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Seagulls are not to blame for stealing your pasty

Published: July 25, 2016

Falmouth Marine School Falmouth Corporate | research

A local scientist from Falmouth Marine School says that we need to think about our impact on the environment and the way we act around seagulls in a bid to curb their aggressive behaviour in our seaside resorts.  Marine ecologist and lecturer on FMS’s Ocean Science Team at Falmouth Marine School, Luke Edwyn Marsh, has been studying the birds for a number of years and says humans could be to blame for the current behaviour of the birds in resorts like St Ives.

Luke said: “I’m involved in a lot of different projects, but the main one currently is the seagull study in Falmouth which has been going on for 3-4 years now.  We are at the very early stages of this research; at the moment the study is interested in identifying causes and effects of changes in the behaviour of urban birds.”

“I’ll interested in how birds that have adapted to make the most out of certain resources in urban environments and how they compare to birds that live in rural areas.”

The boisterous birds have made headlines in the last few years after they savaged several pets including a dog and a tortoise – and launched attacks on unsuspecting people.  In the most recent incident a teenage girl sustained serious back injuries after being dive-bombed by the birds in St Ives.

Luke continues: “They make the most out of the food in the urban environment because we provide food and other resources for them; we put our bins out too early just in thin black bin bags, we throw food on the floor and on a Saturday night someone will drop their kebab and think nothing of it.  We are creating the problem and encouraging their behaviour by making an easy food resource available to them – we then demonise the animal for making use of our waste or being aggressive when protecting their nest sites we’ve built them on our flat-roofed buildings”

The recently departed Prime Minister, David Cameron, had called for a “big conversation” on seagulls, pledging £250,000 in a budget towards the issue.  This proposal was later scrapped as a “low priority”.

Luke added: “It’s arguably a manmade problem, but gulls doing it on a routine is really fascinating, because that is a bird learning that behaviour and discovering there is a payoff from it.  You don’t walk around the coast or through the hills with swarms of gulls trying to pinch your chips even though they are around you like in the town and city, this is a unique problem to certain areas because this is a modification of their natural behaviours.”

A cull of the animals is among other proposals to tackle the growing issues around seagulls, but that has not been backed by scientific evidence. “There is a danger that culling could make things worse or at least have a severe impact on the overall population on a species that has a role in the ecosystem; we need to do a lot more research and then we can come up with an appropriate answer based on thorough scientific research.”

Director of Science across The Cornwall College Group, Dr Mark Nason, concludes: “Research like this is incredibly important and will ultimately inform local policy on how best to deal with these issues.  I am delighted that Luke is working on this project and I look forward to discovering more about his findings.”

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