Seagull season again

This slightly lost looking chap is a juvenile herring gull. And he’s probably hungry. There are plenty of them around Aberystwyth at the moment and, as happens at this time every year, they’re out looking for food the easiest way they know – by breaking into black bin bags on Tuesday and Thursday mornings which are rubbish collection days in Aberystwyth town centre. The result is often rubbish strewn all over the streets until a Council worker arrives to clean it all up.

Ceredigion Council regularly receives pleas from residents to find a way to end the problem. As an opposition councillor it would, of course, be easy for me to criticise, say, the Cabinet Member for Environmental Services over this. But, having regularly lobbied Council officers on the issue over the years, I know they’ve explored every conceivable avenue. Some of these have been more effective than others (last year a thicker kind of plastic bag was trialled - the seagulls laughed and pecked their way through them) but I like to think some of the measures they have adopted have been put in place because of the lobbying we’ve done.

Aberystwyth town centre is full of Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) and narrow pavements, neither of which can accommodate proper bins. Bearing in mind these unavoidable physical limitations, let’s look at the more successful steps that have been taken over the past couple of years:

1/ A separate food waste collection has been introduced using hard containers so that black bags contain much less food than in the past, thereby reducing the incentive to the gulls.

2/ On most days council officers are out cleaning the streets from 6am. On Tuesdays and Thursdays – collection days – additional Environmental Services officers are out monitoring the way black bags are put out and searching damaged bags for evidence of names and addresses. Working on the premise that the best way forward is to target individual transgressors, they then knock on the doors of those with damaged bags and discuss with the resident alternative ways of presenting their waste, e.g. was the bag put out at the correct time, is the property suitable for a hard bin (which the Council provides cheaply), do they make use of the recycling collection etc...

3/ If no-one is in a letter is sent to the resident and/or landlord. In the case of HMOs copies are then sent to the Council’s HMO Officer who then tackles the landlords individually. Since the beginning of the season in March close to 150 such letters have been sent out. Only a handful of properties have had to be told a second time.

4/ Each term all 8,000 students are e-mailed with advice on putting out their waste via the University e-mail system. Council officers also attend the Fresher’s Fayre

5/ Lastly, in a new move that hasn't yet received publicity, the Council last week passed a motion to bring in on-the-spot fines of up to £300 for people leaving out black bags on the wrong day and other littering offences.

Is this enough? Could more be done? One solution often mooted is a cull. Quite apart from the public outcry these generate, attempted culls have been found to be ineffective as the birds killed are quickly replaced by others. Anyone wanting to conduct a cull would require a licence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This specifically excludes the opening of rubbish bags, noise or droppings as a justification so a license would probably not be forthcoming.

My feeling is that, if the Council is taking all the reasonable steps above, then the next most important thing is to give good publicity to who to contact when a mess is created and respond instantly to calls. That way any litter problems are short-lived.

The seagull problem is only there, of course, because we feed them our rubbish each week. The gulls are probably very grateful and must think we love them. Unwittingly the Council may now have come up with a measure to address this that looks likely to be far more effective than all the others brought in so far. As reported on this blog, at an unspecified time in the next couple of years, and for reasons unrelated to gulls, the Council intends to increase its recycling collection to weekly and to cut the collections of those enticing (to a herring gull) black bags to fortnightly. At a stroke this would reduce by a half the food available on the streets.

A couple of years ago I was at a public meeting of around 80 townspeople at the Morlan in which the seagulls issue was raised. The chair decided to hold an impromptu straw poll on whether ‘something should be done’ or not. When the hands were raised it became obvious the meeting was split down the middle.

So, over to you. Do you think the seagull situation is a real problem or fuss about nothing? Has it got worse or better in the last couple of years? Is the Council doing enough and, most importantly, given the realities of the situation, is there anything you think it could do better?