Sleep-deprived residents can have gulls’ nests removed from outside their homes if they are granted a doctor’s note, it has emerged.
A pioneering new gull licence, being trialled by Bath and Worcester councils, is supposed to allow more freedom to help residents who are struggling with gulls nesting near their homes.
But the public must prove that they have needed help from a doctor in order to qualify for action to be taken by local officers, and figures show just a fraction of nests in both cities have been removed.
Sleep deprivation and salmonella-laden gull faeces are not acceptable public health reasons for clearing gull nests without a medic’s note, sources at the councils said.
One nest-removing contractor in Bath said: "Health criteria would be that the seagull is affecting your health to the point that you need help from a doctor. In reality, there are very few cases like this."
Gordon Dugan, a gull control technical officer for Worcester City Council, said: "In one case, a chartered psychologist and trauma consultant was commissioned to produce a report on the impact of gulls on a resident. The problem must be more than nuisance, regardless of how severe or costly that nuisance may be."
Disturbed sleep ‘not good enough reason’
Rebecca Roberts, who has lived in central Bath for 10 years, said: "We thought it was good news when the council said they’d got a new licence to remove nests, and we all filled in their survey about health issues.
"But now we’re being told by Natural England that disturbed sleep or diseased gull faeces are not good enough reasons to have nests removed. I need to get my doctor to write a note saying my health is being affected and I should clean up and disinfect after the gulls to prevent their droppings becoming a health hazard."
The new "organisational licence", devised to allow councils to deal with the gull breeding colonies in cities away from their natural coastal habitats, was meant to act as an umbrella agreement enabling councils to remove nuisance nests without having to apply for individual licenses in each case.
But contractors say they are still having to justify removal on a case-by-case basis, making it difficult for residents and councils to remove nests in time to stop gulls from breeding in close proximity to urban homes and businesses.
Aled Williams, the environmental protection manager at Bath and North East Somerset Council, said the license, granted in April, was designed to "preserve public health or public safety". In Bath, only 20 nests have been removed this year from an estimated 835 breeding pairs, while in Worcester 92 nests have been cleared from 1,072 pairs.
‘Deliberate intention to protect gulls at all costs’
Cllr Alan Amos, of Worcester City Council, said: "I have raised the issue of health before and was told about the completely absurd hoops people have to go through, again which is the deliberate intention of the Government to protect gulls at all costs."
Councils used to have powers to remove eggs under a general license. However in 2019, the rules were changed amid concern about the birds’ falling numbers.
Natural England, the Government’s nature adviser, says herring gulls – the most common type sighted in British urban areas – have fallen in numbers by 60 per cent in recent decades and lesser black-backed gulls by an estimated 48 per cent.
But while their population is falling in their coastal habitats, they are increasingly living in Britain’s cities, leading to clashes with human residents. A survey by Natural England earlier this year revealed that gulls are thriving in city environments. Four fifths of gulls now live away from their natural seaside homes in urban centres.