A perennial problem for seaside and riverfront towns is the overabundance of seagulls. One complaint we often get in Westover ward, which includes the town centre and the riverside, is ‘what is being done about the seagulls?’
The Government is currently culling badgers and discussing the option of culling feral cats so is it possible the gull population is next or are there steps that could be taken to help us to live in greater harmony with our furry beaked litter redistributing chums? Who hasn’t had a small cute baby seagull fall on top of their heads while walking down Castle street? Are they lovable sweet God’s creatures or are they in fact flying rats that need a good culling??
To find out what is being done and what more could be done we asked Sedgemoor District Councils Environment Department and got the following answers.
Seagulls are a typical feature of coastal or river towns have existed alongside humans for many thousands of years. In the past twenty years or so, Herring gulls, the lesser and greater black-backed gulls are now nesting in suburban areas.
Residents may be concerned about their aggressive behaviour in mating and nesting season, as well as their droppings.
Gulls may live for twenty or more years and start to breed when three to seven years old. Seagulls are at their noisiest during the nesting season which is April to July. The eggs are usually laid in April or May, with the young gulls hatching approximately 4 weeks later and finally leave the nest after another 5-6 weeks. Once a nesting site has been selected, the gulls will continue to return to this location year after year.
Young birds – Gull chicks leave the nest at an early age; it is common to find a chick on the ground, having fallen from its nest. Please leave it where it is. The parents will continue to look after it.
Many people who have gulls on their property find they cause a nuisance. Commonly cited problems include:
- Noise caused by calling gulls and by their heavy footsteps.
- Mess caused by their droppings, fouling on washing, gardens and people.
- Damage to property, caused by gulls picking at roofing materials and by nests which block gutters or hold moisture against the building structure.
- Diving and swooping on people and pets. This usually occurs when chicks have fallen from a nest.
- Blockage of gas flues by nesting materials. This can have serious consequences if gas fumes are prevented from venting properly.
The principal legislation dealing with the control of birds is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Generally, it is illegal to capture, injure or destroy any wild bird or interfere with its nest or eggs. The penalties for disregarding the law can be severe.
The law does recognise, however, that particular species of the common bird, such as the herring gull and lesser black backed gull, can cause public health and safety issues. The law allows measures to be taken against such birds in limited circumstances under a general license from Natural England.
Sedgemoor District Council has no statutory duty to take action against gulls only the owner or occupier of a building can take action against gulls nesting on their buildings. Alternatively they can give someone else permission to act on their behalf i.e. pest control companies. Any action taken must be justified in terms of the law and can include:
- The killing or taking of gulls.
- The damaging or destruction of their nests.
- The taking or destruction of their eggs.
Action taken must be humane. Any inhumane method which could cause suffering would be illegal. The use of poisons or drugs to take or kill any bird is specifically prohibited except under very special circumstances and with a government license.
Most gulls are opportunists and are quick to learn and ready to take advantage of a variety of food sources. In town centres, they obtain substantial food by scavenging from litter bins, rubbish sacks, food debris from fast food outlets and bird food in gardens.
By far the most effective measure involves removing all available food and reducing the attractiveness of nest sites by using physical barriers placed on roofs. This is not an instant solution and requires planning, the commitment of the building owner and action well ahead of the nesting season.
Sedgemoor District Council urges residents not to feed gulls at home, or in areas such as parks and other open spaces.
The public and businesses are asked to ensure litter and other food waste is properly stored and/or disposed of using the bins provided.
There are other various measures for controlling gulls available within the constraints of a general license; the main ones being nest removal, egg removal, egg oiling/pricking/substitution, proofing and education about food sources for gulls.
Building owners can install physical deterrents such as netting, wire or spikes on their buildings.
A natural deterrent such as using falconry for gull control has been used by some areas. However, this tends to only be effective in the short term, whilst the bird of prey is physically in the location.
There are a variety of gull deterrents on the market, but check their effectiveness and suitability for your property and use the services of a professional to carry out the installation. Pest Control Specialists usually include gull nest and egg removal as part of their services. Check the cost of the service before the work is carried out and make sure the company is both licensed and insured to do the work.
What you can do to help:
- Don’t throw the remains of your packed lunch to the gulls; they have their own food sources.
- Don’t be tempted to feed any birds outside cafes, tea gardens or seaside kiosks.
- When feeding birds in the garden, don’t throw loose bread or scraps onto the ground. It could result in a line of noisy Herring Gulls parked on your roof permanently. Confine bird food to wire containers or covered feeding stations.
- Place discarded takeaway/fast food remains into a litter bin, not onto the street.
Sedgemoor District Council does carry out a limited amount of egg removal and substitution in Bridgwater Town Centre. Whilst effective, where there is ready food available, the seagull population will expand to fill a natural vacuum. The most effective way of control is limiting food and prevention of nesting.