Saturday 24 June 2017

MP warns over armed vigilantes targeting seagulls

Concerns have risen that seagulls will launch a fresh wave of attacks on Britons as the breeding season hits this spring
Concerns have risen that seagulls will launch a fresh wave of attacks on Britons as the breeding season hits this spring

Menacing seagulls are causing such havoc in Britain that vigilantes are arming themselves with guns and launching their own culls, an MP has said.

Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) said locals have been "wandering the streets" of the picturesque seaside town near the Scottish border to kill the birds.

Her comments come as concerns mount that the scavenger birds will launch a fresh wave of attacks on Britons as the breeding season arrives this spring.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on the "scourge" of gulls, Ms Trevelyan said : "In Berwick-upon-Tweed, my constituency, we are plagued with the seagull problem, to the point that last summer someone took it upon themselves to institute their own cull, which, while appreciated in some quarters, brought the risk that people are having to take the law into their own hands to deal with these really difficult and aggressive birds.

"Which means there are people wandering the streets of Berwick with firearms who really shouldn't be doing so.

"So the impact of that frustration is very, very real."

Attacks by the birds became so bad that in 2015, then-Prime Minister David Cameron called for a "big conversation" about the issue.

Taking up the issue, Tory MP Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) said the birds have attacked pensioners, leaving them needing hospital treatment, and terrorised communities.

He warned that the breeding season hits in the spring and by May, "eggs will be hatching and the gulls become even more aggressive as they seek to protect their young".

He added: "As we head into the summer, we could very well see gull wars on our high streets."

Mr Colvile urged the Government to do more to bring the numbers of seagulls under control.

But he played down reports he is urging a Government crackdown because his friend had his chips stolen by an aggressive seagull while they were out canvassing. The birds, which are increasingly found in Britain's towns and cities as well as by the coast, are a real menace, he stressed.

"This is not a vendetta", Mr Colvile said. "It is an opportunity to ensure that shoppers, residents and tourists feel safe when they are outdoors."

Painting a vivid picture of the harm and menace the gulls wreak, Mr Colvile said: "We see photos in the press of a pensioner with a large cut to her scalp, we read stories about the diving seagull killing a pet dog, things have become so bad and so widely publicised that our former prime minister David Cameron said he wanted a big conversation about murderous seagulls."

The MP told how a man had emailed him to say he had been attacked by a pair of seagulls nesting in his chimney.

"The gulls used their claws and beaks to attack the top of his head, causing quite a large amount of damage and pain", Mr Colvile said.

"And this gentleman, I have to tell you, has got a very bald head."

Mr Colvile said he is not calling for a cull, but called for new measures to be introduced to lower their numbers. This can include introducing dummy eggs seagulls are tricked into thinking are their own and try to care for, proofing buildings and ensuring weekly bin collections, he said.

Labour MP John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) said his constituents have been "blighted and besieged" by the pest.

Pensioners have been attacked and locals have been assaulted by the gulls on their way to the library, he said.

He called for a national seagull summit to tackle the problem.

Several MPs criticised the Government's decision to cancel a £250,000 study into seagulls.

SNP MP Patricia Gibson, whose North Aryshire and Arran constituency includes the seaside town of Largs, said gulls "squabble and squawk" all hours of the day, creating "a racket".

She said: "The world-famous ice cream outlet Nardini's has even warned their patrons not to eat their ice cream outdoors, since the seagulls will soon appear to claim it as their own.

"Indeed, nothing can really be safely eaten on the shorefront without risking life and limb at the hands, or shall I say the beak, of a viscous seagull.

"In my own constituency, a vicious seagull was even bold enough to snatch a £20 note from an unsuspecting visitor's hand, only to deposit that same note some distance down the street when it realised that it wasn't particularly appetising."

SNP MP Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) said her constituency is home to giant seagulls that can terrorise the community.

Gesturing to mimic the size of the giant gulls, she said: "The Aberdeen seagull is the size of a large dog, it is absolutely ginormous, and it regularly gets mentioned.

"People that come to uni in Aberdeen from Glasgow or from elsewhere in Scotland or England are shocked at the size of these creatures because, they are not like normal seagulls, they are ginormous."

Shadow environment minister Sue Hayman said seagulls have become so aggressive in some parts that postmen and women were unable to deliver the mail.

Enterprising council chiefs solved the problem by employing a local falconer who used his hawks to "successfully scare off the seagulls" and the postmen were able to return and deliver the post, she said.

Towns and cities should consider deploying real and fake birds of prey to scare nuisance gulls away, she added.

Environment Minister Therese Coffey said she knows that seagulls can have a negative impact on the communities they inhabit, but this can be tackled by using "common sense" like not feeding them and using bins with secure lids.

She said the Government has commissioned research to look into contraceptives for gulls, and said there are no plans to change the legal protection given to them.

She said: "The current legislation provides sufficient powers to take appropriate action to tackle problems caused by gulls and provides a range of methods that those authorised can use to manage birds humanely."

Central Government will not be providing any extra funding, she said.

Ms Coffey said that while these gulls are "clever folk" she is confident the "menace" can be defeated.

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