Bath politicians are arguing that conservationists are putting bird welfare above public health concerns as Natural England’s pilot scheme prevents removal of nests and eggs.
Bath MP and Liberal Democrat, Wera Hobhouse said it had been almost impossible this year for Bath and North East Somerset Council to get permission to remove nests – despite their rising population and associated noise, droppings, and nuisance.
Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are protected species, which can no longer be legally controlled under general licences.
The city, alongside Worcester, trialled a new organisational license scheme between April and August 2021. Natural England said this was to, “assess the potential” for coordinated city-scale non-lethal gull deterrent measures and work with councils to assess urgent cases arising despite these steps.
However, Hobhouse said the bar has been set impossibly high this year and the council has only been able to remove a few nests, classed as lethal action, which has caused the gull population to dramatically rise.
Hobhouse said that she had met with Natural England to discuss the “gull crisis” in Bath. She said on social media: “People's health is suffering from the lack of sleep induced by gull noise every spring, and faeces is being dropped over garden furniture and children's toys.
“I raised these concerns and Natural England are sympathetic. They are working within the guidelines of the law and next year we should see some progress.”
“They have restricted our ability to deal with the gulls. We are not allowed to remove nests or eggs, which we have done for years. It’s a health issue.”
Cllr Tim Ball has also been concerned about the impact of the growing gull population on public health. He said the new license scheme doesn’t work and the council wants to revert to previous measures. “They have restricted our ability to deal with the gulls. We are not allowed to remove nests or eggs, which we have done for years. It’s a health issue, and it’s residents who are unhappy”.
Control measures under organisational licenses are subject to the same legal tests as individual licenses but would allow councils to take quick action to reduce public health harms. Local authorities will be able to apply for an organisational license, permitting limited lethal control in special circumstances, by submitting a management plan to show all non-lethal control methods were being undertaken.
Natural England’s director for wildlife licensing and enforcement cases, Dave Slater said: “Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are protected species, which can no longer be legally controlled under general licences.
“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 intend to roll out organisational licences next year, which will allow local authorities to take timely action where necessary to reduce risks to public health or safety. We urge councils who are experiencing problems with urban gulls to work with us, and will shortly be announcing how they can do so.”