Fed-up St Andrews residents to give seagulls the bird

Kasmira one of the American Harris Hawks
Kasmira one of the American Harris Hawks

Birds of prey are set to patrol the skies over St Andrews.

South American Harris Hawks are to be introduced into the town centre in bid to scare off the significant number of seagulls which are causing misery to townspeople.

Members of a local residents’ association and other householders have engaged the Angus-based company, Senna Environmental Protection, to bring the hawks into the central area over the next four months in the hope the measure will force the gulls to return to their more traditional nesting and breeding areas.

Fed up locals have taken the environmentally friendly action after years of anguish which has seen the seagull population grow to massive levels, causing damage to vehicles and properties, annoying and keeping people awake at night with their continuous raucous cries and screeching, and, more alarmingly, attacking anyone they consider has ventured too close to their nesting young.

The gulls are at their noisiest and most aggressive during the nesting season in April and May.

Dr Frank Quinault, chairman of the Hope Street Residents’ Association, told the Citizen: ”Over recent years the problems with seagulls has reached epidemic proportions.

They are a real nuisance, with their droppings causing damage to cars, blocking rone pipes and guttering.

“There is also the noise they create in the early hours. It is something we have learned to live with, but visitors often complain about having their sleep disrupted, which can’t be good for tourism.

”There is no doubt that the gulls have become much more brazen and much less fearless and attack anyone who they consider to be threatening their nests.”

His comments were echoed by another town centre resident, Graham Wynd, who added:”Ideally we want to drive the gulls back to their traditional nesting grounds of the cliffs and the sea front.

“During certain times of the year, workmen even refuse to venture on to roofs of properties to carry out repairs etc because of the dangers posed by the birds.”

The initiative is being seen as only an experiment and Fife Council eventually requires to become involved as part of a collaborative programme, say residents.

Dr Quinault added:”There is no simple answer to this problem. Only collective action will work and we will need the council to help. There is also a high proportion of absentee landlords which is an added problem.

”We are prepared to underwrite this pilot project, but it would be helpful if businesses etc would be prepared to contribute.”

Local Fife Councillor Robin Waterston said:”The seagull problem is serious and longstanding, and their level of aggression seems to be increasing. Not only can they wreak havoc with refuse bags and overfilled bins, they also divebomb people on occasion.

“The plan to use hawks to discourage nesting is an excellent idea, and I congratulate the local residents for their initiative. It will be very interesting to find out its effectiveness.

“I would also reiterate that nobody should deliberately feed seagulls, as this only encourages their unpleasant behaviour. Houseowners should also give serious consideration to placing spikes on their chimney heads to make nesting impossible.”

Jim Jamieson, who operates Senna Environmental Protection - a long established vermin control company using modern and traditional methods - said he will use two or three of his hawks in the town centre.

He added:”The idea is to prevent the gulls from building their nests in the central area and move elsewhere.”

Gulls are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which makes it illegal to intentionally injure or kill them, to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.

RSPB Scotland has revealed that some gull species have declined significantly in recent years. The UK herring gull population has fallen by more than 40% since 1970, the black-headed gull population has declined by around 40% since the mid 1980s, while the common gull population has dropped in numbers by more than one-third.

A spokesperson said:“The RSPB acknowledges that some town dwellers find urban roof-nesting gulls a problem. Whilst the use of a captive bird of prey to discourage the gulls from breeding may work in the short-term we would prefer to see properly planned long-term solutions.

“This could include denying gulls access to nest sites in the first place, using physical barriers to stop them nesting, not supplying them with large amounts of food waste to scavenge from and - in the really long term - not designing buildings that lend themselves to becoming gull colonies.”

The Harris Hawk - it has a swing span of up to four feet - is one of the commonest birds used in falconry in the UK, where it was introduced in the 1960s.