Posted: 24.11.21 at 16:20 by By Local Democracy Reporter Stephen Sumner
A new regime for controlling gull populations being trialled in Bath prioritises the protected birds’ wellbeing over people’s health, the city’s MP has said.
Wera Hobhouse said Natural England had raised the bar too high and made it almost impossible to get permission to remove nests.
She hit out at the government body for dismissing officers’ concerns about the impact of gull noise and faeces and took her concerns to environment minister Rebecca Pow.
Natural England said the organisational licence being trialled in Bath aims to assess the potential for coordinated city-scale non-lethal deterrents for the protected species and allow the council to quickly assess urgent cases.
But Mrs Hobhouse said with fewer nests removed this year gull numbers had jumped and residents face a growing problem unless something is done, adding: “It’s simply gone too far. Cities are not the natural environment for gulls, and if their coastal population is falling, then let’s look at habitat restoration, not the reduction of the quality of human life in cities.
“It remains the case that people’s health is suffering from the lack of sleep induced by gull noise every spring, but Natural England simply responds by saying if it’s too noisy, close your windows and move your beds. On being told that gulls are dropping their faeces over garden furniture and children’s toys, they are saying wipe them.
“It is the professional opinion of our environmental health officers that these persistent events pose a genuine risk to health, and I find it offensive that their judgement is being dismissed in such a flippant manner.”
Councillor Tim Ball said he had serious concerns the new licensing system was compromising public health and safety by ruling out many of Bath and North East Somerset Council’s usual gull control treatments.
“This year we were able to intervene in only a very small percentage of the cases reported by residents,” he said.
“We have protested to Natural England and the government.
“Simply put, the bar is currently set too high and we need to be allowed to carry out a wider geographical programme of treatments rather than looking at individual nests.”
Mrs Hobhouse said Ms Pow was sympathetic to the health impacts of a burgeoning gull population but the departmental position remains the same: herring gulls are on the endangered red list.
“Maybe something will change, but I can’t see that happening before the next breeding season starts, and that’s bad news for residents,” added the Bath MP.
Despite the concerns, the organisational licence trialled in Bath this summer could be rolled out across the country next year.
Dave Slater, Natural England’s director for wildlife licensing and enforcement cases, said it would allow local authorities to take timely action where necessary to reduce risks to public health or safety.
“Herring and lesser black-backed gulls are protected species, which can no longer be legally controlled under general licences,” he said.
“Natural England encourages local authorities to implement non-lethal measures to manage urban gulls, but licences for lethal control can be issued as a last resort where a clear risk to public health or public safety is shown.
“We urge councils who are experiencing problems with urban gulls to work with us and will shortly be announcing how they can do so.”
Natural England said it recognises that councils may need to control large gulls where there is a specific risk to public health/health and safety. They or their contractors need to apply for an individual licence to control gulls.
Applicants trying to control large gulls in urban areas must also submit integrated management plans to demonstrate a strategic and coordinated approach to non-lethal control.
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