Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Seagull problems and a "token gesture" press release from Highland Council

A recent press release by Highland Council has prompted an article and a sanguine editorial from Iain Bain in this week’s Nairnshire. The editorial is a remarkable piece of prose in its own right and captures eloquently the scene on one of our recent wet days, giving a marker of the time and space in which we now exist with our large winged companions all around us. If you aren’t within reach of a Nairnshire then you can see the Highland Council Press release here.

The Press Release states: “The campaign to raise awareness of the problem of seagulls nesting in urban areas in the Highlands was first introduced in the Highlands in May 2010 by The Highland Council.” Now Nairnites have been concerned about the town’s Seagull population nesting on rooftops since before the turn of the last millennium. Here in Nairn nobody needs to raise awareness of the problem, the problem has been in the face of many residents for quite a while. Iain Bain writes:

“The present leaflet, just ahead of the time when the chicks will fall out of the nests and create a problem as their parents aggressively defend them, is a token gesture. Don’t expect the local authority to do anything more.”

Iain is quite right about that, at last the Highland Council admits there is a problem and then puts out a leaflet telling us what we already know. I suppose it helps keep their press officer in a job. In August 2008, after years of the seagull problem being passed as a political football between local and central government the Scottish Government announced that they were going to try to do something about it and announced:

“The formation of a new team to help deal with the nuisance of seagulls has been announced today. The Seagull Task Force will shortly begin looking at ways in which gulls can be prevented from nesting and how nests can be effectively destroyed.
Action will begin on the ground next spring with Dumfries acting as a pilot.” More details here.

This observer had a quick google to see if there was any indication of how the pilot scheme was getting on in Dumfries. There was little to be found but it emerges that if you have seagulls on your roof in Dumfries you will get more than a leaflet from the local authority to help you:

· “Are gulls nesting on your property?
· Are the gulls causing a nuisance to you or your neighbours?
Then contact Environmental Standards.
We are offering free removal of gull eggs and nests during the breeding period of May – July. The service will be available to all residential premises and business premises in Dumfries and Heathhall, where there have been issues surrounding public health and safety i.e. food stealing, dive-bombing and aggressive behaviour from the gulls.” Full web page here.

Useful you might think, but many town centre residents will know that you will not succeed just by one attempt to remove a nest, you will probably have to continue for at least a fortnight as the seagulls don’t give up that easily and, even after you think you have won the battle, you might come out a few days later to find the birds back in place. This can be a time-consuming and costly business if you have say a property where the nest can only be safely accessed by a cherry picker. Seagull researcher Peter Rock wrote in 2003:

“What seems to be forgotten in this issue is that, for the gulls, successful breeding is far and away the most important aspect of their lives and that their investment in it is considerable. They will not easily relinquish their grasp on a breeding attempt. Dealing with all manner of threats and avoiding them is thoroughly ingrained in the nature of these birds - they have survived in this way for thousands of years. Were there an easy "cure" to this issue, it would already have been discovered and there would be considerably fewer, or no roof-nesting by gulls at all in Britain - or in the other countries where it occurs. Forming sensible - and sensitive - strategies for the management of urban gulls is going to take time and research.” It doesn’t seem if anyone has come up with anything since then. More details from Peter Rock’s research here and more on the historical background to the problem in this Independent article.

It is really hard to see how a way forward can be found unless a squad of at least half a dozen is created by the Highland Council, complete with good ladders and other equipment, to deal with this problem during the nesting season. Provision would have to be found for overtime payments too. The seagull population in Nairn will probably rise even more in the next few years too. Again to quote Peter Rock:

“The breeding season runs from March to the end of July. One attempt is made per season and three eggs are laid. In urban situations, this usually means that pairs will bring off three young each year. Pairing for life adds stability to their breeding patterns and, even if this is only 10 years, a pair could raise 30 offspring. This exceptional breeding success explains the exponential, national growth rate of 13 per cent. It should not be forgotten that to maintain a stable population in any species, including humans, all that is necessary is for each individual to reproduce itself once in its lifetime. Urban gulls are doing far better than this.”

The Herring Gull is protected under the wildlife act and even if shooting or poisoning were possible it would be difficult to accomplish safely in a built-up environment and would affect most of our animal loving sensibilities. There are many active seagull fans in Nairn and they make up a significant minority, yes, not as large as the numbers of swan and duck fans, but they find considerable pleasure in feeding these creatures despite the possible opprobrium of their neighbours. Many visitors to Nairn are also happy to feed the gulls as they quite often come from communities that haven’t been colonised yet and see these birds as part of nature’s seaside beauty. Maybe if the local authority had started to remove nests about twenty years ago instead of waiting until ten years into the new millennium to start issuing press releases we might have been in a different situation today.


Salty the nice seagull said...

As a race humans seem to have mixed opinions of their neighbours. Sometimes unbridled love, other times it’s savage war. We’re no different when it comes to the animal kingdom.
Seagulls have decided to colonise the structures we’ve erected, surely no surprise as tall buildings offer a degree of safety from predators unlike the flat sands of the old bar. The town also offers a degree of shelter compared to a site beside the sea, and our poorly insulated buildings will also offer a degree of heat in the winter.
Cosy in their new man made habitat the gulls have successfully bred year on year out with little to disturb this pattern. But as humans we now seem to have a degree of outrage that these creatures should have chosen to live next to us. There is the noise and the mess, and they will (just like us) try and protect their young. They may gain some of their food from the scraps we leave, but like other sea birds they’re probably having a hard time extracting food from the sea that we have chosen to so mercilessly over fish.
If Dumfries is anything to go by, then I suspect that any efforts to remove the birds from any town will be hugely expensive beyond a token gesture.

The Chinese famously carried out the Great Sparrow War (to their cost), should Nairnites ape this and take to the streets banging pots and pans till the poor birds drop from the skies exhausted?
Live and let live may not be the charitable attitude that many hold when it comes to seagulls but that might be the only real option, they are after all protected creatures

Wander as far as the river and most days you can see people feeding the ducks whilst often comically trying not to feed the seagulls.
This has led to a huge growth in the duck population in recent years but I have yet to read of any complaints with regard this. Perhaps if ducks nested on our roofs it would be a different matter, but for now they don’t. Is that a quack I’ve just heard?

nimby said...

Try,if you get a chance,Salty, to take a wander around Cairn Avenue,Clans Cres in the next few days with a young child or pet dog,or even cycling by see if this may change your opinion,it Certainly has mine about the flying rats

Windaes for all said...

Glad to see Nairnshire staff manage a spare moment to contemplate the world through their brand new fancy windows.

Anonymous said...

poor gulls,they got to eat as well as all other birds,leave them alone they got a right to breed and live just like all other creatures,feed them too
stop moaning