It took a tourist visitor to Bath to point out to me that there is no such thing as ‘a seagull’ while l was performing my duties as a Mayor’s Honorary Guide, and apologising to my little group of sight-seers for the roof-top squawking and chatter from our finely feathered friends.
‘Seagull’ is the common and informal name that has been given to these birds but they are all simply gulls with different names for different species.
To quote the British Trust for Ornithology – from their www.bto.org web-site:
‘Gulls are perhaps the most familiar of seabirds, though many species are not closely tied to the sea or the shore. As a group they are opportunists, able to exploit new food sources readily. This has led, in Britain, to rapidly expanding populations of urban gulls, which are becoming an increasing problem.
They vary in size from the diminutive Little Gull to the piratical Great Blackback, but in almost all species, the underparts are white and the upper parts grey or black (a few species are all white or all dark).’
Having cleared that little matter up – sort of ‘knowing your enemy’ as it were – let’s get onto understanding your ‘enemy’ and the thorny subject of their generally unwelcome residency on the rooftops of Georgian Bath.
From their point of view it’s a much cosier nesting place than a wind-swept, sea-sprayed cliff edge. The traditional nesting grounds where they have to battle with thousands of others of their species for the best little niche to raise a brood.
Bath offers sheltered and safe elevated spaces, with warmth from the buildings below and an environment where your egg won’t roll far if it escapes the nest. The same of course goes for the fledging – when it hatches.
It’s also much closer to a food source. Gulls will eat just about anything, from fish or small rodents to chips, pizza and crisps. A salt-secreting gland enables them to drink either fresh or salt water. They also like company. Colonies are large, densely packed and noisy. Just the right conditions to feel at home and contribute two to three speckled eggs a pair.
The news that the Government is allocating £250,000 for research to be undertaken in how to deal with this ‘plague’ of chattering ‘pests’ is being welcomed by the great and the good of our World Heritage city.
We are not though the only in-land town to have a gulls issue and even in places that are beside the sea – like Torbay and pretty Dartmouth just around the coastal corner – you daren’t hold a vinegar-covered and deep-fried chip too far in the air – to cool it on its way to your mouth – because this canny birds can snatch-in-one with the same skills as a bird of prey honing in on a vole from thousands of feet above its target.
Nesting season is approaching and Bath steels itself for another ‘nightmare’ summer. Unlike our other two-legged guests – the tourist – gulls don’t spend money and they don’t disappear once they have!
I am not going to pretend there isn’t an issue here but l do feel £250,000 might be better spent dealing with the whole issue of rubbish collection.
It’s an old argument l know but it is our fault the gulls are here. They feed from our rubbish. They have grown in numbers as places like Bath have grown. The more fast-food outlets and food scraps scattered across our streets the more for these birds to source.
Remember when we just had galvanised bins with lids outside our houses? When Bath wasn’t full of student accommodation and the pavements were not covered with a scattering of Tesco or Sainsbury plastic bags tossed out for the bin-men last thing at night?
We need a proper system of storage and collection that must apply to everyone in the city – student or family household.
I am not meaning to single out our younger population for a verbal beating but its fair to say that some do have a different attitude to where they live during their university years.
Other householders – family ones and people of more mature years – can be just as bad with disposing of refuse as a last-minute thing.
Isn’t it somebody else job to clear it all up anyway . We just ‘chuck it out’ don’t we? It doesn’t matter what we put it in.
Let’s see B&NES research containers to suite this greener age of recycling and rubbish disposal. I chatted to a fellow coffee drinker in the city today who told me he remembered his grandfather used to put a bit of bleach in the rubbish bag because the birds didn’t like that and it kept them away.
Not such a bad idea maybe – though l doubt if its environmentally sound – and could harm one of the refuse collectors. However, there may be a safe substance that could be sold in powder or spray form that would keep the birds – and four-legged scavengers – away?
All part of the research that is necessary. I don’t want to see people out shooting gulls or trying to hit or kick them. We are supposedly civilised and intelligent people who must find a way of encouraging these resourceful creatures to try their luck elsewhere.
I must say l secretly admire them for their beautiful looks, their ability to spread almost ‘angelic’ wings and fly in circles for hours on thermals currents – and – getting down to business – the way they manage to feed their noisy and demanding families – from under our mucky feet.
Can we have a sensible debate. It’s not about politics or scoring points – it’s about Bath maybe leading the way in a new approach to refuse disposal and recycling and a new community spirit amongst residents of all ages to care about what the city – in which they live – looks like.