couple sat on bench as flock of seagulls takes flight

Seagulls – advice and information from Scarborough Borough Council

Scarbourgh Borough Council often receive enquiries about ‘seagulls’, which usually relate to either Herring Gulls or Kittiwakes. These are two species of seabird that breed within our urban areas and consequently may come into conflict with people.

Below is some information and practical advice from the council on how best to tackle the challenges that may arise due to the proximity of gulls and people, within the laws that are designed to protect them. By playing your part you can help us to address some of the issues associated with them by:

  • Never feeding the gulls
  • Never dropping litter – dispose of it in a public bin or take it home
  • Not putting refuse sacks out too early
  • Not overfilling the bin so the lid cannot close

Reporting conflicts between gulls and people

The council have an urban gull incident reporting form which you can use to help them gather information on urban gull interactions with people. Alternatively you can call them on 01723 232323.

It is important that they quantify evidence of the full range of interactions, including instances of gulls being fed or obtaining discarded human food as well as any gull ‘attacks’. Commonly reported issues include:

  • Noise nuisance caused by gulls, including distress calls to warn other gulls of perceived danger
  • Fouling caused by their droppings can be a nuisance on pathways, cars and property but also may pose a health risk near people or food establishments or a safety hazard if gull faeces make steps or pathways slippery
  • Damage to property caused by droppings or debris from nests blocking gutters and downpipes
  • Diving and swooping on people and pets. This can be if the person is carrying food or might be because chicks have fallen from the nest onto the ground and the adult birds might be attempting to drive off potential threats. They may sometimes come into contact with people and cause injury
  • Discarded food waste left in the open or people feeding gulls
  • Overflowing litter bins or open skips from which gulls are obtaining food

Serious issues may occur when debris or nesting materials block gas flues, which can have severe consequences if gas fumes are prevented from venting properly.

Herring Gull disruption programme

We appointed NBC Environment to undertake a one year trial disruption and dispersal programme, which started in March 2017. It focused on seafront and town centre locations in Scarborough and Whitby where evidence from public reports indicated that Herring Gulls were causing a public health or public safety issue . It involved the removal of Herring Gull eggs and nests from buildings in the selected areas and the use of birds of prey such as Harris Hawks and falcons as deterrents.

In December 2017, as the first season of nesting was reviewed, the council agreed to a further two year disruption and dispersal programme, but also including specific seafront locations in Filey as well, to gather more evidence of its impact. Herring Gull disruption activities by NBC Environment will therefore continue during the 2018 and 2019 breeding seasons. If you are aware of problems associated with nesting Herring Gulls in these specific areas, you can report your concerns to NBC Environment by calling 0800 169 9646 between 8.00am and 5.00pm, Monday to Friday.

Differences between Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes

Both Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes belong to the group of birds known as gulls but their ecology and behaviour are quite different. There are differences also in the way the law applies to them so it is important to differentiate between the two species, although both are Red List Birds of Conservation Concern in the UK. The term ‘seagull’ does not discriminate and can give rise to confusion, so it is preferable to use the names of the species themselves or use the term ‘gulls’ where you are unsure. A useful resource for those not familiar with gulls and how to tell them apart is available at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/gulls-and-terns/

Kittiwakes

Small, delicate gulls, which spend most of the year at sea, returning to land only long enough to nest and raise chicks, which they do in colonies on sea cliffs or increasingly on ledges and buildings in coastal towns. Their plumage is similar to the larger Herring Gull, apart from the all black tips to their wing, (as if dipped in ink). The bill is yellow but their feet and legs are black, in contrast to all other species of gulls and terns. Kittiwakes have a distinctive cry which sounds like “kittie-wa-ake” from which their name derives. They feed only on wild food foraged at sea and do not take human food or waste. They are not associated with behaviours such as swooping at humans unless they feel their nests, eggs or hatched chicks are at risk. Kittiwakes nest on window and building ledges, but only in certain places in Scarborough, between Spa Bridge and Sandside. Most often the enquiries to the council about Kittiwakes relate to noise and droppings or deterring them from nesting on these buildings. Their nests may only be removed in the winter when the birds are absent.

Herring Gulls

Large, vocal gulls resident all year round in coastal towns, typically nesting on chimney pots and rooftops, including flat roofs. They are mostly white with grey wings and back. Distinguishing features include pink legs and feet and a yellow, hooked bill with a prominent red spot. Young birds are mottled brown. Herring Gulls are territorial and very protective of their offspring in breeding season. They are quick to exploit alternative food sources such as food waste in litter bins. These natural instincts of Herring Gulls can give rise to incidents reported as ‘gull muggings’, where the birds swoop down at or near people or sometimes attempt to take food that they have spotted. Needless to say feeding the gulls exacerbates this learned behaviour.

During the summer season, Herring Gulls are feeding and protecting their young, and may aggressively seek out food by any means possible. Unfortunately, by feeding the birds, leaving rubbish bags out for collection unsecured and dropping litter in the street, humans have made it easy for them and this is one of the main reasons we are experiencing the problems, particularly in the spring and summer seasons. The council are working with businesses and the general public to combat these problems.

The law

All wild birds, their nests, eggs and chicks are protected by law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981). Even an empty unoccupied nest may not be removed within the breeding season. In practice this means that any measures to proof buildings, clear old nests at the end of the season must be completed in winter. In the case of Kittiwakes, they may return to traditional nest sites as early as February. Removing an old Kittiwake nest once the birds have begun adding new material to it is therefore an offence.

Further advice on urban gulls and the law can also be found on the RSPB website.