‘They don’t rely on chips’ - Great Yarmouth’s gulls desert town centre during lockdown

PUBLISHED: 06:30 04 April 2020

Great Yarmouth's market place. Not a gull in sight. Photo: Archant

Great Yarmouth's market place. Not a gull in sight. Photo: Archant


They are notorious seaside scavengers known for their shrill squawking and love of chips.

The top of Palmers' building - devoid of gulls for probably the first time ever. Photo: ArchantThe top of Palmers' building - devoid of gulls for probably the first time ever. Photo: Archant

But Great Yarmouth’s gulls appear to have gone into their own form of coronavirus lockdown, as these pictures show.

According to Viola Ross-Smith, expert at the British Trust for Ornithology, Yarmouth’s feathered friends will be facing an “adjustment” period brought on by the absence of people in the town centre.

But as a seabird researcher with a PhD in gulls from Cardiff University, Ms Ross-Smith knows these creatures well - and she’s confident that they will not be going hungry.

She said: “Gulls, as a species, eat a whole range of resources.

Great Yarmouth's Golden Mile - again, without any gulls. Photo: ArchantGreat Yarmouth's Golden Mile - again, without any gulls. Photo: Archant

“They eat everything from moles to chips to berries and worms - so as a species they will be fine.

“Because individual gulls specialise in one particular food source, the ones who specialise in chips will probably be raiding dustbins and landfills, since all those food sources are still available.

“I don’t think there is any danger of the seagulls starving to death but it might be that they have to adjust.”

Likewise, Tony Whitehead, from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, called gulls “ever-adaptable creatures”.

Gulls have deserted Great Yarmouth town centre during the coronavirus lockdown. Credit: Sue FeldbergGulls have deserted Great Yarmouth town centre during the coronavirus lockdown. Credit: Sue Feldberg

He said: “There is absolutely no need for anyone to be worrying about the gulls.

“Though a lot of them breed in urban areas, urban colony gulls actually do a lot of their feeding at sea or inland, on things like landfill sites.

“The feeding in town centres, believe it or not, is just opportunism - it is not their main food source.

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“They don’t rely on chips to survive and will definitely be back hovering around the marketplace once people return.”

However, the jury is out on whether breeding in Great Yarmouth town centre will be as vociferous this year as it has been in other years.

Ms Ross-Smith speculated that the gulls who normally feed on chips in the marketplace might not - and she stressed the might - breed this season.

She said: “One thing I think could be a consequence for the gulls - if the food they normally specialise in feeding on is not available - is that they might have to skip a breeding season.”

But Mr Whitehead said that unless there are a selection of gulls who are exclusively fixated on food from the town centre, it’s likely that breeding will go on uninterrupted.

He said: “The only difference is that they’ll be getting all of their food elsewhere and bringing it back to their nests for their young ones.”

Great Yarmouth Borough Council have been dealing for years with the “menace” of gulls that dog the area - which last year triggered an 100pc rise in annual complaints across the local authority.

The council has tried various campaigns designed to stop people littering and feeding the gulls, in an effort to combat increasing numbers breeding there.

But the educational approach has not always been successful.

Despite the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 forbidding their killing, there have been numerous incidents in recent years involving gulls being attacked by people with walking sticks in outpourings of frustration.

Here’s how other places have tackled similar gull problems in recent years:

- In the Belgian seaside town of Blankenberge, food doped with contraceptive pills was left out for gulls. It is believed the birds are more aggressive when providing for chicks, so it is hoped they will be calmer without any young.

- Drones have been deployed in the High Street in Worcester to help locate out of sight nests. The eggs in these nests are being replaced with fake eggs, reducing the numbers of chicks that hatch in the city.

- Fife Council asked people to consider gull-proofing their homes with the likes of chimney guards, roof-edge spikes and netting, to prevent nesting in urban areas.

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