South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has called on the Scottish Government to work on a national response to the growing gull problem in town centres.
Complaints about the birds have increased in recent months, with concerns raised about the problem locally within Dumfries but also now in Annan, Kirkcudbright and Stranraer.
Councils currently have no statutory duty or powers to take action against gulls, although some local authorities such as Dumfries and Galloway have used a range of methods such as nest and egg removal and using birds of prey to scare gulls away from problem areas. In Dumfries the nest and egg removal scheme had to be put on hold in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions and new restrictions from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) mean that “preventative measures” must be taken as a condition for a licence for egg and nest removal, meaning it has not yet been reintroduced.
Colin Smyth believes the Scottish Government needs to play more of a role including stronger littering laws that make it an offence to feed gulls and direct support to fund gull proofing on buildings.
Colin Smyth said: “In 2008, then Environment Minister Mike Russell visited Dumfries promising to be tough on seagulls and tough on the causes of seagulls, but it’s certainly been an unlucky 13 years for local people because not much has changed. In fact, the Government has strengthened the protection of gulls.
“Dumfries and Galloway Council has tried birds of prey to scare the gulls away and introduced the egg and nest removal scheme, giving people who have nesting gulls on their roof some respite. Obviously, this was halted during the pandemic and new restrictions from Scottish Natural Heritage put extra conditions on a licence for such a scheme, but it’s important it’s back fully up and running again soon and expanded across the region.
“I think the council will point out they’re not the council’s seagulls and we all need to take responsibility. It was notable during lockdown I received fewer complaints of problems and I suspect that was because the daily food supply of discarded chip bags in our High Streets wasn’t as prevalent and there’s a lesson there. Now things are getting back to normal, the council should look at the regime of bin emptying and appeal again to people who feed the gulls to stop being so irresponsible.
“I tried to introduce a local by-law when I was a councillor making it an offence to feed the gulls and had every legal argument thrown at me to stop, including claims that the current littering laws were enough but that’s simply not the case. I also suggested a planning condition on major developments in Dumfries that required gull proofing and although this was included in guidance this seems to have been quietly removed and rarely used.
“When I speak to Parliamentary colleagues it’s clear the problems are far from unique to Dumfries and Galloway, and local authorities across Scotland are struggling to find solutions. Some would argue that if you get your sandwich nicked when sitting on a bench it’s not the end of the world but if you’re being woken up at 4 am by the noise of screeching gulls, it’s miserable.
“It’s time for the Scottish Government to revisit their promise of 13 years ago and bring people together again to come up with a far better national response, including stronger littering laws and direct support to fund gull proofing on buildings because it’s clear the current strategy just isn’t working and is far from tough on anything.”