After years of growing concerns about noise at all hours of the day, unsightly mess and menacing swoops that have led to injuries a fightback against gulls has now been launched in Elgin.
Specialist crews have been spending months clearing hundreds of nests from rooftops to reduce the size of a new generation of birds taking flight this year.
However, climbing ladders and fending off intimidation from the gulls is only part of the problem as personnel also adapt to the cunning guile of the crafty species.
Elgin gulls learning to outsmart fightback
Moray Council’s gull fightback in Elgin, which is funded by the local common good fund, is the only free scheme of its kind in Scotland for householders.
After a trial in 2019 it was expanded across the town this year as complaints about the birds have soared.
Contractors Specialist Vermin Control have been tasked with clearing rooftops of the nests to prevent chicks from being hatched with up to 400 already removed this year.
However, the gulls have already launched their own defence against the Elgin fightback with some sneaky tricks kept under their wings.
Company director Rob Teasdale said: “Gulls are horrendously smart, they’re cunning as well, you have no idea how cunning they can be.
“They’ve grown to know people go up and take their nests and eggs away so what they do now is they lay two eggs, wait 10 days, and then lay their third – they can only lay three a season so they’re now keeping one back just in case.
“Some people still put false eggs down but they know they’re different so they kick them out, then another gull will come along and use the same nest, then householders will wonder why there are chicks.
“They’ll work in tandem when kids go on lunch at schools with one going high then another coming low when the child drops the food, then they’ll swap about so they all get a share.”
‘The gulls recognise me now’
The sight of gull nests being cleared from roofs has been met with joy from residents across Elgin.
A street in the Pinefield area requested licences as a group and applauded as the crews arrived to end the scourge in the area.
Meanwhile, some residents have been known to sit and watch as personnel scale ladders to see the moment for themselves when the gulls are moved on.
Mr Teasdale has been has been running Specialist Vermin Control for 17 years after learning skills as a game keeper.
After nearly two decades of pitting his wits against the gulls he has developed a reputation amongst the birds with just the sight of his van sparking fear in them.
He said: “They recognise me. We’ve gone to clients in the past to clean nests and all we need to do is drive in and all hell breaks loose.
“I’ve been fouled open and it smells horrendous – it’s grim.
“We go to some distilleries and the place just erupts straight away with birds up to 200ft or 300ft in the sky, you can’t get close to them then.
“They’re not daft, by any stretch of the imagination.”
Close scrapes with Elgin gulls
Aren’t gulls protected?
Yes, herring gulls are protected and the current fightback in Elgin only allow for the clearance of nests and eggs before they hatch.
One the eggs have hatched, which typically happens before the end of July, the birds are not allowed to be touched.
The Elgin gull project uses rules from NatureScot which allow for licences to be granted for nests to be removed where there are public health or safety issues.
The long-term Moray Council project is expected to take several years to coax the birds out of Elgin and back to rural environments.
Moray Macleod, the authority’s acting head of housing and property, said: “It can take up to four or five years for the full benefits to be recognised due to natural behaviours of the gull population.
“Community planning is about public services working together with the community to plan and deliver services that will improve long term outcomes for people.”
However, concerns have been raised by police about people removing nests from rooftops without the necessary licences.
A social media post said: “Numerous reports have been made regarding the removal of Seagull nests and eggs within the Moray area without the relevant NatureScot licences in place.
“Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to recklessly injure or kill any gull, or damage or destroy an active nest, or its contents. It is also illegal to prevent gulls from entering their nests.”
Mr Teasdale added: “We don’t want to persecute the birds. We just want to encourage them back to where they were originally.”
Fightback against gulls in Forres
The success of the gull fightback in Elgin has led to the scheme being expanded to the Pilmuir area of Forres for this year.
The scheme, which is being funded by Forres Common Good fund and local firm AJ Engineering, has been targeted due to two schools being in the area as well as a large housing estate.
The fightback against Elgin gulls has also included schools, council buildings and Moray Council housing.
Forres councillor George Alexander said: “This is very much a one-off trial, in a limited area, which aims to remind residents and property owners in the area that they do not have to live with the scourge of marauding gulls every year, however clearing nests and eggs is not a long-term solution.
“The only long-term solutions lie with property owners who must take action to prevent the gulls from building on their rooves.”
Residents in the eligible areas of Elgin can request a licence to remove a nest from their roof by e-mailing email@example.com or by calling the contractor on 07564 768581.