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Aberdeenshire Council turns to university scientists in effort to understand gull adversaries

Aberdeenshire Council has attempted a number of different strategies over the years to tackle the urban gull issue.
Aberdeenshire Council has attempted a number of different strategies over the years to tackle the urban gull issue.

In the eternal battle against the gulls of the north-east, Aberdeenshire Council seems to have picked up advice from Sun Tzu’s Art of War: “Know the enemy, and you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

To that end, the local authority has announced it will be consulting with experts from Aberdeen University in an effort to understand the mindset of the territorial birds.

The institution told councillors at a recent meeting that they would be able to deliver a research project for a four-year PhD studentship, looking into “spatiotemporal patterns” in gull distribution, behaviour and conflict.

It is hoped that the results of the suggested project would help the local authority to reverse their fortunes in a fight that the birds appear to be winning.

In a release sent out today, Aberdeenshire Council admitted: “There remains considerable doubt regarding previous strategies which have been tried in terms of their longer-term effectiveness.

“While egg and nest removal may provide immediate respite in a particular area, gulls are very adaptable and there are concerns that this simply moves the problem into other urban areas.”

What stands in the council’s way?

These efforts have been stymied by a piece of legislation very familiar to those who consider the gulls an irredeemable nuisance: the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

This law made it illegal to capture, injure or destroy any wild bird, or interfere with their nest or eggs, unless you have a licence to do so.

The council’s Protective Services have no statutory powers to take direct action against the birds, and so previous strategies have largely been focused on advising the public to stop feeding them – and advising homeowners and businesses to install deterrent devices such as spikes and nets.

The local authority has said removal of eggs and nests provides only temporary respite. Picture by Jim Irvine

Now, they say they are considering “all legal options” to tackle the issues, including potential controls on feeding gulls, waste storage, gull-proofing buildings and nest and egg removal.

The potential university research would act as one valuable source of information for future strategies, alongside other consultees such as the RSPB, pest control firms and fellow local authorities.

Gulls ‘thriving’ on litter

Councillor Peter Argyle, chairman of Aberdeenshire Council’s infrastructure services committee, said: “While there continue to be too many who point the finger at the gulls and say they are a nuisance, in many respects they are not – human behaviour leads to the problem.

“We have created both a false environment and false food supply on which they are now thriving which is exacerbated by the unacceptable volume of littering which continues to occur despite all our messaging and education.

“I look forward to the outcome of our review and hope that, together, we can make a real difference within all our communities.”

A completed review and costed action plan with recommendations is due to be presented by council officers to the committee in March.

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