Bath and North East Somerset are struggling to manage the number of seagulls in central Bath but have been told their “hands are tied” in reduction measures.
There are nearly a thousand breeding pairs of gulls in Bath, with smaller colonies of 183 in Midsomer Norton and 98 in Keynsham.
The council hosted a panel on ‘gull strategy’ where residents told of the worsening problem.
Central Bath resident Tim Newark said: “The noise has got worse throughout my 40 years in the city, this summer was perhaps the worst period. As the temperatures rose to record highs, we could not open our bedroom windows in the hot night because of the ear-splitting racket in the morning from 4.30 am onwards.”
Gulls are protected under law, but in 2019 Bath and North East Somerset obtained an organisation licence from Natural England, allowing them to remove nests and eggs when they could show that nonlethal methods had failed and that it was necessary for public protection.
This allowed the removal of up to 600 nests and 132 eggs but, in the last year, the council only removed 48 nests and 72 eggs.
Aled Williams, the council’s environmental protection manager, said: “That is because it is only in those cases we have been able to satisfy the licensing conditions. Every contact that we get comes across your desk, you interview them, you determine whether you think Natural England would be satisfied, and then decisions are made.”
Nine live chicks were also removed, due to the nest having been reported late. The chicks were caught in fishing landing nets in a manner approved of by Natural England and taken to a wildlife rehabilitation centre, before being released on the Severn Estuary once they had matured.
He added that ‘proofing’ a property, putting netting or spikes around areas where gulls would perch or nest, could have a more long-term effect than removing nests.
Mr Williams said: “I think the beauty of proofing a property as opposed to removing an egg, is that property, once the roof is in that state, will always be proofed, so you don’t have to go back year on year.”
Councillor Grant Johnson asked if anything could be done to reduce the number of gulls, saying: “They are clearly finding other places to rest, hence why we are getting population increases.”
Mr Williams: “I think, whilst we’ve got the organisational licence with Natural England as it is, our hands are tied.”
He added: “If there’s a desire by local authorities, by society generally, then they need to be taken off that list. But that’s not where Natural England is at the moment.”
Mr Williams also told councillors that some people would be opposed to any interference with the gulls. Of the 91 people who got in touch through the council’s webpage on gulls, 22 did so to say to the council that they were not affected by them and did not want to see any actions taken.
A Natural England spokesperson said: “Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are an important part of the English landscape and, like all native birds, are protected by law.
"In recent years, these gull populations have declined overall, although more are appearing in towns and cities.
"We sympathise with residents who routinely experience problems with gulls, however promoting non-lethal deterrents as part of a management strategy is a more effective long-term solution. Such deterrents include using birds of prey to discourage nesting and preventative measures such as chimney cages and spikes.
Local authorities with an Organisational Licence can take immediate action to remove nest and eggs to address public health and safety risks – such as sleep deprivation and attacks on vulnerable people – without contacting us for approval.
"Natural England is working closely with local authorities, such as Bath and North East Somerset Council, to obtain feedback and make improvements to the licence where this does not impact on the conservation status of gulls.”