Aberdeenshire Council launches review in bid to tackle the issue of gulls in North-east communities

Aberdeenshire Council has begun a review of the way it tackles the issue of gulls across the region.

Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 10:28 am
Seagulls have thrived in the North-east very much due to the behaviour of people providing them with a food supply.

The move comes in response to continuing complaints relating to gulls from communities across Aberdeenshire, despite the Covid restrictions which were in place last year.

Gulls are doing particularly well in many towns and villages – both in urban and rural areas – because people continue to provide food for them.

That’s permitting them to thrive in an artificial environment with an artificial food supply which is neither healthy for the birds nor our communities.

Problems associated with gulls in both urban and rural areas include noise, aggressive behaviour, fouling and the feeding of gulls.

However, the council’s Protective Services currently have no statutory powers to take action against gulls and can only give advice to members of the public as to how they can help deal with the problem.

Gulls are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which means it is illegal to capture, injure or destroy any wild bird, or interfere with its nest or eggs, unless you have a licence.

Usually, the issue with the gulls starts in March and continues until September while they are nesting on rooftops, although there are increasing numbers choosing to remain in towns all year round.

At present the council employs a programme of egg and nest removal from its own buildings and during the past two years, some 781 nests and 1,528 eggs have been removed from 178 properties. This programme, when combined with gull proofing buildings, has been successful in reducing the number of gulls roosting on public buildings.

Various town centre business groups and property owners have appointed specialist contractors to deliver a sustained programme of egg and nest removal from their buildings. However such privately-funded programmes have had limited success.

Last year there was a significant decrease in the number of general complaints about seagulls which corresponded with Covid restrictions which were applied throughout the year.

Those restrictions significantly reduced seagulls’ access to food and thereby reduced the interaction between seagulls and local communities.

It was also noted that in 2020 there was a significant increase in the number of complaints received regarding feeding of seagulls which may in part have been as a result of residents being in lockdown and being more aware of neighbours feeding seagulls.

Now, in order to fully understand the extent of the issues relating to communities’ concerns regarding seagulls, the review of the council’s strategy for responding to these concerns and engagement with communities has begun.

It will involve discussion with residents, community groups, businesses and local parliamentarians, together with relevant partners including Aberdeen City and Moray councils, RSPB and Nature Scotland.

Careful consideration will be given to all legal options for minimising gull issues which are likely to include potential controls on feeding gulls, waste storage, gull proofing buildings and nest and egg removal.

Councillor Peter Argyle, chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee, said: “While we didn’t see the volume of people discarding unwanted food and containers across Aberdeenshire last year due to lockdown, there has been a distinct and unwelcome increase since we started to return to some kind of normal.

“While there continue to be too many who point the finger at the gulls and say they are a nuisance, in many respects they are not – people are the nuisance.

"We have created both a false environment and false food supply on which they are now thriving which is exacerbated by the unacceptable volume of littering which continues to occur despite all our messaging and education.

"I look forward to the outcome of our review and hope that, together, we can make a real difference within all our communities.”

Vice-chair Councillor John Cox added: “As we have no legislative powers to take action against the gulls, the key to reducing gull numbers lies in reducing their ability to breed and limiting the supply of food.

"I would encourage people to heed the current advice – dispose of all food waste appropriately, do not leave food out for gulls in your gardens and do not feed them in other places where it encourages them to congregate and steal food.”

Advice for residents how they can help includes:

• Do not feed gulls on streets and gardens or drop food scraps, as gulls are scavengers and discarded food encourages the gulls to stay within close proximity to the food source. Dispose of food waste in a responsible manner.

• Property owners can discourage gulls from nesting by erecting deterrent devices on chimney heads and flat roof areas such as spikes and nets.

• You can arrange for an appropriately licensed pest control company to oil or pierce eggs to prevent hatching or have the nest and eggs removed.

• Businesses with netting on their roofs to discourage birds should be aware the netting should be checked daily for any gaps or entangled birds. They should have a way of releasing the birds, without calling the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

More information can be found on the council website at www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/environment/environmental-health/pests.