgh problem, every coastal community must be suffering. It is a problem which affects all coastal towns up the Moray Firth."

Other north-east towns such as Banff, Peterhead, Ellon and Stonehaven have all been plagued by the large colonies of "feathered rats", which may also spread disease.

Already local planning rules have been introduced to force any new flat-roofed buildings in coastal areas to be equipped with anti-nesting measures, such as netting or wire.

The feeding of pigeons and seagulls has also been banned in Aberdeen in an attempt to discourage the birds and there is a drive to educate people not to discard food and wrappings.

One successful antidote to the seagull menace, the use of a falconer and two birds of prey, had to be abandoned after councillors felt it could lead to road accidents and upset children.

"The results were absolutely outstanding. When the seagulls saw the birds they vanished," said Mr Tait.

"But on further discussion it emerged that this could cause accidents, with drivers becoming distracted. If children saw what happened to the gulls it wouldn't be appropriate."

Now Aberdeenshire Council is appealing for the Scottish Executive to fund an investigation to find a national solution and is looking to appoint a gull-buster who can help private landowners and businesses to prevent the birds nesting.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Aberdeenshire has the biggest concentration of seagulls in the country.

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