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Do seagulls need protecting?
Seagulls are a protected species on the “red list” for conservation.
The RSPB believes the numbers are in dramatic decline, yet look around any of Sussex’s towns and you might be surprised by the number of gulls.
The latest report from the Sussex Ornithological Society says there are just 13 coastal breeding locations for herring gulls, yet there are no numbers for how many pairs nest at each site.
Many more are known to be nesting on roofs in towns.
A spokeswoman for the RSPB said: “While we are seeing an increase in the numbers of gulls in our towns – they are attracted by the easy availability of food and suitable nest sites – overall numbers of many gull species have declined dramatically, particularly herring gulls, which have declined by 50% since 1970.
“The herring gull is now on the red list in the UK, meaning it is of most conservation concern.”
The birds are a protected species, but are seen by many city-dwellers as vermin.
On the coast they are the perfect symbol of the British seaside, but in cities they tear open bin bags and are known to launch attacks on people, particularly when their young are nearby.
Herring gulls – the most common and aggressive gulls seen in Sussex – are known to dive-bomb anything they consider a threat to their chicks.
So just how many seagulls are there in Sussex?
And are they really in decline?
Recent changes to the Wildlife and Countryside Act mean that it is now illegal to touch a bird or nest with eggs or chicks.
Pest controllers have found this has led to an increase in the urban populations.
From early spring until late summer it is almost impossible to do anything when faced with an aggressive, nuisance seagull.
Brighton and Hove City Council have no duty to remove injured or obstructive birds.
The RSPB can do little to help and private pest controllers say their hands are tied by the law.
Brighton pest controller Ky Mossman, of Terminate Bird Control, said: “In Brighton it is especially noticeable.
“The new law means you are now not allowed to touch a seagull once the eggs hatch.
“But a lot of the time people only notice they have a seagull problem when the chicks hatch and the noise starts and they become aggressive, by which point it’s too late.
“It is definitely worse in built-up areas.
“There are a lot of rooftops in Brighton.
“I’m having to say to a lot of people with seagull problems there is nothing I can do.
“I have had to turn away a lot of work.
“You can’t remove the nests but once the chicks hatch they can become very aggressive.”
Mr Mossman said he was asked to help an 85-year-old widow in Eastbourne who was being attacked by nesting birds on a neighbour’s house, after her neighbour died.
He said: “As soon as she left her house they dive-bombed her.
“They saw her as a threat.
“She was effectively stuck in her house.”
A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesman said: “Living in harmony with seabirds in a seaside town is important.
“There are ways of mitigating problems, such as by proofing, reducing roosting areas and food supply.
“The council holds no duty for bird control, as this work is done by private contractors.”