‘They were backing away’ - is this the best way to stop scavenging seagulls pinching your chips?
- Credit: Archant
It's a conundrum the authorities have struggled to successfully solve for years - just how do you keep seagulls away from Great Yarmouth's famous market chips?
From drones to hawk walks, councils across Britain have searched far and wide for the best way to get to grips with the menacing gulls.
Now scientists believe the answer lies in an old-fashioned stare down.
It seems the birds - depicted in a borough council campaign wearing bandit-style eye-masks - don't like eye contact.
Gary Gladden, 81, from Horsford, visits Great Yarmouth regularly and put the tactic to the test on the Market Place.
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"It seemed to work because they were backing away," he said.
"They're vicious creatures and they've stolen my chips plenty of times.
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"Seagulls are a right nuisance but maybe this is the way to put a stop to them stealing our food."
According to research the would-be feathered thieves are more likely to strike when they can swoop in under the radar, avoiding the gaze of their victims.
Staring at the birds makes them less likely to steal your food, according to the new study, which comes during a summer spike in seagull 'muggings'.
Last month, 77-year-old David Cansick, described the frightening moment he was attacked three times by the same seagull in Great Yarmouth.
For the study, University of Exeter researchers put a bag of chips on the ground and tested how long it took herring gulls to approach when someone was watching them.
They compared this to how long it took when the person looked away.
On average the gulls took 21 seconds longer to approach the food while they were being stared at.
Lead author Madeleine Goumas, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter's Penryn Campus, said: "Gulls are often seen as aggressive and willing to take food from humans, so it was interesting to find that most wouldn't even come near during our tests.
"Of those that did approach, most took longer when they were being watched.
"Some wouldn't even touch the food at all, although others didn't seem to notice that a human was staring at them."
Scott Crawford, from London, also took part in a stand-off with the seagulls on Wednesday.
The 45-year-old was impressed by how effective it was at keeping the birds at bay as he cradled a cone of chips.
The study was published in the journal Biology Letters.