WITH Britain's beaches deserted, buildings closed and bins overflowing, a particular pest control nightmare could be around the corner — as the skies fill with legions of seagulls.
Gulls are known to attack people with their sharp beaks and spread some terrifying diseases, but the lockdown is creating serious problems in our fight against them.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
As a pest control specialist at Rentokil, I was as shocked as any by the horrific problems gulls brought to Britain last summer, including the feared swiping of Gizmo the chihuahua from his heartbroken owner's garden.
But the coronavirus lockdown could bring a terrible glut of gull problems throughout 2020 and beyond.
Worried residents in Looe, Cornwall, have already been told by the council they won't have access to gull control services this year that locals rely on to keep the menacing birds at bay.
But gulls terrorise people all over the country and can be found anywhere, with some of the biggest known colonies discovered in major cities like Birmingham and Cardiff.
And their spread has been astonishing.
Colonies vary in size, but a single one can contain several thousand gulls.
A survey in 2000 found 239 gull colonies around the UK — there's now thought to be well over 500, meaning the places the aggressive birds nest has more than doubled in this country.
Pest control technicians that I work with at Rentokil are in the thick of it battling the looming crisis.
But with some sites currently inaccessible and with some councils reducing services, there's real reason for concern.
From stockpilers' overflowing bins to unchecked infestations of blood-sucking bird mites, here's why the coronavirus lockdown could turn into a gull nightmare — and what you can do about it.
'Mobbing' and vomit attacks
People need to know that gulls can be extremely aggressive, especially when they're nesting and protecting their young.
Gulls will violently defend their newborns if humans get too close to the nest — which you might do without even realising there's a nest in the area.
They'll start their defence with some aggressive calling and flying overhead, and then that turns into what we call ‘mobbing’.
This is where the gulls swoop down on people, either getting frighteningly close or even outright attacking them.
Mobbing can also include the gulls defecating and vomiting on their targets.
They’ll bring up foodstuffs and things they can’t digest as a grim defensive weapon — and believe me, their aim is brilliant!
Gulls are also extremely intelligent birds, capable of recognising individual people and picking up on their habits.
So if they've mobbed you once it's likely they'll pick on you again as a recognised threat whenever you leave the house.
I’ve seen that for myself when I went out on service sites in the past in my role as a pest controller — as I was recognised because of my hi-vis vest.
They picked me up to the point where when I left the car, they would follow me and get quite aggressive.
It can be extremely unnerving.
Deadly diseased droppings
But it's also important to understand that gulls pose a threat in all sorts of ways — not just through outright attacks.
Some nest on buildings and tend to feed from refuse tips where there’s contaminated food.
There they pick up dangerous bacteria which ends up in their gut — bacteria which could potentially affect us as well in quite a bad way.
These include the likes of E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, and listeria.
Gull droppings then end up containing those bacteria, all of which can lead to some nasty and potentially dangerous infections if the bacteria become airborne or we come into contact with them.
Blood-sucking mites in homes
A gull nest alone can be a serious problem.
That's because there are 22 different species of insects associated with their nests, and can lead to unwanted infestations.
These include things like parasitic bird mites, which can be quite distressing to people.
Bird mites are tiny arachnids related to spiders that live off the blood and skin of gulls.
When gulls leave the nest, bird mites can potentially migrate down into buildings and homes.
If the birds aren’t giving the blood feed, they’re going to get them from somebody else.
Aside from being simply revolting, these mites can cause severe skin irritation.
Gull numbers could skyrocket
The UK's herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls tend to be those which nest on roofs.
Other species of gulls like kittiwakes tend to be ledge nesters. So you can get nests cropping up in all sorts of places you're likely to come near to.
Any large expanse of roof — including houses, flats and warehouses — could potentially offer nice protected sites for gulls to go and nest on.
And that's a concern at the moment because although it depends on the species, nesting typically starts around mid-April and tends to peak around May.
They’re starting to look for nesting sites now.
The potential risk is that if the site is on lockdown and it’s quiet with no human activity, gulls may feel comfortable nesting at there and start establishing nests before any deterrent can be implemented.
And that could lead to a long-term problem too.
Herring gulls, for example, sexually mature in about four years and can live for up to 25 years.
So typically the young will disappear for four years — they’ll go off to the coast or inland refuse tips — but then they'll come back to the same nesting site.
And they’ll use the same spot year on year, so the numbers will gradually increase if interventions aren’t put in place.
There's all sorts of things we can do to deter gulls — but the lockdown means some of them are a bit trickier.
In terms of lethal controls, they should always be a very last resort and the Government has restricted what we can do because all gulls have a level of legal protection.
So instead we have to look at things like good proofing (laying down wires and spikes), good site management, and hawking.
That's where a trained hawker will use a predator bird, typically a Harris's hawk, to fly in the vicinity of where the pest gulls are.
The gulls will see that predator and become threatened because they know the hawk could take their young and the adult gulls as well.
Give now to The Sun's NHS appeal
BRITAIN’s four million NHS staff are on the frontline in the battle against coronavirus.
But while they are helping save lives, who is there to help them?
The Sun has launched an appeal to raise £1MILLION for NHS workers. The Who Cares Wins Appeal aims to get vital support to staff in their hour of need.
We have teamed up with NHS Charities Together in their urgent Covid-19 Appeal to ensure the money gets to exactly who needs it.
The Sun is donating £50,000 and we would like YOU to help us raise a million pounds, to help THEM. No matter how little you can spare, please donate today here: www.thesun.co.uk/whocareswinsappeal.
So you’re essentially destabilising the area and the gulls associate it with the predator being present.
But at the moment, we may be limited on getting access to sites.
So any of the planned proofing that we were going to implement or planned hawking sessions, or even the licensed nest and egg removals, might be on hold.
That can lead to the gulls nesting and once nests have been established, it becomes harder to manage that population because the numbers are higher.
And bearing in mind they’re going to come back in four years’ time, essentially the numbers will rocket up.
It puts us on the back foot trying to implement a gull control programme.
What you can do
The main thing you can do to protect yourself and your family is beware of a gull's distressed behaviour before it starts mobbing.
So that means if you see them flying overhead and aggressively calling, respect it and give it some social distance, essentially!
The other thing that's key is not to feed them.
That will encourage them to come closer to you and if the gull is desperate for food, then they’re going to start swooping down and taking them from your hand.
They get braver and braver, so don't encourage them.
CORONAVIRUS CRISIS – STAY IN THE KNOW
Don't miss the latest news and figures – and essential advice for you and your family.
To receive The Sun's Coronavirus newsletter in your inbox every tea time, sign up here.
To follow us on Facebook, simply 'Like' our Coronavirus page.
Get Britain's best-selling newspaper delivered to your smartphone or tablet each day – find out more.
That goes for making sure refuse bins are covered too.
Food waste has gone up because of potential stockpiling at the beginning of the lockdown when people were panicked.
We saw images where bins were overflowing — which is an open invitation to a hungry gull.
So always make sure the bins are closed.
But of course, it’s not a single solution that will win the battle — combined suppressive tactics are the key.
Where bird activity is present, always seek professional advice on a proper bird management programme.
Pest controllers have been classed as essential workers because the diseases associated with pests pose a significant risk to public health.
The last thing you want in a pandemic is a food factory, for example, with a pest problem, which then can’t supply the nation with food during lockdown.
So make sure to give us a call — before the gulls come calling for you.
Paul Blackhurst is the Head of the Technical Academy at Rentokil.
Source: Read Full Article