In Plymouth city centre there was a growing population of over 100 gulls that had habituated the local rooftops for a number of years. Each year these gulls are likely to return to their nesting spot if a reliable food source is available, their young are also likely to return to the area the next year. Modern urban areas are attractive to gulls as they provide plenty of food, water and building rooftops (an ideal replacement from their coastal habitat) are a favourite for night roosting or nesting on.
As the city and local businesses are actively promoting outside dining, the risk from aggressive gulls attacking the public or the fouling on of dining areas makes for an unattractive proposition and lost investment. Additionally this type of gull behaviour can potentially not only result in injury to the public but is a significant health risk due to the gull guano (poo) deposited on seats, tables and pavements.
The problem in the city centre is significant enough that there is the threat of potential litigation from local businesses and the general public.
Plymouth City Centre is one of the largest shopping areas in South West England. The centre is a busy modern pedestrianized area designed for the public to explore and enjoy the attractions, restaurants and entertainment on offer. Nuisance gulls however have had other ideas and have taken up residence creating mess and havoc wherever they go.
Wanting to promote tourism and shopping in the city centre the council had to take control of the problem which has been growing due to a successful gull breeding season. The NBC South West bird control team arrived to devise a plan of action to remove the nuisance gulls from the city centre.
Gull problems are on the increase in the UK and NBC’s bird control teams are the experts in gull biology and behaviour, having dealt with gull problems for over 20 years.
The first step was to identify the main affected areas and the gull nesting locations by completing a one day gull survey. The main thoroughfare ‘Armada Way’ provided an ideal corridor for gulls with multiple outside dining areas on which to swoop. The adjacent roof tops offer the gull’s high vantage points to spot food as well as excellent protection from the elements for nesting and roosting.
The widespread nature of the problem and the number of stakeholders involved meant methods such as netting or spiking would not be suitable. At the time of the survey (July) gull nesting was drawing to a close with the young gulls fledging (developing wing feathers large enough to fly). This meant that the bird control team were unable to implement an egg and nest removal programme which would have prevented the gull population increasing.
The solution implemented meant establishing a ‘predatory’ presence in the area using a falconry response programme. This involved using our in-house trained falconers and Harris Hawks to regularly patrol in Plymouth City Centre to deter the gulls. Due to the young gulls the hawks could not be flown in some areas but were used on a creance (a type of lead). This meant a predatory presence from the gull’s perspective was still present in the streets but the hawk would not endanger the gulls young.
Due to the sensitive nature of the problem our team worked closely with the city council to demonstrate how the falconry response programme would work.
The service is carried out in the shopping areas so there are always plenty of spectators with questions! A council organised press day was scheduled to help the public understand the project objectives. It was a great success attended by the public, local media and press and the team were happy to provide access to meet some of the birds. The team will continue to work with the council in the future as points of local contact will be required where roof access is needed for future gull control.
A gull problem as severe as Plymouth City Centre’s will have no quick and easy fix, it’s complicated due to the wide area it affects and the need to raise awareness of gull behaviour, gull attractants and how they can be dealt with.
Our extensive experience and the initial gull scaring activities demonstrate that effective steps have now been taken to reduce the risk of gull attacks and fouling. Working in such a busy, open and varied environment the team are also mindful that regular health and safety reviews are completed. This means that the team is working not only safely, the public is protected but they work to the highest standards. The team will continue to work with the council, local businesses and the public.