Warning not to be 'gull-ible' as lockdown lifting could see birds' return

Two gulls waiting for a person to throw them a chip.

Feeding gulls creates more issues in the longrun. - Credit: EDMUND FELLOWES

People in a seaside town are being reminded not to be 'gull-ible' and feed the birds in a crackdown on the nuisance birds.

Dr Viola Ross-Smith with a gull chick.

Dr Viola Ross-Smith with a gull chick. - Credit: Dr Ross-Smith

Recent years have seen an upturn in complaints about nuisance gulls - whether they are stealing market chips or swooping at startled residents and visitors.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council has long urged people not to feed the gulls deliberately, or by simply not putting leftover food in the bin.

But last summer's coronavirus lockdown took care of the problem on its own, with the town centre staying relatively gull-free.

Now the council is ramping up its campaign again as people return to outdoor life - and the gulls follow.

And bird experts said it is likely the gulls will return to normal life, just as we do.

Dr Viola Ross-Smith, science communications manager for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), based in Norfolk, said: "Gulls are long-lived and pretty adaptable.

"Assuming we go back to normal activities, the gulls will go back to old behaviours as well.

"I do think feeding the gulls - while a lot of people enjoy it - does then encourage and embolden gulls to rely on humans, but that leads to widespread culls.

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"Many gulls are actually a conservation concern. Well-meaning people who feed the gulls, it is worth remembering that it doesn't do the gulls any favours.

"Junk food is no better for the gulls than it is for us."

A lesser black-backed gull calling

A lesser black-backed gull calling - Credit: EDMUND FELLOWES

"Are you feeding the gull problem" is the question Great Yarmouth Borough Council is asking householders as it relaunches its awareness campaign around nuisance gulls. 

The social media campaign highlights the direct link between the act of feeding gulls and the nuisance colonies cause in suburban areas, advising householders “Don’t be #gull-ible.” 

Great Yarmouth Borough Council's new seagull campaign poster

"Are you feeding the gull problem?" The new awareness campaign from Great Yarmouth Borough Council. - Credit: GYBC

The campaign aims to help reduce gull-related disturbances that affect people’s home lives, such as noisy birds keeping people awake in the early hours, messing of cars and laundry, and aggressive behaviour from gulls protecting nests and fledged chicks. 

A leaflet with the same message will also be given to Environmental Services officers to distribute in residential areas when complaints about gulls are received. 

The first report following the original launch of the campaign showed that just over 80% of the complaints were from people advising that their neighbour or other local resident were feeding the seagulls and attracting them to the locality.

A seagull swooping down to land

Gull behaviours are expected to go back to how they were before the lockdowns. - Credit: EDMUND FELLOWES

The remainder of the complaints were associated with seagulls being aggressive during the nesting season.  

Though there has been a large increase in complaints to the council, the emphasis changed from complaints about attacks to complaints about people’s behaviour and feeding the birds.

For example, only six out of the 37 gull related complaints received in the last six months of 2020 were regarding gull attacks.

Penny Carpenter, chair of the environment committee, said: “Gulls are intelligent, social birds who choose to nest together with close access to food. If there is less food about, gulls lay fewer eggs or go where there are richer pickings. 

“This campaign has proven that there was, and still is, an issue of gulls spreading into some suburban areas due to people disposing of waste irresponsibly and unfortunately feeding gulls."

Of the ongoing issue regarding feeding seagulls, Mrs Carpenter said: "It’s important that we continue to educate residents so we can work together to stop the gull problem.”

Another ad for the awareness campaign by GYBC

"Don't be #gull-ible," says Great Yarmouth Borough Council. - Credit: GYBC

The BTO has been providing online ID courses focusing on gulls. "There's a surprisingly big appetite for information on gulls and their species," Dr Ross-Smith said. 

"The more people understand them, the more they can tolerate their less admirable sides.

"If you are eating outside, you do have to keep an eye on them. If you happen to spot them, give them a good hard stare and they should leave you alone."

This was put to the test by reporters two years ago to positive results.

Dr Ross-Smith concluded with some advice on keeping bird attacks to a minimum: "Things like tidying up after ourselves better, regular emptying of bins and securely sealing bags. 

"We can live alongside gulls where they are less antagonistic to people.

"We are in a  bio-diversity crisis, so it is important we live together better."