Managing the urban gull population

a grey and white gull with yellow legs and feet and a yellow beak tipped with black and red

Urban gulls can be a year round problem for the residents of Cheltenham, but they become particularly troublesome in the approach to the breeding season in early May. During this time the birds' activity increases, and they become noisier and more aggressive in their behaviour. The change in behaviour is particularly noticable once the gulls have laid their eggs and while fledglings are present in the nest. The majority of complaints we receive about gulls are during this period.

In an attempt to control the gull population and stop numbers increasing, we run an annual egg oiling programme. For around two weeks in May, we target accessible nests in the borough, oiling the eggs in the nests to prevent them from hatching. Many nests are reported throughout the year by businesses and members of the public and are added to a register of sites to be looked at before egg oiing begins.

Nesting sites can be reported to pest control on 01242 264310 to inform next year's programme, although this is dependent on factors such as funding. The continuation of the egg oiling programme ultimately relies on funding being secured each year. As a resident or business in Cheltenham there are steps you can take to prevent gulls nesting on your property.


Although more gulls are nesting on the roofs in the town, overall the UK gull population has been going down. There are two main species which cause problems in our towns and cities, the Herring Gull and the Lesser Black Backed Gulls which arrive to breed.

Like all other wild birds, gulls are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, making it an offence to intentionally injure or kill any gull, or to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents. However General Licences issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs allow control measures to be taken where there are public health and public safety concerns.

The law does not permit control measures for gulls if they are causing noise nuisance or simply damaging property.

When gulls are fed regularly it creates an artificially high population and encourages further breeding pairs to take up residence in the area. You are strongly advised not to feed the gulls as this will not only increase the gull population but will also cause unnecessary annoyance to neighbours.

Controlling gulls

Controlling gulls is extremely difficult. The best method is to deny them nesting places on buildings. We have no legal powers to force owners or occupiers of buildings to carry out works to prevent birds from nesting, even if they are causing problems. Experts don’t think that a large scale cull of gulls would be effective.

The responsibility and cost for resolving any gull problems lie with the owner or occupier of an affected building.

Nesting

Gulls like nesting on flat rooftops, chimneys and gullies in sloping roofs. Mating activity will start in February. Eggs are laid from early May onwards (usually two or three in each nest).

The egg takes about three weeks to hatch so the first chicks are generally seen at the beginning of June. The adults become very active and chicks call for food. In July and August when the young gulls fledge, they will become much more noisy. It is quite common for young gulls to fall down chimneys, or off roofs, into gardens or onto the road. By the end of the summer the colony disperses and things quieten down until the next breeding season.

Gulls see humans as a threat and will dive towards humans who go near their young. Normally they swoop down but do not hit you.

Deterrents

Gulls are colonial birds and therefore like to nest together in a large group. Making life difficult for these birds can have good results. It is worth eliminating resting sites using preventative methods such as installing spokes and wires. Netting is also an effective method.

Some building owners may want to prevent gulls nesting on their roofs. The most effective ways involve removing all available food and reducing the attractiveness of nest sites by using physical barriers placed on roof ridges and verges. This is not an instant solution and requires planning, the commitment of the building owner and action well ahead of the nesting season.

Plastic eagle, owls, spikes, covering roofs with close set wires to prevent birds from landing and even hiring falconers and their birds have been used with some success. 

Spikes can be used to prevent gulls nesting on top of chimney stacks, between the post and in the valley behind the chimney stack where it meets the roof.  Wire netting between or around the chimney pots will often deter breeding birds in certain locations. A variety of gull deterrents on the market can be effective when installed by a professional. Pest control specialists usually offer nest removal (when allowed), egg oiling and egg replacement.

It may be necessary to obtain written permissions from the planning department before beginning any works when installing permanent repellent devices on listed buildings.

What can you do?

  • Dispose of litter carefully
  • Plastic bin bags on the street are an open invitation for gulls; always put your household rubbish into lidded bins
  • Do not feed seagulls
  • Take preventative measures; gulls make noise between May and July when they are breeding. If you are disturbed by gulls on your roof or are worried they may block the gas flue, the only long term solution may be to install protective measures to prevent them nesting there in the first place, such as wires, netting or spikes.

There are several companies who are able to offer advice and supply proofing products. Details can be found in a local directory under ‘pest control’, or by using an internet search engine.

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