Fight-shy falcons a failure at seeing off smug seagulls

IT WAS meant to be an inspired way to stop flocks of seagulls terrorising a town centre.

Eight falcons were brought in to Dumfries to scare off the pests. Their presence alone was expected to do the trick – to keep animal rights sensibilities they had not been trained to attack the intruders.

But the gulls quickly learned that they were in no real danger – so more actually flocked there.

The trial project – the first of its kind on the UK – has been declared a disaster in an official report. A new trial is now being planned with birds of prey taught to exert "direct lethal control".

The Dumfries trial, which cost about 50,000, involved experts from the local council, the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage.

The problem was recognised by Mike Russell, the former SNP environment minister in 2008, who said it was time to "get tough on seagulls and tough on the causes of seagulls." The trial was expected to pave the way for seagull control in communities around the Scottish coast.

But the experts' report found that after being frightened by the falcons for the first five weeks of the ten-week study, the gulls then started to ignore the birds of prey.

Sensitive to complaints from animal rights groups, the falcons had not been taught to hunt by their trainers, in order to make sure they did not kill the gulls.

Instead, the falcons were expected to simply perch on buildings or fly around among the seagulls birds to intimidate them into fleeing.

However, in the report for the government, the trial organisers wrote:

"It was apparent, however, that both species of gull began to tolerate the presence of falcons as the trial period progressed and no actual threat occurred."

The report concluded that the total number of lesser black-backed and herring gull nests rose from 138 during 2008 to 149 last year.

"The programme implemented therefore failed to reduce the nesting population," it said.

The report recommends a further trial, which involves either "direct lethal control" by the falcons, or allowing the birds of prey to swoop down on already-dead gulls to scare the other birds.

The new kill-on-sight policy, however, has not found favour with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland. A spokesman said: "The RSPB favours non-lethal solutions and believes that gulls should only be killed as a last resort."

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