Seagulls

In 2015 there was considerable coverage regarding seagulls, their behaviour and possible ways in which they could be controlled and managed to decrease the worrying incidents that seem to be occurring increasingly during the breeding season and summer months.

I have now met with Ministers in Westminster and Cornwall Council locally and thought it would be useful to provide you with an update including information provided by Cornwall Council before this year's season comes around:

Herring gulls (The gull that gives people most cause for concern) can be a real problem to occupiers of buildings for a variety of reasons. The herring gull is a large bird 55 cm (22”) from beak to tail.

Below is some information and practical advice on how best to tackle the problem within the laws that are designed to protect birds.

The problems

Common problems include:

  • Noise caused by gulls calling and more annoyingly the distress call when warning other gulls of a perceived danger.
  • Mess caused by their droppings which foul gardens, people, cars and washing.
  • Damage to property caused by debris from nests and occasional dead chicks blocking gutters and downpipes.
  • Diving and swooping on people and pets, usually when chicks have fallen from the nest onto the ground. The adult birds use this technique in an attempt to drive off potential threats sometimes coming into contact and causing injury.
  • Serious problems occur when the nesting materials and other debris block gas flues; this can have severe consequences if gas fumes are prevented from venting properly.

The law
Most gulls are protected by law from any interference or action to control them. However, in exceptional circumstances licenses can be issued by Natural England to authorised pest controllers to remove nests.  For up to date legislation and advice please refer to the following;

  • DEFRA (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs): 08459 33 55 77
  • Natural England: 08456 00 30 78
  • Further advice can also be found on the RSPB website.

What action can you take?

There are a variety of ways to control herring gulls, some are more effective than others and the costs vary. The council does not support the destruction of herring gulls as a method of control. Experience indicates that the best way to deter herring gulls from nesting on your property is to take the following steps:

1. De-nesting
At the end of every nesting season (usually September) remove all nests and nesting material from your building.

2. Deterrent
Just removing nests will not solve the problem on its own. The birds will build another nest the following spring. The herring gulls must be discouraged from coming back. This can be done by fitting plastic or metal spikes in the nesting and roosting areas of the roof. Wires or netting can also be effective, but may be unsightly if used on prominent parts of the roof. It is important to make sure that all possible nesting and roosting sites on the roof are protected, especially behind chimney stacks.

3. Who should do the work?
There are a number of companies available to carry out proofing. You can find them on the internet, in the local papers, Yellow Pages or Thomson Local.  A licensed contractor to remove a nest can also be found this way.

4. When should it be done?
The best time to de-nest and proof buildings is at the end of the nesting season, usually around September time. If you engage a company to do the job they will advise you further on your particular situation.

5. Who pays?
The responsibility for resolving any problem is yours if you are the owner or occupier of an affected building. Therefore, the cost of any works to resolve the problem will have to be met by the owner or occupier.

6. What about other gulls?
Herring gulls are the most common type of gull to cause problems to buildings and people.

If you believe that the gulls nesting on your property are not herring gulls you can still take the action outlined above to deter them from using your building.

Be careful it is illegal to interfere with the nests of most other types of sea birds as they are protected by law.

The work you do will be most effective if you take advice from professional persons or companies – DEFRA, Natural England or most pest control companies.

More importantly, the steps you take may be more effective if you join forces with your neighbours, and it may keep the cost down. Don’t forget gulls are not only attracted by good nesting sites they need food also!

I met with Cornwall Council who are offering the following advice to householders and businesses to try and head off some of the annual problems caused by seagulls:

‘Every year there are complaints about noise, the mess caused by gull droppings, damage to property caused by nests and, of course, gulls stealing food and even attacking pets and people.

Geoff Brown, Cornwall Council cabinet member for communities says:  “Gulls are often large and can be quite intimidating. As well as the problems they create when scavenging and stealing food, they are at their most aggressive when chicks have fallen from the nest onto the ground. They are extremely protective parents and adult birds will sometimes swoop and dive on people and pets in an attempt to drive off potential threats - sometimes coming into contact and causing injury. There is action that can be taken now by householders and businesses to help head off some of the problems.”

The best advice is to deter them from nesting in the first place.  Just removing nests will not solve the problem on its own. The birds will just build another nest in the spring.

Householders and businesses should arrange to remove all nests and nesting material from buildings now and then discourage the gulls from coming back by fitting plastic or metal spikes in the nesting and roosting areas of the roof.  Wires or netting can also be effective and it is important to make sure that all possible nesting and roosting sites on the roof are protected, especially behind chimney stacks.

Geoff adds: “The steps you take may be more effective if you join forces with your neighbours, and it may keep the cost down. There are a number of companies available to carry out proofing. You can find them on the internet, in the local papers, Yellow Pages or Thomson Local. The work you do will be most effective if you take advice from professional persons or companies – DEFRA, Natural England or most pest control companies.”

Don’t forget gulls are not only attracted by good nesting sites, they need food too so the advice is

  • Don't feed the gulls
  • Don't leave lids off bins
  • Don't put rubbish out too early 
  • Do cover rubbish sacks to prevent attack by gulls or other pests
  • Don't drop litter
  • Most gulls are protected by law from any interference or action to control them. However, in exceptional circumstances, licences can be issued by Natural England to authorised pest controllers to tackle the problem.’

You can also buy reusable seagull proof bags for £3.50 at Cornwall Council’s One Stop Shops. The seagull proof bags hold around three black sacks of rubbish.  They have a secure Velcro fastening, a tie at the back and a weighted base to stop them blowing away after collection.

I hope this information is helpful and will continue to work with residents, Cornwall Council and colleagues in Westminster to ensure this problem continues to be monitored and controlled correctly.