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'Unprovoked attacks by a gang of feathered brutes': Dubliners cry foul over seagull aggression

48 permits have been granted to tackle Dublin’s seagull issues.

Seagulls. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

TACKLING DUBLIN’S SEAGULL problem requires a “viable, practicable and innovative” solution, a Dubliner told Dublin City Council in February. 

“For too long the streets of Dublin have fallen foul to the menacing, torturous and unprovoked attacks delivered by a gang of feathered brutes,” the concerned local wrote in a letter. 

“Each day the victim count from these attacks rise with the injuries sustained ranging in severity and the victim profile being as broad and diverse as the attacks themselves.”

Protected under wildlife legislation, however – as well as being a core element of Dublin’s biodiversity – there is not much local authorities can currently do to reduce the population of urban gulls.

The capital’s gull population has increased as well, according to BirdWatch Ireland, despite companies and state bodies requesting licenses to remove gull nests and chicks in a bit to scare them off buildings.

As this avian issue rolls on, some are calling for a different approach than the cold-hearted cull, though – saying that seagull population surveys need to be carried out to properly assess the situation. 

‘Very visual component’

Concerned Dubliners wrote to the council on several occasions last year to highlight the ongoing problem, correspondence received under the Freedom of Information act show. 

The birds “have grown more common in recent times but are now a real menace”, said one spotter of the creatures in Ballsbridge on Dublin’s Southside last May. 

Today I saw them swooping down and taking ducklings from the pond. At this rate there will be no ducklings and the pond in Herbert Park will be full [of] seagulls.”

“Can something be done to give the ducklings a chance?”

In July, a concerned citizen contacted Labour councillor Mary Freehill in relation to the “growing number of seagulls in the Rathmines area” of Dublin. 

With the city’s gulls “becoming bigger, bolder and more populous in urban areas”, this person wanted to know if there were measures to be taken to reduce the number of seagulls in urban areas.

“They prey [on] food waste and are seen tearing apart bins creating a mess. They also make a tremendous racket as some are perched on house chimneys.

“[The] abundance of noise, very early in the morning and late at nights, that is my primary distress.”

Seagulls. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

‘Constant droppings’

Residents of Marino on Dublin’s Northside experienced similar seagull difficulties last July. 

“Noise pollution from 5am onwards all day every day [and] constant droppings,” a concerned Marino resident wrote to the council last summer. 

We even had an episode where a gull flew into our garden and grabbed food from the table which was frightening for our daughter.

A Biodiversity Officer at the council’s replied saying that seagulls – or gulls -  are a “very visual component of Dublin City’s biodiversity”.

They are protected under wildlife acts, legislation which is enforced by the National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS].

“Dublin City Council does not have a role in the control of gulls,” the officer said. “However, [the council] strongly advises people not to feed the gulls as this influences the interactive behaviour between birds and humans.”

Herring gulls – the most abundant roof-nesting species in Dublin – are presently red-listed. In other words, they are of high conservation concern. 

According to Stephen Newton, senior seabird conservation officer with BirdWatch Ireland, the country’s gull population – including the colonisation of inland towns – has increased largely due to the availability of food. 

Companies like Diageo have recently been granted licenses to remove gull nests from the Guinness brewery at St. James Gate.

The NPWS has also issued several permits to organisations in the past like the Abbey Theatre and South Dublin County Council, as well as private individuals in North Dublin to scare gulls away, relocate chicks, or remove nests and eggs from buildings. 

Since 2016, NPWS has issued a total of 60 permits to private individuals, state bodies and businesses, according to a spokesperson.

Of permits issued to date, 48 were for premises in Dublin. 

Swan 696_90560012 Gulls are a visual component of Dublin's biodiversity. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

‘Control measures’ 

At approximately 11.45am on 4 October, a seagull swooped down to a picnic table in Herbert Park and stole a toddler’s croissant. 

Their parent wrote to the council after the incident, saying that they were “worried that seagulls are becoming increasingly brazen”. The parent also wanted to know what exactly could be done to tackle the problem. 

Four days later, Labour councillor Dermot Lacey brought forward an emergency motion to draw up a plan to deal with seagull issues across the city and to specifically introduce measures to deal with the specific problem in Herbert Park. 

Several Dublin councillors have followed suit. Independent councillor Mannix Flynn has described the situation as “totally out of control”. 

“There’s been no attempt whatsoever to deal with this. Private individuals, firms and businesses are dealing with it in their own way,” Flynn told TheJournal.ie.

“In the meantime, it’s getting totally out of control, particularly on the likes of Dame Street.”

“They’re free creatures and they need to be protected,” says Flynn. “But the city also needs to manage the seagull population.”

‘Intelligent, cunning, motivated’

A holistic approach to this issue is what is required, according to Birdwatch Ireland’s Newton.

His group is currently pressing authorities to fund surveys in order to update gull population figures and distribution information.

“Only when this has been done we can review the population status, and local authorities and NPWS can open a debate about whether ‘control’ measures are necessary and what the impact may be on the national population,” Newton has said. 

Fingal County Council has funded a survey of roof-nesting gulls in Balbriggan, Skerries and Howth.

These surveys, according to Newton, have shown a “considerable increase” since previous surveys which were carried out in 2000-2001. 

No efforts have yet been made by Dublin City Council, South Dublin County Council or Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. 

For one “uniquely placed” and “highly skilled” Dubliner, however, tailor-made solutions are the way forward in tackling the city’s gull problem. 

“In this instance I can conduct an independent investigation to ascertain the facts which include identifying the specific breed of seagull executing the attacks, the hotspots where those attacks occur, the triggers that drive the attacks and identifying the chain of command within the flock.”

All seagulls are “highly intelligent, cunning and motivated and…should not be underestimated”.

“Their protective legal status, in the most part, shields them from any drastic measures normally adopted by humans to combat similar aggressive behaviour in other species.”

Writing to the council, this savvy citizen pitched their linguistic expertise as a means of understanding the flock. 

“Once I infiltrate the flock and gain their trust I can gain an insight into the flock hierarchy and the core objectives driving their choice of action.”

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