Council’s £30,000 kittiwake removal scheme may have led to increase in seagulls

Concerns have been raised that a £30,000 project to remove seagull nests from Scarborough Spa Bridge may have increased the number of gulls in the town centre.

A council project to remove the nests of endangered kittiwakes from Scarborough Spa Bridge in December last year cost more than £30,000 and may have contributed to increasing numbers of nesting birds in Scarborough town centre.

A freedom of information request has revealed the project, undertaken by the then-North Yorkshire County Council to remove hundreds of kittiwake nests from the Spa Bridge, cost £30,083.

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While the removal of the birds’ nests and the use of deterrent gel caused outrage among environmental activists, locals in Scarborough have also complained to councillors about the “considerable” noise and droppings from gulls in Scarborough town centre and have called for action to be taken.

The nesting kittiwakes at Scarborough Spa BridgeThe nesting kittiwakes at Scarborough Spa Bridge
The nesting kittiwakes at Scarborough Spa Bridge

Coun Michelle Donohue-Moncrieff, who was cabinet member for the environment on Scarborough Council before the authority was abolished last month, criticised the removal of kittiwake nests as “environmental vandalism” and linked it to increasing gull nesting in the town centre.

The Freedom of Information request also reveals that in April last year, while consulting with Natural England about the removal of kittiwakes from the Spa Bridge, North Yorkshire County Council was aware that the project could lead to birds moving to other locations in the town.

An email sent by the authority states: “As NYCC are relying on a displacement of the birds then we have to accept their movement to other sites within the town.”

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North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for highways and transport, Coun Keane Duncan, said: “The newly-formed North Yorkshire Council will be developing a new gull strategy to ensure we have a renewed and coordinated effort to address issues created by gulls, including excrement and aggressive behaviour, not just in Scarborough but elsewhere on the coast.

“We continue to fund existing initiatives including street cleansing and grant funding to assist residents and businesses with the costs of gull-proofing material. We cleared nests from the Spa Bridge earlier this year at a time when birds were not present and treated the location to prevent their return.

“This was done in response to concerns raised about the damage nesting and roosting birds were causing to the listed bridge structure. This treatment is safe, well-established and has previously been used at other sites in Scarborough.

“Before commencing the work we commissioned an independent habitat regulations assessment and consulted Natural England. The conclusion was that the action would not be detrimental to the wider habitat of the birds, who would find alternative sites along the coast.

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“We have been monitoring impacts since the work and we will consider options for future mitigation if required. We will continue working to address issues caused by gulls along the North Yorkshire coast in a way that is friendly to nature and the environment.”

Seagulls and kittiwakes are an issue of contention for many residents in Scarborough and were the subject of debates at the now-abolished Scarborough Council on many occasions.

Coun Donohue-Moncrieff, the representative for Hunmaby and Sherburn on North Yorkshire Council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Kittiwakes and herring gulls are an integral part of life on the Yorkshire Coast. Irrespective of what humans do, they will seek and find places to nest during breeding season.

“When I was the cabinet member responsible for gull mitigation measures, the advice from our ecology officer was that any measures to prevent gulls from nesting on a building would inevitably result in their moving onto other nearby buildings.

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“Any attempt to prevent nests on Spa Bridge would lead to a significant number of kittiwakes trying to nest in the town centre.

“I find it staggering that the then-North Yorkshire County Council took the decision to engage in this act of environmental vandalism against a species on the red list, despite being advised by Natural England that this would move the problem onto other properties in Scarborough.

“This is a classic case of spending taxpayers’ money to move the problem of bird mess under Spa Bridge onto local business and residential properties.”

While the newly created unitary authority, North Yorkshire Council, has said that it will be developing a strategy to address the impact of gulls, councillors for the area have raised doubts about how much can be done.

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In an email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, one councillor told a member of the public that they would look into concerns but admitted: “We can do very little”.

The authority has said that the public can report street cleaning issues on North Yorkshire Council’s website.