Gull numbers 'highest in years' as town to use drones to investigate issue
- Credit: Nick Butcher
A town must "find a way" to live with increasing numbers of gulls after reports of postal workers being divebombed and "constant screeching" keeping people up at night.
As gulls increasingly see their habitats disrupted and move inland, Beccles has become the latest place to see an increase in numbers of the protected species.
Gulls have proven a conundrum for authorities amid increased reports of disturbance, as experts say there is little that can be done to move the birds on, due to their protected status.
Beccles Town Council discussed the rise in nuisance reports at a meeting last Tuesday, hearing reports from residents who are already trying to tackle the issue themselves.
It is now planning to use drones to investigate rooftops around the town - popular nesting sites for the birds.
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It also agreed to ask East Suffolk Council for advice in dealing with the problem.
Gillian Birrell, town councillor, said there had definitely been a rise in gull-related incidents, and that the council needed to explore all options to tackle the issue.
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She added that although it was often an issue that was taken lightly, it had a real impact on people's lives.
"It is about the people that live here and I would say that this year has been one of the worst in terms of the racket from 4am, which then wakes people up," she said.
"We have also heard of businesses leaving food out for gulls, which is well-meaning but a real problem - and we need a joined up approach to stop them spreading.
"There are things we can do as a council, but the bigger picture is that there are private businesses with perfect nesting sites on their roof, and we need them involved too."
A report shown to councillors said a number of residents had been in touch to report increased disturbance from gulls.
The meeting heard how one resident, who has written to East Suffolk councillor Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw, said she had resorted to putting up a fake owl to scare off the gulls.
In their letter, the resident said the gulls were becoming "a real pain" and were bothering guests at their holiday annex in Staithe Court, where the birds were raising young on a neighbouring rooftop.
They said: "We, and visitors to our annex, including the postman, constantly get dive bombed by the parents which is quite scary.
"Almost as bad is the constant screeching which goes on all through the night making it very hard to sleep."
They added: "We're all for sharing our space but these are aggressive pests and we don't want them back again next year.”
But Viola Ross-Smith, from the Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology and an expert on gull behaviour, said it was likely the birds were here to stay.
The gulls have moved inland to find safe sites to nest as natural habitats are disrupted, Dr Ross-Smith said, and once in town they find a plentiful supply of food.
When their young grow up, they then return to these sites to breed.
She said people may have to learn to live with them - with tactics such as fake owls and falconry unlikely to have a lasting impact.
"I think gulls have a bad reputation, but in a particular setting, people love them - the sound of gulls at the seaside is a very British thing, for example," she said.
"But people just don't want them living in their street and squawking at 5am, or pooing on their car. I understand that.
"What people need to do is reduce the appeal of urban areas by not leaving out food waste, but also try and appreciate them a little more."
All species of gull are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.
This makes it illegal to intentionally or, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, recklessly injure or kill any gull or damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.
Beccles has seen problems with gulls before.
In 2009, residents in Gosford Road and Fair Close said flocks of nesting gulls had made a home at the former Fibrenyle factory - and were making their lives a misery.
One said they could be heard screeching from 3am and the colony increased each year.
There were believed to be around 300 at the site.
Others reported feeling like they could not use their gardens due to the noise, and said they did not know who to turn to for help.
On resident said: "The noise is horrific. I don't suppose there's a quiet minute. In the summer I can't have my bedroom windows open - they get up at the crack of dawn and make a hell of a noise and wake me up.
"You go on holiday to the seaside and you expect it but even there you don't have to put up with this many."
How to deal with gulls
Dr Ross-Smith's tips to deal with gulls.
- When you have food, if you stare at the bird it will know it's been spotted, and back off.
- When approaching a bird, if they are getting nervous they tend to make alarm calls and squawk. This might be a sign that they are protecting their nest, so be wary of a dive attack and move away.
- If you have a chick in the garden, best to leave it alone and avoid going near it.
- They are likely to be most protective during the May to July breeding season. Their squawking is often to communicate with the young and ward off threats - such as predators.
- Put food in the bin. If gulls can access food easily, they are more likely to hang around.