There are calls to make it easier to control urban gull numbers to prevent a possible bird flu outbreak in Gloucester.
There have been 82 confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 in England since the start of October. And while none have been found in Gloucester, civic chiefs fear there could be an outbreak among urban gulls.
The Government has announced that all poultry and captive birds must be kept indoors from next week under new restrictions to fight avian flu. But Gloucester City Council leader Richard Cook says barriers to controlling the population of urban gulls is an unnecessary risk.
He spoke earlier this year of his frustration with changes to regulations which aim to protect gull populations in 2020.
Cllr Cook believes the population of gulls in cities like Gloucester will grow over the next few years as the council has not been able to do anything since to keep the numbers in check.
Council estimates suggest there were around 6,000 gulls in the city as of 2019. But changes introduced since then mean they have not been able to do any surveys.
Cllr Cook said: “The Government ought to persuade Natural England to allow local councils to act under the general licence to prevent birds from successfully fledging.
"That is to oil the eggs and break up the nests. We haven’t done a survey since 2019.
“In 2010, when we started the egg oiling operations, the population was increasing by 16% each year. I have every reason to assume it will be getting that kind of increase.
“We haven’t found any dead gulls in Gloucester yet but we know some have been found on the coast who have died from avian flu.
"Ideally I would like to see the government officer the general licence of herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls allowing us to stop the eggs from hatching.
“The risk is it continues to rise and they will come into greater contact with the human population.
"They become more of a nuisance but the more worrying aspect is that if they do become infected with avian flu, the very frequency of contact with humans might start to pass the infection to humans.
“And if it starts spreading in humans we might see something similar happen as we did with Covid. It’s a worry we don’t need to have if we can stop the gulls from breeding quite so quickly.”
Natural England says it recognises that local councils may need to control large gulls where there is a specific risk to public health. However, an individual or organisational licence is required to control gulls.
“To support this, those who are applying to control large gulls in urban areas must also submit integrated management plans to demonstrate a strategic and coordinated approach to non-lethal control,” a spokesperson said.
“Whilst historic egg oiling across rooftops in cities may have limited gull numbers, we believe promoting non-lethal deterrents and management strategies is a more effective long-term solution.
“Last year, we launched a simple online screening service so any potential applicants can quickly check if their situation is likely to warrant a licence – most users will receive a reply in under 48 hours.”
Credit: Local Democracy Reporter Service/Carmelo Garcia