Review continues into ‘complex issue’ of urban gulls in Aberdeenshire communities

Aberdeenshire Council is continuing its detailed review of the way it tackles the extremely complex issue of urban gulls across the region.

By Kevin McRoberts
Friday, 21st January 2022, 12:07 pm
Gulls are thriving in many areas of Aberdeenshire because people keep feeding them.
Gulls are thriving in many areas of Aberdeenshire because people keep feeding them.

The move comes in response to continuing complaints relating to gulls from communities across Aberdeenshire including noise, aggressive behaviour, fouling and the feeding of gulls.

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.

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.

Officers plan to present their review on issues relating to gulls at a council meeting in March.

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.

During a meeting of the council’s Infrastructure Services Committee on Thursday (January 20), officers explained that through engagement with a variety of stakeholders including pest control firms, the RSPB, the University of Aberdeen and other local authorities, it has become clear that far more information and consideration is required to develop an effective strategy to manage the interaction between urban gulls and local communities.

There remains considerable doubt regarding previous strategies which have been tried in terms of their longer-term effectiveness. While egg and nest removal may provide immediate respite in a particular area, gulls are very adaptable and there are concerns that this simply moves the problem into other urban areas.

It became clear from initial discussions that the key to developing an effective strategy for responding to concerns regarding urban gulls is to have a better understanding of gull behaviour and the drivers that are causing gulls to move from traditional habitats to urban settings.

Careful consideration is now being 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.

Officers will present their completed review and costed action plan to the Infrastructure Services Committee in March setting out recommendations on how the council will tackle the urban gull issue. One option currently being considered is for a research project to be led by the University of Aberdeen.

Cllr Peter Argyle, chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee, said: “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 – human behaviour leads to the problem. 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 Cllr John Cox added: “As we have limited powers to take action against the gulls, the key to reducing attacks by gulls lies in reducing their ability to breed and limiting the supply of food. 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 – is a step until legislation permits the council to take other action.”

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 Aberdeenshire Council website.