Page last updated at 21:52 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 22:52 UK

Call to control seagull numbers

Seagulls in Kent
The seagull population is set to grow over the next decade

An MP is calling for action to control the number of seagulls in urban areas, saying they pose a serious problem for residents, tourists and businesses.

Don Foster, Lib Dem MP for Bath, used an adjournment debate in Parliament to call on ministers to take the threat of growing gull numbers seriously.

He said they were anti-social, noisy and in some cases, aggressive.

The Department for the Environment said councils had powers to deal with gulls and urged people not to feed them.

Gulls are among those species of birds which can be killed - by methods including shooting and cage trapping - by authorised individuals on the condition they are satisfied that non-lethal methods are ineffective or impractical.


But Mr Foster said greater clarity was needed about what action individuals and organisations could take against gulls without fear of possible prosecution.

The trend for gulls to settle in city and town centres, for a range of social and environmental reasons, is causing concern.

There have been complaints about them scavenging in bin bags and leaving droppings on buildings and vehicles, and they can become aggressive when their nests are disturbed.

Each bird represents an impressive threat as it hurtles through the sky
Don Foster, Lib Dem MP

In Scotland, a joint central and local government task force has been set up to look at ways of repelling the birds and Mr Foster says the problem is a UK-wide one.

Councils were spending increasing amounts trying to tackle the problem, he said, with little or no impact.

Urban seagulls had simply "taken everything thrown at them in their stride," he told MPs.

Methods used include covering roofs with nets to prevent gulls nesting, replacing their eggs with a stone of a similar colour and employing hawks and other birds of prey to scare them off.

'Draw blood'

However, this merely moved the problem elsewhere, Mr Foster said, and co-ordinated action was now needed.

Gulls were not merely a pest, he said, but there were "many examples" of them attacking pets and, in some cases, people.

He told MPs: "With a wingspan of 4.5ft, adult bodyweight of around 2lbs, a long vicious beak, a flight speed of 40mph and sharp claws that are quick to draw blood in an attack, each bird represents an impressive threat as it hurtles through the sky."

He is calling on Defra to carry out research into the extent of the problem as a means of identifying possible solutions.

Under current laws, it is illegal to kill birds or interfere with their nests although councils can apply for licences to cull certain birds for reasons of public health or to prevent the spread of disease.

Due to their long breeding life and low mortality rates for chicks, it is estimated the population of herring and black-headed gulls could grow from about 270,000 now to more than a million over the next decade.

Mr Foster said his concerns were shared by many other MPs.

"A number of MPs have come up to me and said 'Thank goodness someone is raising it'."

But in the Commons, assistant whip Helen Goodman, standing in for wildlife minister Huw Irranca-Davies, rejected the call to fund more research.

The government recognised that gulls "can be problematic when found in high density in urban areas" and measures needed to be taken but she said funding needed to be targeted and it was "not clear" what benefits new research would bring.

A Defra spokesman said the department provided guidance to councils on how to deal with troublesome birds and allowed them to take action where public health was at risk.

"Culling gulls can be part of the solution, but as with other pests this needs to be teamed with local preventative measures including a responsible approach by all to waste disposal," he said.

The RSPB said the main explanation for the growing gull population was litter levels, and simple steps such as not leaving food out would make a big difference.

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