To cull the gulls?
Herring gulls (larus argentatus) – this week’s media villain and trending story. Grisly headlines. In Cornwall a pensioner left with blood pouring down her face – “like a scene from the The Birds”, she told a local paper. A four-year-old boy traumatised after his finger was savaged while he munched a sausage roll in St Ives. In Kerry two mature ewes killed by gulls on a farm near Camp. A motorcyclist on the road near Waterville swooped on in an attack he compared to a second World War Stuka dive bomb.
Last week, also in Cornwall, a Yorkshire terrier called Roo killed in the garden of his family’s home in Newquay, while a much-loved tortoise pecked to death in Liskeard. And everyone now has stories of dive-bombing and food snatched from tables by fearless birds.
Such is the outcry –the Times has branded them “killer seagulls” – that UK prime minister David Cameron has waded in with a call for a “big conversation”, whatever that is, about the menace. “Cull the rats with wings!” is the demand. Fianna Fáil Senator Denis O’Donovan warns they are “invading towns”. . . “they’ve actually killed lambs, they’ve killed rabbits.”
In Ireland herring gulls are a species in decline. Their active nests are rightly protected by national and European wildlife legislation and directives. To start killing even clearly identified “rogue” birds requires a specific licence. And there are other practical ways of dealing with them – among them, proofing buildings with spikes or nets, or as some restaurants in England have done, issuing guests with umbrellas or even water pistols.
The gulls are only doing what comes naturally – at this time of year often just protecting their young. And we have caused both the rise in their urban population and their increasing aggressiveness by depleting fish stocks, cleaning up landfill sites, and providing tempting plastic refuse sacks full of food on every corner. A cull would be a sorry admission that we prefer to abandon the worthy, and yes, difficult idea of conservation and coexistence with nature.