Seagulls: public start fightback

Seagull menace on the seafront. Picture Richard Ponter 133113e
Seagull menace on the seafront. Picture Richard Ponter 133113e

Fish and chips could be left out and laced with a substance to help stop swooping gulls from ‘mugging’ tourists for food in Scarborough.

The idea was put forward by wildlife management experts at a meeting of the council’s Gull Task Group as part of plans to tackle the town’s growing seabird population.

Based on scientific research, which saw grape juice injected into grouse eggs to stop foxes eating them, it would see a liquid not liked by gulls put into their favourite fast foods, such as chips.

The initiative would form part of a wider strategy, which would see residents and businesses come together to try to combat the gull menace, including:

l Netting on buildings

l Nest and egg removal

l Bird-proof litter bins and refuse sacks

l Education of the public, including no-feeding signage, messages on fish and chip packaging and also information boards.

John Dickson, managing director of NBC Bird and Pest Solutions, which has worked with local authorities across the UK, said: “As it is quite often only a small group of birds responsible for attacking people, you could teach the problem gulls that chips taste horrible.

“Conditioned Taste Aversion is something that is being trialled and the RSPB have piloted it. Although it has not been tried in this situation, I think it’s worth exploring.

“There needs to be a programme of bird management, but you are never going to get rid of all the birds here – and why would you want to? They are synonymous with the seaside.”

Residents and traders called for urgent action at the inquiry at the Town Hall on Tuesday, claiming the birds were damaging tourism and causing a hazard.

Investment manager Nick Taylor said: “They are increasingly becoming quite a nuisance in the town centre. There is definitely evidence of people not coming back to Scarborough because they have been put off by the gulls.”

Members of the task group heard how nesting seabirds can cause a number of problems, including excessive noise and sleep deprivation, fouling, litter and mess from scavenging, attacks by parent birds, damage to property and stealing food.

Environmental health manager Steve Reynolds said the number one culprit was the herring gull, although kittiwakes were also an issue.

He said the problem of seagulls nesting on roofs in Scarborough dated back to 1967 but the council had taken action to curb the populations between 1976 and 1990, when the Ministry of Agriculture refused to grant further licences to use bait. He said that netting of buildings was effective and said various alternatives had been used or considered to reduce the problem.

However, the council has not used any non-lethal control methods to curb the gulls since early 2000, as a result of them failing to prevent the population from growing.

He said: “All local seabirds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and therefore our options are very limited. Natural England has however issued a general licence in relation to herring gulls which permits the use of lethal control methods, but only if there is a proven risk to public health and safety, and provided it will not adversely affect the conservation status of the species.”

But Mr Dickson argued that shooting the birds would not solve the problem.

He said: “Culling is not an option. You could kill thousands and it would just create a void. For every thousand birds in Scarborough, there are a thousand elsewhere that could come and roost in the town.”

Residents and traders, who attended the meeting, said tourists feeding the birds was a major issue, as well as overflowing bins and businesses putting rubbish out too early. The amount of fouling, and noise in the early hours of the morning, were issues also highlighted.

Tom Stephenson, director of Shoreline Suncruisers, who witnessed a man being knocked off his bike by a seagull, said: “I do understand they are part of the seaside but I would ask that we do take action in some way, shape or form.”

Dr John Coulson, a scientist and expert on avian ecology, said in a statement that a combination of measures would have to be put in place in order to get a satisfactory solution.

“It may take 10 years to achieve with the number of gulls in Scarborough,” he said.

The task group will present the evidence to the council’s scrutiny committee on March 9 and recommendations will then go before cabinet and full council. The public can also record views on the issue at until February 17.

So far there have been more than 400 responses to the survey.