Cull the Gulls

BY ROGER WATSON

I live on the Humber estuary and expect to see the occasional Herring Gull and at our previous house we had a few visitors. Mostly, the gulls circled on high or headed back and forth between the river and wherever else they were going, presumably to one of several landfill sites around the city to scavenge where councils are no longer permitted to burn refuse. We recently moved house within the city and, for reasons I cannot fathom, the gulls here are plentiful. They sit on rows on the apexes of the houses in our scheme, frightening off all other avian comers. The crows can put up a reasonable fight, but the gulls are so much bigger and more numerous. They also gradually transform the roofs from the greenish-grey colour of the tiles to a white streaked mess and regularly redecorate the cars in the drives. If you are in the car when one of those enormous blobs of gull poo hits, you think someone has thrown a stone at your car.

Returning to my house with my morning newspaper the other day I was ‘stalked’ by two gulls in a scene that reminded me of Hitchcock’s film The Birds. They hopped from rooftop to rooftop eyeing me up and then landed on my house as I was entering. I speculate, but I cannot help thinking that if I had been munching a croissant, it would have become airborne in no time at all.

The antics of gulls at the seaside have become legendary. Thanks to YouTube we now have evidence of children being attacked and a man working on a roof being attacked. They kill pigeons—not a capital offence in my view as they are a menace too—and have even taken dogs (this last story was in The Guardian so it must be true). We have grown to expect gulls to behave badly at the seaside where people’s ice creams and fish and chips are easy pickings. But gulls are no longer, strictly, seagulls; they are now urban gulls. According to a recent article in The Spectator seventy-five percent of herring gulls now live in towns and cities where, without a herring in sight, they have started to attack people there for food. Being attacked by gulls is no joke and people, particularly children, can end up with facial injuries. They also attack and injure adults and one person died of a heart attack after a gull attack. Admittedly, deaths are rare but in Australia where swooping magpies in urban areas are similarly recognised as a nuisance a child was recently killed, a cyclist has been killed and a third person died as a result of tetanus. I myself have been the recipient of a Magpie attack whilst out walking one fine sunny morning in Canberra. How long before similar incidents, but involving gulls, are reported here? More to the point, what will we do?

Apparently, gulls are a ‘red listed’ protected species of bird. Their numbers have declined by fifty percent since the early nineties, but you could have fooled me. They seem to be everywhere and who decides anyway how many gulls we should have? If their numbers are declining this seems like a cause for celebration to me and I wonder if they are dying off after eating so much of the fast food that they nick from kids and find on the streets. That’ll teach them for adopting an urban lifestyle; should’ve stuck to herring.

Roger Watson is a British academic and former professor of nursing at the University of Hull. He is the editor-in-chief of Nurse Education in Practice and an Editorial Board Member of the WikiJournal of Medicine. He was the founding chair of the Lancet Commission on Nursing, and a founding member of the Global Advisory Group for the Future of Nursing. In 2020, Watson was elected vice president of the National Conference of University Professors. In 2022, Watson was elected president of the National Conference of University Professors.