Gull swoops: council forced to take action

Action will finally be taken
Action will finally be taken

After months of public concern about dangerous food snatches by gulls, Scarborough Council has finally accepted that action can and should be taken.

A Scarborough News campaign detailed how residents and visitors, including children, were regularly being attacked in the town centre, on the seafront and harbour areas and on the beach.

Families spoke of youngsters being traumatised by the food snatches as the council would only officially repeat that netting on buildings was the answer despite growing clamour, backed by traders and MPs.

This newspaper also had to call for urgent action for town centre shopping pavements to be cleared of the worst-known levels of gull debris.

A council report has now been drawn up and accepts that the situation requires action. It says it can tackle the menace and last season’s over-population of gulls – by bringing in birds of prey to deter the gulls plus other measures. The scheme will run over at least six years and would see specialists removing the nests to “disrupt and disperse” the nuisance.

Cllr Bill Chatt, cabinet member for the environment, said: “I am up for this new proposal. I do think it will be a lot better.

“We want to encourage people to come to Scarborough, have their chips and their candyfloss and swim in the sea, without being swamped by these seagulls.”

He admitted: “They can be quite terrifying to a child.

“When these seagulls are ‘mugging’ people, and upsetting people, we’ve got to try to do what we can.”

The nuisance gulls had been well-documented, with the council starting a record of the number of swoops on residents and tourists, which did not include all the incidents.

The gulls have risen significantly in number and become increasingly problematic in Scarborough’s North and South Bay and Whitby harbour areas.

“I’m told they live up to 30 years, and they’re clever – they have learned a lot,” said Cllr Chatt. “They’ve learned that when a little boy walks out of a chip shop, it’s easy pickings. If they can go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, they will. They aren’t going to go out and start fishing again.”

Residents have reacted to the new action plan. Marti Bowley said: “The plan should be to manage waste better, the bulk of their food is from bins and food left on the street.”

While Hannah Louise Horton proposed: “If people were fined for feeding them instead of just a few warning signs, it wouldn’t be as bad as it is.”

Many place the blame onto residents, like Angela Heritage who said: “It’s our fault for feeding them.”

The action plan sets out measures to tackle the problem. Letters have already been sent to 3,000 businesses, advising them on ‘proofing’ methods to deter kittiwakes from nesting.

And in the lead-up to this year’s high season, the authority proposes to start rolling out more prominent signage for bins, railings and street lamps – even exploring options to print messages on the insides of chip boxes to warn tourists not to feed the gulls.

Key to the plan is the move to employ specialist agencies to disrupt and disperse the gulls, with a starting cost of £36,500 a year from 2017/18.

This process would involve removing herring gull eggs and nests from buildings and bringing in birds of prey such as Harris Hawks and falcons, to deter and scare them away.

Today the council's Overview and Scrutiny Board voted to recommend the measures to the cabinet.