Advice on the gull problem in South Ayrshire
Environmental Health do not deal with problems associated with wild birds. It is the owner of the building where the birds are nesting or roosting who would be responsible for carrying out any proofing works. If the building in question is owned by South Ayrshire Council then we will forward details of any complaints onto the relevant Council Section.
In the South Ayrshire area there are two types of gulls can be found nesting on buildings. These are
the herring gull, and the lesser black-backed gull. These birds can cause considerable
problems including noise, mess from droppings, fouling roofs, walls, windows, gardens,
people and domestic washing. The gulls can also cause damage to property by picking
at roofing materials and by blocking gutters and down pipes with nesting materials.
Blockage of gas flues from similar materials can also cause serious problems. Gulls
are also known to dive and swoop on people and pets, causing distress and alarm
among the public.
Herring gulls are large birds. Mature birds are on average about 55cm (22")
from bill to tail with a wingspan of about 85cm (34"). They have silver / grey
wings and pink legs.
Lesser black backed gulls are usually slightly smaller. Adult birds have slate grey
back and yellow legs instead of pink legs.
Both species begin mating in April and commence nest building from early May onwards.
In towns, the nest is constructed from straw and grass, twigs, paper and any other
material the gull can conveniently use. The nest can be quite large and, if made
of material accumulated over several years, very heavy.
Eggs are laid from early May onwards with two or three being the usual number. The
eggs take about three weeks to hatch so the first chicks are generally seen about
the beginning of June.
The chicks grow quickly but generally do not leave the nest for 5-6 weeks and are
quite active. They often fall from the nest and in towns this will almost certainly
mean they cannot return to the nest.
Small chicks will die unless returned but larger chicks will be protected and fed
by their parents on the ground. Parent birds protecting fallen chicks are often
the ones which dive and swoop on people and animals who often do not realise a chick
is down on the ground.
Chicks generally begin to fly in late July, early August and then take normally
four years to reach maturity and breed.
Lesser black backed and herring gulls tend to nest in colonies and once roof nesting
birds gain footholds other gulls nest on adjacent buildings. If left unchecked,
a colony can start to develop.
While generally the law protects wild birds it does recognise that certain species
can cause nuisance and allows measures to be taken against them. Herring and lesser
black backed gulls are included in the list of birds against which an owner or occupier
of affected premises may use humane methods of control. Alternatively they can authorise
someone else to act on their behalf. It is important to recognise however that skill
and experience are needed to make such work effective. For instance culling of gulls
by shooting of roof nesting birds is discouraged, as it is neither humane nor safe.
There is no universal opinion among the experts that a large-scale cull of gulls
would be effective. Indeed some believe that the gull population in the towns is
different from that of local landfill sites and there is documented evidence to
indicate that this is the case. Culling all the gulls at landfill sites would not
result in a reduction in the number of gulls in the town and vice versa. In addition,
the practical aspect of carrying out a cull in an urban area is extremely difficult,
within the existing legislation.
Nests could be removed, however, this would have to be repeated a number of times
during the season as the gulls will rebuild their nest very quickly if it has been
removed or destroyed.
Eggs could be removed from nests, however, this would have to be repeated a number
of times during the breeding season as they will be replaced once they are found
not to be viable by the parent birds.
Culling, and egg and nest removal are all measures, which come within the scope
of the general licences issued by the Scottish Government and such action must therefore
The treatment of gull's eggs, with liquid paraffin BP offers a cheap and efficient
way of preventing hatching. If done correctly and at the right time of year, this
technique is 100% effective in preventing the hatching of eggs.
Disturbance of Birds
There are a variety of methods of disturbing or discouraging birds from particular
locations including birds of prey, bird scarers etc. For areas within towns none
of these methods are successful in the long term.
Methods of proofing buildings include the use of spikes, nets or wires. This is
the only sure method of preventing birds from nesting on buildings.
It is vital that the public is made aware that gulls are attracted to areas where
food is plentiful. The main sources of food for gulls in the South Ayrshire area
are earthworms and insects from pasture and waste produced from the fishing fleet.
However, gulls are opportunistic and will scavenge waste bins and look for food
from the public.
The public are discouraged from feeding the gulls at home as well as in areas such
the coastal towns and villages of Troon, Prestwick, Ayr, Maidens and Girvan.
Our “Feed a Bin not a Gull” campaign was intended to raise awareness of feeding gulls and the fact that this can lead to aggressiveness.
In addition Waste Management introduced a number of gull proof bins to try and prevent the gulls raiding their contents.
The public and businesses are asked to ensure that litter and other food waste is
properly stored and / or disposed of using the litter bins provided for litter and
placing waste out for collection the day of collection, not the night before, particularly
Controlling gulls is extremely difficult. The best method is to deny them nesting
places on buildings. The Council, however, has no legal powers to force owners or
occupiers of buildings to carry out works to their buildings to prevent birds from
nesting, nor can they make them take action against birds that have nested, even
if they are causing problems.
The Council could not justify, in terms of the general licences available, culling
or egg or nest removal as there is no evidence that the presence of gulls is affecting
public health or air safety and there is little evidence that public safety was
All owners/ occupiers of buildings, which have, or may attract roof - nesting gulls
are strongly urged to provide the building with deterrent measures suitable to the
individual building. This section describes some of the measures available.
The principal methods of deterrence are: -
· Fitting of long spikes to nesting locations such as chimney - stacks.
· Fitting of short spikes, contained in a special plastic base, to nesting
locations such as dormer roofs.
· Fitting of wires or nets to prevent gulls landing.
· Disturbance of nesting sites including removal of nest and eggs.
There are several spiking systems commercially available which incorporate a stainless
steel spike fitted in a plastic base. The spikes and base come as an assembled unit
in convenient lengths, which can be cut to size. These spikes systems may be useful
for protecting small dormer roofs and other similar locations. The usual fixing
method is to use screws or, where these would damage the structure, proprietary
Long spikes can be used to prevent gulls nesting on top of chimney - stacks between
the pots and in the valley behind a chimney - stack where if meets the roof. It
is important to fix sufficient numbers of spikes to ensure that the nesting area
is well covered.
The basic methods of use are as follows: -
Chimney - back fixing / top fixing
Gulls sometimes nest behind chimney - stacks where the chimney meets a sloping roof.
The valley formed is often warm and sheltered from the wind and makes an ideal nest
It is difficult to place spikes at the base of the valley formed because the fixing
can interfere with the structure of the roof. The usual fixing method is to screw
onto the chimney using a masonry plug and screw with a stout washer to secure the
spike against the masonry.
The surface to be treated, usually the cement flaunchings between the chimney -
pots, should be brushed clean with a wire brush. The spikes are then bent into the
required shape and placed in position on a dab of mortar. A further dab of mortar
is then used to secure the spike assembly. The use of a PVA compound can assist
adhesion of the mortar to the chimney stack.
Wiring and Netting
These methods may have a use in certain locations. If you have a problem with birds
nesting on large flat roofs you may wish to contact a specialist company for advice
or a quotation. Because of the problems of fixing the Council considers these methods
should always be done by, or after having taken advice from, a competent specialist.
While large scale attempts to reduce gull numbers in towns and cities is unlikely
to meet with success; small scale targeting of nests on those sites causing particular
problems can be successful. In such cases nest material should be removed and bird
proofing carried out during the winter months.