Town centre businesses could unwittingly have a major part to play in encouraging unwanted gulls, project suggests
Scotland’s seagull problem – particularly in tourist and coastal areas such as St Andrews – could just be the result of human behaviour and businesses leaving bin bags out too early, feeding chicks, or not clearing street tables promptly, according to BID St Andrews, which has commissioned the first study of its kind to look into gull behaviour in an attempt to tackle the problem.
The research, which involves a scientific study of gull and human activity in the town centre, is being carried out by St Andrews University biology students as part of the ‘Clean and Green’ section of the BID St Andrews Business Plan.
Since the end of last month, 22-year-old student Grania Smith has been walking up to 90 miles a week collecting data on the key areas which need to be measured – such as the number and species of gulls, where they’re nesting, what they’re eating, locations of rubbish, and whether the gulls are eating rubbish or food being eaten on the street.
The resulting report, including a ‘hotspot’ and species map, will be instrumental in deciding what BID and its partners will do next to address ‘the gull problem.’
Professor Cresswell, whose biology students are leading the research, said: “Like BID St Andrews and town businesses and residents, we know that conflicts such as gulls nesting and feeding in towns can be important to both the humans and wildlife concerned, which is why it’s important to survey it properly. This is a great first step because you need accurate information to tackle any issue in the most effective way.”
Studies elsewhere in Scotland have found that gulls are long-lived (25-30 years) with complex behaviours and require long-term, flexible management strategies. A key part of urban gull management is careful monitoring and evaluation.
By gathering accurate information at key stages we have a better chance of ensuring future gull management activities are appropriate and deployed and/or adapted to ensure maximum effectiveness.
BID St Andrews says the study will provide baseline data with which to compare the effectiveness of any strategy to control the problem.
Another key success factor is taking a ‘whole-town’ approach – or gulls may simply move from an ‘action area’ to a neighbouring one.
Once Smith’s report has been received, expected to be in October, BID St Andrews will work with an expert to interpret the findings and with all concerned to decide on how best to tackle the gull and human issues identified.
The result will be an Action Plan based on best practice research and management.
Possible solutions could include wider use of the ‘gull-proof’ sacks, which are already being used, and their effectiveness , which is being monitored during the current survey.
A further result, at least for Smith, will hopefully be a good degree result – the research will form part of her dissertation which makes up 50% of her BSc classification.
She said: “I’m very excited to be undertaking research for the gull survey because I’m interested in spatial ecology and conservation, in particular the impact of human activities on nature. It’s great to get practical experience of a real conservation issue as part of my University course.”
“It’s also enjoyable talking to people about the gulls and hearing their stories. I’ve also been mistaken for a traffic warden and a policewoman!”
Lindsey Adam, the BID St Andrews Board member responsible for the Gull Project, said: “An informed, targeted, effective response to this issue is what is needed. It’s really good that we can work with the University on this as a ‘St Andrews project’. To tap into that expertise on our doorstep is ideal and another example of BID St Andrews working collaboratively with its stakeholders. We very much appreciate their help.”
The problems caused by the urban gull population in St Andrews were raised during the BID consultation exercise in 2015 and typically include:
Aggressive behaviour by parent birds
Faecal mess (on cars, people, washing, buildings, streets)
Litter caused by refuse sacks being ripped open
Stealing food from people/outside tables