How the sun could finally rob seaside gulls of their chips

Like Dracula before them, the winged beasts of the Yorkshire coast may find themselves having to succumb to the sun.
A woman is interrupted from eating fish and chips by a greedy flock of seagulls. Picture: SWNSA woman is interrupted from eating fish and chips by a greedy flock of seagulls. Picture: SWNS
A woman is interrupted from eating fish and chips by a greedy flock of seagulls. Picture: SWNS

The seaside’s familiar herring gulls, whose new-found fondness for fish and chips has seen them evolve first into scavengers and then airborne attackers, have for years been a blight along the riviera that stretches from Filey to Whitby Abbey, where Bram Stoker’s fictional creature took flight.

But where warnings and wire netting have failed to keep the birds at bay, nature may yet succeed.

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It won’t be sunlight itself that could do for them but the power of its rays to generate electricity.

A sign warning people about attacks. Picture: SWNSA sign warning people about attacks. Picture: SWNS
A sign warning people about attacks. Picture: SWNS

Scarborough Council, which administers the whole stretch of coast, is considering installing solar-powered litter bins to crush and compress rubbish before the seagulls can get at it.

“It’s not their fault – but they will now go inside bins and pull out what they can – and you end up with litter all over the shore,” said Tony Randerson, a member of the council’s cabinet, who suggested that locals and visitors were “stupid” and “irresponsible” for encouraging the gulls.

“It’s a vicious circle. The more people feed them, the more they grow dependent on human food instead of their natural diet,” he said.

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So-called seagull “muggings” have grown to almost epidemic proportions. A report in 2016 said the birds had claimed 22 victims in the seaside towns of North, in the space of six months.

Scarborough’s overview and scrutiny board heard this week that the number of attacks had since fallen, but Coun Randerson said the likely cause was not that the gulls were better behaved but that people were no longer bothering to count the number of attacks.

“Whether we get the solar-powered bins, time will tell,” he added. “There is a cost element and councils don’t have the cash they did 30 or 40 years ago.”

Neil Robinson, a Green councillor in Scarborough, suggested that locals and visitors be threatened with fines for feeding the birds, under a new by-law.

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“The urban population of gulls has skyrocketed, because we’ve made it easier for them to scavenge for food left by humans than to catch herring,” he said.

“They’re like foxes – they’ve moved from wild environments into urban ones.

“The muggings are a form of behaviour they have learned. At one time they were scared of humans, but they lose that fear when they know there is a reward.”

Asked if fines on tourists would be enforceable, he said: “We do have enforcement officers for parking and other offences.

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“And if we didn’t have dog fouling laws in place, the streets would be covered, like they used to be.

“But the aim would be to discourage people from acting in the first place, not to punish them.”

Rooftop deterrents were unlikely to work, Coun Robinson added. “Unless you cover every building, all you’ll do is displace them.”

The councillors have now approved plans to make some buildings “gull-proof”, and agreed to consider match-funding householders who put their own measures in place.