With so much local debate about the ‘seagull menace’ l was interested to pick up and read a booklet Bath and North East Somerset Council has produced called ‘Urban Gulls: How to stop them nesting on your roof’. It is freely available from the Council’s ‘one-stop shop’ in Manvers Street.
I do not live in the centre of the city and my roof – on the edge of the Woolley Valley – is not a nesting ground for gulls. However, l do feel for residents and businesses who have to deal with the mess from birds setting up home on their rooftops.
The booklet describes how spikes, wires and netting can be used to stop the gulls from settling in – and dummy eggs to fool them if they do – but it was the general information about our resident gull population that l found most interesting.
The booklet has been produced in partnership with the Gloucestershire Gull Action Group – so l assume a lot of the information has come from them – but did you know it is reckoned that there are over 1,000 breeding pairs of seagulls within the B&NES area.
The booklet says there was a 5.8% increase in the gull population between 2011 and 2012 in the district – with the main increases seen in the suburbs. However the central wards of Abbey, Kingsmead and Widcombe, still have the highest concentration.
While they might just be gulls to you and me, the two species making Bath their home are actually called the Herring gull (Larus argentatus) and the Lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus).
Apparently there are a number of reasons why gulls are attracted to urban areas but , in the case of our two varieties, they are here to breed.
Rooftops provide excellent nesting sites with protection from the elements and – of course – is well out of the way of predators likes foxes and rodents. The availability of food in the surrounding countryside and from landfill sites means that the survival rate of young chicks is very high.
I was surprised to read the next bit of information. I quote: ‘Although they will take food from discarded rubbish in streets and parks, this is not considered to be a significant factor for their success within urban areas.’
Now l find that one difficult to believe as everywhere l seem to have witnessed gulls pecking their way through flimsy rubbish sacks, but can only pass onto you what l read.
It seems adult birds – 3 years and older – having once bred in a town or city will generally return to the same colony year after year and often to the same nesting site.
‘New recruits (those breeding for the first time) will find a new site and come to the district from as far away as South Wales and Devon,’ says the booklet.
Mating activity starts in February when birds start identifying nesting sites. Courting takes care of March and then April sees nest-building and egg laying. All of this happening above our heads with little impact on us.
It all changes in June when the eggs start to hatch and the parents get down to constant feeding demands. Worse is to come in July and August when the chicks become wandering fledglings. Concerned and protective parents turn aggressive with young chicks falling out of nests and roaming the streets.
By the end of the summer the colony begins to disperse and things quieten down until the next breeding season.
Seems we must understand these gulls are colonial by nature and find it easier to breed in a large group. Birds on the outer limits of this concentrated nursery – or those in satellite colonies – are highly vulnerable and will tend to be those nesting for the first time.
It’s here when preventative measures in making life difficult for the newcomers can pay real dividends.
‘If they are left and become established on your roof, it will become almost impossible to move them on,’ says the booklet. ‘A little forethought in designing-out obvious nesting sites or installing preventative measures can pay significant dividends in later years.’
The booklet goes into detail in suggesting ways of deterring a roof-top gull invasion and you will have to pick up a copy to read the detail. I just wanted to add that it is explained that generally it is illegal to capture, injure or destroy any wid bird or interfere with its nest or eggs.
‘However, general licences issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) allow measures to be taken against certain species of birds on grounds which include the preservation of public health or public safety.’
There is always an opt-out clause in English Law?! Of course public health and safety would benefit from sorting out our rubbish problem within the city centre. More covered litter bins and regular and effective ‘joined-up’ refuse collections might reduce the amount of ‘pavement food’ on display.
Businesses can benefit apparently from a seagull egg replacement scheme operated by the Pest Control Service in Lewis House, Manvers Street. Ring 01225 477563 or 477551. You can email via firstname.lastname@example.org