Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 14:31 UK

Asbo gulls tackled by hawk patrol

By Huw Williams
BBC News

Seagulls had been dive-bombing the company's customers
Seagulls had been dive-bombing the company's customers
As local residents, pest-control companies, councils and the Scottish Government gather for a summit on the problem of urban seagulls, one Fife business has taken radical measures to tackle the problem.

Shona Galloway, of Evans Easy Store in Kirkcaldy, said clearing up the seagull poo was "like painting the Forth Bridge".

"You'd no sooner finished than you had to start again," she said.

And at 400 a time, something had to be done.

But it wasn't just the mess.

Seagulls ripped open bin bags; scattered rubbish from skips; made their nests on the building, and even in a covered car park; and were responsible for appalling noise.

They also dive-bombed people coming and going from the company's offices.

"Literally taking food from their hands?" I asked. "That's right," she replied.

Scavenging birds

This is another example of the so-called "yob birds" and "Asbo gulls" we've heard so much about in towns all over Scotland, from the Borders to Aberdeen.

Fife Council estimates that the population of urban seagulls in towns such as Kirkcaldy is rising by 20% every year.

It advises residents to reduce food sources and to discourage people who regularly feed scavenging birds.

But Shona told me she'd decided to take more radical measures.

"We called Elite Falconry, and they bring in a falcon," she explained.

So every two weeks or so Barry Blyther takes a hawk, at the dead of night, and flies it over the company's offices on the Mitchelston Industrial Estate.

Shona Galloway
The falcon flies over, and the gulls scatter everywhere
Shona Galloway

It has to be between midnight and 0400 BST, for health and safety reasons.

The idea is not to catch or kill gulls but to scare them away.

"You can see it on the CCTV," Shona told me.

"The falcon flies over, and the gulls scatter everywhere."

Experts from the falconry firm also remove nests, to discourage the gulls from breeding.

"I wanted a humane solution," Shona explained.

"I didn't want them killed."

But there is some concern from animal rights groups that the Scottish Government might be turning too quickly to lethal control measures.

Pest-control companies

Ross Minnett, from Edinburgh-based Advocates for Animals, says other options need to be explored, such as clearing up the food waste that attracts gulls into towns and making buildings nest-proof.

He said he was also worried that all the advice seemed to be coming from pest-control companies.

"It's in their interests to keep the problem going, rather than solve it," he said.

"That way they keep the contracts coming."

Back in Kirkcaldy, Shona is happy that the falcon is doing the trick.

"After two years I've really noticed the difference," she said.

Scotland's Environment Minister Mike Russell says something has to be done to tackle the problem nationwide.

The hope is that solutions agreed at the meeting in Dumfries will help towns and villages all over the country to tame the menace of the gulls.

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