Editorial: Dumfries experiment seems to indicate Gulls are winning

Sunday Supplement

Our detailed look back on the stories that we have been talking about in Moray…..

A legal menace

I have to confess that when a Seagull decided to camp out on our shed roof several years ago I found it cute – the way it appeared each day at the same time, expecting to be fed alongside the army of starlings, sparrows, robins, pigeons, jackdaws and myriad of other birds.

It did not take us long, however, to realise that this cute guy was the soft lead player in an army of white feathered devils who would stop at nothing to extract every grain of bread – or come to that anything that resembled food.

In the years since I’ve reported on what appears to be a problem that is growing year on year – along with, it seems, the resident gull population who do appear to be reaching numbers that makes you wonder about the endangered species status they enjoy.

Over the last week insideMoray has related some of the literally hundreds of harrowing tales by people who have been attacked by gulls. We are not talking mischievous pecks here – people from babies in prams to pensioners on the street are being subjected to terrifying, all-out attacks by gulls.

Now, if this was person-on-person attacks, few would argue that the police have to be involved. If it were dogs or indeed just about any other animal making the attack, then recriminations would be sought and demands for laws to be changed would be forthcoming.

But these are Gows. Protected species we are told. Nothing the Council can do we are told, our hands are tied.

That may well be factually true – but is it sufficient for us to just accept these excuses and leave our homes with one eye above our heads fearing the next silent attack?

It’s not even as if simply exposing food is a spark for these attacks. Simply walking near one of the many young gulls who trot in the middle of our streets at this time of year is enough for a parent gull to dive-bomb the unsuspecting victim.

So why are they protected?

The first question being asked by many who are victims of gull attacks or who have witnessed them – why are the so precious in the first place that they receive dispensation?

It was in the 1980’s that the protection racket for gulls started via the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. That provided the protection for all species of gull in the UK against their being ‘recklessly injured or killed’.

While the law recognises circumstances where control measures are necessary, it does appear to the general public that local authorities and government agencies are reluctant to act.

Despite the 1981 law in July 2009 the RSPB said that seagulls were to be put on their endangered list, saying that one species – the Herring Gull – had declined in population by as much as a third in the previous decade.

Two years ago the RSPB did admit that populations of gulls were actually increasing in towns and cities – but remained endangered, saying: “While we are seeing an increase in the numbers of gulls in our towns – they are attracted by the easy availability of food and suitable nest sites – overall numbers of many gull species have declined dramatically, particularly herring gulls, which have declined by 50% since 1970.”

A national problem

What is clear is that Seagulls are an increasing national problem that nobody, it seems, is either willing or able to tackle.

The Scottish Government did announce the formation of a special task force in 2008 to look at ways that gulls could be prevented from nesting and how nests could be effectively destroyed.

Then Environment Minister Mike Russell said: “Seagulls are a menace to Scottish towns and cities. They thrive on litter and their aggressive behaviour towards other birds, pets and even people is increasingly problematic.”

The task force started a three-year pilot programme in Dumfries – but two years later the number of gulls had been reduced but was matched by an increase in nesting birds and with that complaints about attacks.

3000 gull eggs were destroyed along with 1500 nests in a single year – and yet breeding pairs nesting in the town increased by 67%.

Experts say that the experiment would need to be running for four or five years before any appreciable decrease might be recorded. The Dumfries experiment has continued, with and ‘free egg and nest’ removal service seeing 3268 eggs and 1777 nest removed last year.

As reported by insideMoray this week our local authority is well aware of the problem and will look closely at any benefits Peterhead gleans from their experiment with a Falconer employed in the centre of that town throughout August.

Few believe that is a solution to this long running issue – and what will be more interesting perhaps is the result from the Dumfries experiment.

If their efforts still show no noticeable decline in gull populations then, it would appear, it is difficult to see what can prevent an all-out war against the aerial menace.

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