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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Wildlife expert calls for calm in 'gullgate' as clamour for seagull cull grows

Eoghan McNeill

Published 18/07/2014 | 16:31

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A Seagull investigates a  discarded paper bag in Dublin's St Stephens Green .
17/7/14
Pic Frank Mc Grath
A Seagull investigates a discarded paper bag in Dublin's St Stephens Green . 17/7/14 Pic Frank Mc Grath
A Seagull investigates a  discarded paper bag in Dublin's St Stephens Green .
17/7/14
Pic Frank Mc Grath
A Seagull investigates a discarded paper bag in Dublin's St Stephens Green . 17/7/14 Pic Frank Mc Grath
A Seagull investigates a  discarded paper bag in Dublin's St Stephens Green .
17/7/14
Pic Frank Mc Grath
A Seagull investigates a discarded paper bag in Dublin's St Stephens Green . 17/7/14 Pic Frank Mc Grath

A leading conservationist says a cull of seagulls in Dublin is not required, despite a politician saying "they had lost the run of themselves".

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BirdWatch Ireland's Senior Seabird Conservation Officer Dr Stephen Newton says the problems experienced with seagulls is due to people feeding them scraps. 

His comments come after Senator Ned O’Sullivan called for a cull, saying “seagulls had lost the run of themselves,” and were attacking young children.

A caller to RTE's 'Liveline' programme earlier today also called for a “gull cull,” complaining one of the birds “swooped” a hamburger out of his hand on Grafton Street.

Dr Newton is now calling for calm.

“There are one or two pirates or criminals in every society. You can’t tar all seagulls with the same brush,” he said.

Speaking from the Skelligs Rock in Co Kerry, Dr Newton tried to explain the birds’ behaviour.

“I work down here quite frequently and quite often see tourists eating sandwiches and throwing scraps to seagulls. After getting used to this, some seagulls get bolder and braver and try to then take the food for themselves,” he said.

“Animals are timid of man – that’s their nature. When food is involved though, things can change,” he added.

“We’ve overfished our seas. They’re forced to come ashore to look for food,” he said.

Dr Newton said a major problem in dealing with the seagull problem is our lack of knowledge on the species.

“We are in desperate need of a comprehensive study of seagull numbers and behaviour. We last did one in 1999 – 15 years ago – and things have changed since then,” he said.

He called on called on Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly to fund a comprehensive study of Ireland’s seagulls.

“It would seem they’re getting bolder, and indeed there are more of them. We can’t be sure, however. We need to study their feeding habits to try to understand them,” he claimed.

Dr Newton and BirdWatch Ireland oppose the proposed “gull cull”: “Legislation would always guide towards a non-violent solution,” said Newton.

He did concede however, that a cull may be necessary if “all other avenues are exhausted”:

“Reluctantly, we would agree to some gulls being removed from trouble hotspots, if absolutely necessary,” he said.

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