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Man vs. Seagulls.

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Huw Williams.By Huw Williams
Urban seagulls are becoming more of a menace. Their numbers are increasing, and no-one knows whatcan be done about them. Huw Williams reports.


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The gulprit - a seagull

A mischievous looking seagull.
USEFUL LINKS

Aberdeen City Council

RSPB Scotland


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Welcome to Aberdeen sign.

How welcome do the Aberdenion seagulls make you feel?
A flock of seagulls.

Seagulls in one of the city parks waiting for lunch.
Do not feed the birds sign.

Are street signs a way of reducing the population of seagulls?
BBC accountants are a funny lot. They once turned down an expenses claim for petrol I bought from smugglers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the grounds that I hadn't got a receipt.

So I'm not sure what they'll think of me paying 30 pence for a bread roll, to use as seagull food.

But I did. And I went and sat on a park bench in central Aberdeen, to see how long it would take the gulls to arrive.

Within less than 10 minutes there were between 30 and 40, swooping overhead, landing on the grass in front of me, and swirling round, caw-ing loudly, and pecking at each other.

"9,500 pairs of seagulls"

Statistics published last year suggest that 25 years ago there were just 55 pairs of seagulls living in urban areas in Scotland. Now there are reported to be around 9,500 pairs.

There are anecdotes from all over Scotland, which illustrate how much of a menace gulls can be. 11 people attacked in the Angus town of Montrose in just one year. A hospital security guard knocked to the ground in Edinburgh. A Member of the Holyrood parliament was dive-bombed as he was out jogging on the Moray Firth. 

There have been many plans of how to deal with them, ranging from the brutal to the bizarre. Some people want a cull. Others have pinned their faith in robotic hawks left on high poles over nesting grounds, to frighten off the sea birds.

"GET RID OF THEM ALL"

I talked to people in Aberdeen about the city's claim to have more urban seagulls than anywhere else in the world.

David Johnstone said: "They're horrible. If there's a black bag left out they spread the rubbish everywhere. They mess everywhere. Get rid of them all."

Elizabeth Taylor told me: "They wake me up at half past one in the morning, with all the noise they make. But I wouldn't like to see them killed."

Grahame Smith added: "They're a hazard and a pest. At this time of year when they've got young, they dive-bomb people." But he acknowledged humans must share the blame. "We've created the problem, by leaving too much food out for them."

"OBVIOUSLY, YOU GET SPLATTERED"

Sarah said: They're horrendous. They're vermin. They attack people. They're a terrible problem, and they're getting worse."

"I've lived in Aberdeen all my life, so I don't really notice them", said Stuart Ford. "They certainly seem to clear up all the junk food people leave lying around"

And Clare Donachie told me: "I've seen them attacking cars - pecking at the bumpers, and at their reflections in the paint-work. And, obviously, you get splattered. That's happened to me a lot!"

CONTRACEPTIVES AND THE COUNCILLOR

Concerns like those have led city councillor Kevin Stewart to call for a clamp-down. But he doesn't want the birds to be killed - he says that would just create a gap, which more birds would move into. But he does want chemical contraceptives administered to them, to stop them breeding. "It worked with pigeons in Venice", he told me, "so we should try it."

You might find it hard to believe, but Gina Ford from RSPB Scotland said that gulls are actually declining in number. But the populations are moving, into towns and cities, because they find it so easy to get food there.

Clamping down on waste on the streets, and fitting bins with lids - as they've been doing in Aberdeen - could help, by cutting off those supplies. But it'll take time before anyone notices a difference. There are still just as many gulls roosting in the city centre, but they do seem to be causing less of a nuisance on street level.

It's expected that the Scottish Executive is soon to award a twenty thousand pound research contract to help identify other strategies that could cut gull numbers.

But what do you think the answer is? E-mail us with your experiences, and suggestions.


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