Gull complaints double in five years as councils no longer allowed to remove nests and eggs

One in four councils highlighted complaints involving physical attacks by gulls, on people or pets

Seagulls gather on the harbour wall at St Ives Credit: Matt Cardy

Anyone who has taken a trip to the seaside this summer has witnessed a bag of doughnuts or chips being whipped out of an inattentive hand by a hungry gull.

Gull complaints are soaring, with numbers doubling in five years after a change in the rules meant councils were no longer allowed to remove nests and eggs, the Telegraph can reveal.

Data analysed by the Telegraph shows that complaints for gulls across 84 English councils doubled from 544 in 2016 to 956 in 2020 and 1,075 in 2021 - a 98 per cent rise.

Most incidents were mess and noise complaints, but one in four councils highlighted complaints involving physical attacks by gulls, on people or pets.

On Saturday a grandmother from St Peters in Broadstairs, Kent, spoke about how she was left bleeding like "something from a Freddy Krueger film” after a gull attack.

Brenda Thrumble was attacked in St Peters in Broadstairs, Kent Credit: Courtesy of Brenda Thrumble / SWNS

Councils used to be able to use "lethal control" of herring gulls as part of their wider permission to control the numbers of problem birds in their area.

But in 2019 after campaigning from conservationists, the rules for gulls changed significantly, removing them from the general licence and requiring councils to apply on a case by case basis instead.

Gulls now a city creature 

Gulls are now a city creature, with an estimated three-quarters of the UK's population of herring gulls now nesting in towns and cities rather than the rural countryside.

Declining numbers are thought to be down to the loss of their natural coastal habitats, with gulls increasingly moving inland and to cities where there is plentiful food and safe rooftop nesting sites.

In response to criticism, last year Natural England rolled out trial "organisational" licenses with two councils in Worcester, and Bath and North East Somerset, which were designed to give them more latitude, but both councils said they were still being forced to ask for permission almost every time they wanted to act.

Tim Ball, a councillor for Bath and North East Somerset, told the Telegraph in April: "Only in extreme circumstances can you actually remove eggs now.

"We've had gulls in Bath swooping on people, swooping on children."

In a report at the time Worcester Council said the system was "not fit for purpose, and wasteful of public funds".

Data from Freedom of Information requests shows there was also a significant decline in England in the proportion of bird licences approved.

Between 2015 and 2019, an average of 95 per cent of licences were granted - in 2020 this dropped to 73.4 per cent.

The number of lethal gull licenses granted dropped from a 2015-2019 average of 194 to reach 95 in 2020, before rebounding to 312 in 2021.

This year Natural England said the licences had been improved to allow councils to take action without having to ask in situations such as sleep deprivation and attacks on the vulnerable, but only two councils have applied and been issued with licenses this year.

It admitted that it had struggled to cope with the volume of demand in 2020, meaning licenses were issued when chicks had already fledged, making them too late to be useful.

A spokesman for Worcester City Council said its situation had improved, adding: "Natural England has approved every licence request made by the City Council this year, and that has enabled us to remove 196 gull nests and 359 eggs from locations where people were at risk.”

Steph Bird-Halton, Natural England’s director for wildlife licensing and enforcement cases, said: “Gulls have become a common sight in English towns and cities, often generating strong feelings amongst local residents.

"There have been recent declines in overall populations of some gull species. However, we do sympathise with those who routinely experience problems with gulls and recognise that local authorities may need to control large gulls where there is a specific risk to public health.

“In response, we are currently rolling out organisational licences across the country, which will allow local authorities to take timely action through nest and egg destruction where necessary.”