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Seagulls are "the new public health risk"
Seagulls have 'invaded' urban areas
Seagulls pose an increasing threat to public health, according to experts. But aren't they an integral part of living by the sea?
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Gulls are protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act.

This makes it illegal to intentionally injure or kill any gull, or to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.

However, the law recognises that in some circumstances control may be necessary.

The UK herring gull population has declined by more than 40% since 1970.

The black-headed gull population has declined by around 40% in the UK since the mid 1980s.

The common gull population has declined by more than one-third in the UK since the mid 1980s.

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The issue of seagulls - are they good or bad - has reared its head again, with a warning the creatures could be putting people's health at risk.

Coastal towns such as Torquay, Dartmouth and Dawlish have had an increasing problem with gulls being a nuisance in recent years.

Now, experts say the rapid rise in the number of seagulls in South West towns could be more than just a nuisance.

Gull populations are expected to rise four-fold in the next decade, with an increasing number of attacks on people.

A Don't Feed the Gulls sign
A sign put up by Torbay Council
The rise in urban gulls could be due to landfill sites which are providing easy food and ideal conditions for the gulls to thrive.

The South West Public Health Observatory (SWPHO) held a conference on 'Our Coast and Public Health' in Torquay on 30th November 2004.

And on the agenda was a discussion on gulls being "the new public health risk."

Dr Julia Verne from the SWPHO says the gulls are scavengers: "They are picking up rubbish in towns centres and people are feeding them.

"And the fact that people are feeding them is one of the reasons they are becoming a nuisance in terms of swooping on schoolchildren and trying to take their food."

Food snatching is becoming an increasing problem with the gulls.

Seagulls in Dartmouth
Seagulls making themselves at home in Dartmouth
There have been two fatalities nationally, including one where the person was startled and had a fall as a result, and an 80-year-old man from Anglesey who died from a heart attack after being attacked by gulls in his back garden.

Some experts want the numbers to be controlled, but members of the public in the region have mixed views, with many believing gulls are part and parcel of living by the sea.

One woman said: "It's part of the coastline and if they weren't there you'd miss them."

But another man had a different opinion. "I hate them. They mess all the washing up, they mess every roof they land on and they're spiteful."

One way of reducing gull numbers is by painting the eggs which stops the mother nurturing them. The method is seen as an effective way of dealing with gulls without having to directly cull them.

Article published: 1st December 2004.
Your comments on this story

Sarah from Reading
For heaven sakes leave the gulls alone-humans are becoming much more of a pest than seagulls if you hate them so much move out of the area and get a life.Appreciate nature!!

Susanne Paget Devon
I have found a baby seagull and I'm not sure how to treat it but it's definatley an orphan. If anyone can help me please contact me: phone number 01548580411

Tony from Paignton
Linda says we should learn to adapt. Fine with me. We should adapt to become people who wipe out seagulls. Do you realise tht we are the only species on this planet that favours other species above our own? If I am attacked by a dog, and I try to chase it off in self-defense, I get fined. If my kids get attacked by seagulls, and I fight back, I get fined. If swans attack my dog, then set on me, and I fight back, I get fined. Adapt? We have stopped evolving as a species because we are no longer allowed to react to our environment. There is a law against it, you know.

Tony from Paignton
Seagulls are vicious, spiteful creatures. They attack for no reason [not just for food], they make a helluva racket in the mornings [especially in summer] and they are disease vectors. It's time we had a major cull of them. Torbay Council - please advertise widely the job vacancies for people to perform the cull. I will be first in the queue.

Ben from Watford
'Winged-rats' as my nephew from Salcombe refers to them .. do they actually do anything positive within our ecosystem or do they simply pillage, damage and eat eachother ? I say let's have an offical day when we can clear our skys of these irritating vermin.

Geoff from Seaton
If they were rats we would kill them,as they are becoming like vermin lets do the same.

Phyli from plymouth
re:Alan from Exeter, I think you have completely missed the point, did you not read that we couldn't even go into the garden for fear of being attacked. And as for dogs mess the owners are supposed to clean that up or get fined, so your comment of culling all dogs is quite pointless.

Alan - Ontario.
All wildlife react to the amount of food available, ie; lots of food equals lots of birds/animals. If you want to reduce the number of gulls in your area, stop feeding them and clean up your trash when you leave the area. Remember, if you do not pick up the left over's from your beach party or barbeque the gulls will be only too happy to help you and will be encouraged to produce more young to help them. I wonder why we humans when faced with a problem such as this feel that the best solution is to attack the result and not the root cause?

Alan from Exeter
Re: phyl from plymouth For goodness sake! Seagull mess in your garden? I can't imagine anything worse than god! I walked into work this morning and saw a portion of dog mess on the pavement. Let's cull all dogs as well. Surely you have more important things to concern yourself with than bird mess in your garden. I don't know what makes me feel more sad; reading your email or replying to it.

phyl from plymouth
I think we should cull them and the irresponsible people who feed them. Just this year some idiot across the service lane from us was feeding three young that had fallen out of the nest. Our gardens were covered in mess and you couldn't use the gardens when they were learning to fly as the adults would attack you. Quite honestly they should have been left when they fell out of the nest and maybe the young idiot feeding them should have been culled!!!!! And of course there garden got off scot free with no mess etc, he was even climbing into the garden next door and feeding them there, goodness knows what mess the owners would have had to clean up when they returned.

Linda - Plymouth
Why are we always moaning about something - this time the seagulls - they were here before we were & they have learned to adapt, so why can't we? There are far more worrying threats to concern ourselves. Yes, they are a nuisance, but no more than irresponsible holidaymakers in our towns and the soaring crime rates.

Bob from Torquay
Cull them at the winter time, they are becoming a pest, but then again so are the pidgeons...

Iain from Dawlish
I have tried on many occasion with my young daughter to go to the Brook and feed the ducks, but after a couple of minutes have to give up as i am worried for the safety of my daughter. The gulls completely surround you and have no fear of taking food from a hand. They are a complete nuisance and are becoming dangerous. I also fear for other bird breeds if the figures of the gull population increasing are correct!

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