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Inverness gull population set for take-off as NatureScot cripples efforts to control their numbers as just 175 eggs were removed – compared to 1950 last year

By Scott Maclennan

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A gull spotted in Inverness City Centre. Picture: James Mackenzie
A gull spotted in Inverness City Centre. Picture: James Mackenzie

Inverness city centre is likely to see a spike in the gull population this year after new NatureScot guidance led to just 175 eggs being removed compared to 1950 last year.

For years city centre organisations have been striving to control herring gull numbers with egg removal seen as the best and most humane way to deal with what many locals consider a blight on the city centre.

Normally, Inverness Business Improvement District (BID) takes the lead – it applies to the Inverness-headquartered government agency NatureScot for a licence and then employs a company to go on the roofs to deal with the eggs.

But the new regulations mean BID first has to identify the location of the eggs before applying for the licence but that process is a 28-day turnaround and the eggs usually hatch after around 21 days.

BID says that after talks with NatureScot, it ultimately got a licence for 1000 eggs – around 49 per cent less than last year – but by the time work started just 175 eggs could be removed as the others had hatched.

That means there is likely to be 91 per cent more gulls in a city centre that already has a noticeable population of the birds famed for their taste in fast food, ability to empty bins and even attack the odd pedestrian.

Nairn Connects - the seaside town’s BID - had the same problem and squarely blamed NatureScot of introducing unworkable new guidance that impeded limiting gull numbers this year.

Lucy Harding, from Nairn Connects manager, said: “We were making headway - until this year, when NatureScot changed the goalposts making it nearly impossible to deal with the health risks and dangers posed by these birds.

“For a start, because of the changes, our licence applications went in later. Then, 58 were rejected.”

That provoked a reaction as several BIDs across the north banded together to lobby NatureScot to see that they “were applying for health and safety reasons” which is the only permissible reason for egg removal.

Ms Harding revealed that within a week there was an “emergency meeting with NatureScot” that resulted in getting permissions but that “it may have been too little too late”.

She said: “At the end of May, our seagull control company scaled the many roofs, only to find that because of the delay, many of the eggs had already hatched. It means that this year there will be a higher number of fledgling birds in the town centre - causing havoc, swooping, and let’s face it, pooping.”

It was a similar story in Inverness as Janice Worthing, Inverness BID ambassador and operations co-ordinator, said: “We ultimately obtained licences to remove 1000 eggs - issued on May 22 compared to 1950 eggs removed in 2023. The programme commenced on May 31 - unfortunately much later than usual due to issues outlined by Nairn Connects.

“Many chicks had already hatched, meaning we could only remove 175 eggs in total - that is just under nine per cent compared to the 2023 numbers. We are, of course, disappointed with this outcome following the introduction of new guidance.

“The focus now is to work towards achieving a better solution for 2025 subject to funding - in collaboration with NatureScot with it being agreed we will regroup in autumn with focus on additional prevention measures.”

Earlier this year, Highland councillors approved a grant of £13,606 for this year’s gull control project. It is unclear what will happen to this money.

A NatureScot spokesperson said: “We know that gulls can sometimes cause disturbance and frustration for people living in our towns and cities. It is the local council or landowner which is responsible for taking forward mitigation measures or any licensed control work.

“There are mitigation measures that do not require licences, such as installing nets and spikes, which can be applied in some circumstances and while these measures can be very effective, there are circumstances where that is not the case.

“Developing plans to discourage gull nesting in urban areas is one of the areas we are keen to explore where there are significant issues. Our licensing team will continue to engage with councils, pest controllers and others during the 2024 season to provide advice and support.”

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