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Information On The Gull Problems In Urban Areas

30th March 2014

Photograph of Information On The Gull Problems In Urban Areas

Highland Council Information

Herring Gulls and the Law

Generally it is illegal to capture, injure or destroy any wild bird or interfere with its nest or eggs. The information below is for guidance only and should not be taken to be authoritative legal advice.

The principal legislation dealing with the control of birds is the "Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981".

Only the owner of a building or occupier can take action against gulls nesting on it, or they can give someone else permission to act on their behalf. The Council discourages members of the public from attempting themselves to kill herring gulls which nest on their property. Only licensed contractors with specialist skill and experience are legally allowed to kill certain species of gulls.

The Highland Council has no statutory duty to take action against gulls. However, general licences issued to local authorities in terms of the 1981 Act allow measures to be taken against certain common species of birds (including herring gulls) on grounds which include the preservation of public health and safety. Any action must be humane and the use of an inhumane method which could cause suffering would be illegal.

The use of poisons or drugs to take or kill any bird is specifically prohibited except under very special circumstances and again under specific licences.

Types of gulls

There are several species of sea birds which occasionally nest on buildings:

Kittiwakes - smaller than herring gulls usually nest on steep cliffs.
Fulmars - slightly smaller than herring gull nest in front of large buildings overlooking the sea.

Kittiwakes and fulmars are fully protected under the law. Anyone interfering with them, their nests, or eggs could be committing an offence.
Lesser black backed gulls - common roof nesters, very similar in shape and size to herring gull.

Lesser black backed gulls can be lawfully moved in the same way as herring gulls.
Herring Gull chickHerring gulls are large birds with a wingspan of approximately 3ft. and live for over 20 years.

Breeding pairs commence nest building in early May and two or three eggs are laid in this month. The eggs take about 3 to 4 weeks to hatch so the first chicks appear around the beginning of June.

The chicks grow quickly but do not leave the nest for 5 to 6 weeks. They often fall from the nest and in towns this means they cannot return to the nest. Small chicks will die but larger chicks will be protected and fed by their parents on the ground.

Chicks generally begin to fly in late July or early August and then take 3 to 4 years to reach maturity and breed.
Problems caused by gulls

Noise, caused by calling gulls.
Mess caused by gull droppings, fouling of washing, gardens, people and cars.
Damage to property, caused by gulls picking at roofing materials and by nests which block gutters or hold moisture against the building structure.
Diving and swooping on people and pets. This usually occurs when chicks have fallen from the nest and adult birds attempt to protect them.
Blockage of gas flues by nesting materials can have serious consequences if gas fumes are prevented from venting properly.
Controlling gulls

What licence holders may consider:

Various methods of controlling gulls within the constraints of the licences include: culling; nest removal; egg removal and disturbance of birds.

a) Culling
There is no universal opinion among experts that a large scale cull of birds would be effective and the practical aspects of carrying out a cull in an urban area is extremely difficult within the existing legislation. The Highland Council's stance at the moment is not to undertake any culling.

b) Nest Removal
Nests could be removed, however this would also have to be repeated a number of times during the breeding season as they will rebuild their nest very quickly if it has been removed or destroyed.

c) Egg Removal
Eggs could be removed from nests, however this would have to be repeated a number of times during the breeding season as they will be replaced once they are found not to be viable by the parent birds.

Note - culling, nest and egg removal are all measures which come within the general licences issued to local authorities and any such action must be justified.

d) Disturbance of birds
There is a variety of methods of disturbing or discouraging birds from particular locations including birds of prey, birds scarers etc. For areas within towns none of these methods are successful in the long term.

What individuals may consider:

Proofing of Buildings
Methods of proofing buildings include the use of spikes, nets, or wires. This is the only sure method of preventing birds from nesting on buildings.

Proofing Measures

All owners/occupiers of buildings which have, or may attract roof nesting gulls are strongly urged to install gull deterrent measures suitable to the individual building. Such action may make it possible to reduce or break up colonies of birds. Health and Safety should be considered when requiring access to roofs.

The principal methods of deterrence are:

fitting of spikes to nesting locations such as chimney stacks;
fitting of spikes, contained in a special plastic base to nesting locations such as dormer roofs;
fitting of wires and nets to prevent gulls landing; and
disturbance of nesting sites including removal of nests and eggs.
Chimney guards

These can be fitted to chimney pots to prevent gulls perching on top and can be easily fitted by a competent builder or roofer.

Spikes for roof edges, sills etc

There are several spike systems available which incorporate a stainless steel spike fitted in a plastic base. The spikes and base come as an assembled unit in convenient lengths which can be cut to size. The spikes can be used to prevent gulls nesting on top of chimney stacks, between the pots and in the valley behind a stack where it meets the roof.

Chimney top fixing

The surface to be treated, usually the cement flashing between the chimney pots should be brushed clean with a wire brush. The spikes are then bent into the required shape and placed in position on a bed of mortar. To assist adhesion the use of a PVA adhesive or similar sealant is recommended. These small spike systems may also be useful for protecting small dormer roofs and other similar locations. The usual fixing method is to use screws or where these would damage the structure, proprietary adhesives. Systems of this type can be obtained from specialised pest control companies.

Wiring and netting

These methods may have a use in certain locations. Where birds are nesting on large flat roofs a specialist bird control company should be contacted for advice or quotation. Due to the problems of fixing and the danger of trapping birds in or under nets, the Council considers these methods should always be done by, or after taking advice from a competent specialist.

Disturbance of nesting sites including removal of nests and eggs

Where access is easily and safely obtained, the site is worth checking from mid-April onwards. It is worth checking the nesting site at fortnightly intervals until the middle of June to ensure that if birds return the site is again cleared. If access is difficult a roofing contractor or builder should be engaged.


Gulls are opportunistic and will scavenge waste bins and look for food from the public. Gulls are attracted to areas where food is plentiful.

The public are discouraged from feeding gulls at home as well as in parks and other open spaces.
The public and businesses are asked to ensure that litter and other food waste is properly stored and/or disposed of using bins provided.

Waste - in particular food waste - should be placed out for collection on the day of collection and not the night before.
Controlling gulls is extremely difficult. The best method is to deny them nesting places on buildings.

The Council has no legal powers to force owners or occupiers of buildings to carry out works to their buildings to prevent birds from nesting, nor can they make them take any action against birds that have nested even if they are causing problems.

The Council could not justify, in terms of the general licences available to them, culling or egg or nest removal as there is no evidence that the presence of gulls is affecting public health or air safety.

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