The recent decision taken by the Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht to issue a licence to remove herring gull eggs and nests from Balbriggan, has been met with a mixed reception in the town.
What is puzzling most residents is that Balbriggan has been singled out for the granting of this licence, whereas neighbouring coastal villages and towns like Skerries, Rush, Donabate, Malahide, Portmarnock and Howth are not included.
The call comes after locals complained that the gull population had exploded since a nearby dump closed and the gulls were attacking children for food, forcing schoolchildren indoors to eat their lunches.
Reports also claim that the gulls are regular visitors to beers gardens in the town, causing concern to customers through alleged aggressive behaviour in the search for food, as well as copious droppings being left behind.
The County Leader contacted the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht in an effort to find out why Balbriggan was singled out for special attention, and how long this project would last.
The Department’s reply said, “The EU Birds Directive, which is aimed at the protection of wild birds allows Member States to make derogations from its protective measures in respect of certain wild bird species in certain circumstances – for example, where they are causing damage to crops, livestock and fauna or represent a threat to public health or safety or to air safety.”
The statement continued, “In February, Minister Humphreys met with all five local TDs on the issue of seagulls in the Balbriggan area. They all wanted action to be taken to address the problems the residents of Balbriggan are encountering with seagulls. At the meeting, the Minister acknowledged the impact of seagulls on the residents of Balbriggan particularly in relation to public safety and indicated that she was considering amending the Wild Birds Declaration to allow the taking of seagull nests and eggs in the Balbriggan area.”
“The Declaration which has now been signed by the Minister includes methods to control seagull species for public safety reasons, which may involve the removal of eggs and nests only; the culling of seagulls is not permitted.”
“The control of seagulls under the Declaration is confined to the Balbriggan area. These changes are being introduced on a one-year pilot basis only and will be subject to a comprehensive review next year.”
“The Department has no role in undertaking the activities permitting under the Declaration. The Department understands that local community groups are prepared to organise suitable personnel to undertake the work of removing nests and eggs,” the statement concluded.
The last part of the statement provoked the further question of which community group is going to undertake such a potentially dangerous task of removing eggs from a herring gull, with a wing span of 1.4 metres and larger than a farmyard rooster.
Remember that this onerous task will be carried out on rooftops, with both gull parents fighting like tigers from on high to protect their eggs and nest from invaders. Any takers?
According to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the work will be overseen locally and the County Council will play no role. The County Leader then contacted the County Council who confirmed this.
A Council statement said, “Fingal County Council wishes to clarify it has no role in the matter and will not be involved in the removal of nests or eggs. All queries in relation to the Declaration should be made to the Department.”
We also contacted local councillor, Tony Murphy who said, “The removal of nests and eggs from rooftops of houses and businesses in a specific mapped area in Balbriggan should not be attempted by the home owners themselves.”
“This is extremely dangerous, not only because of the height involved, but also because of the aggressive nature of the gulls when interfering with their nests. I have called on the County Council to convey this message to the people of Balbriggan in the relevant zoned area, that any removal of nest and eggs should only be carried out by competent insured operators,” he said.
Evidence suggests that humans have played a significant role in altering the gulls’ habitat and their natural food source, which is fish. However, this has become more scarce through over-fishing, forcing the birds more inland.
A spokesperson for Birdwatch Ireland put forward the case for the much maligned Herring Gull and asked people to spare a thought for them. She said, “Up to the 1950s, Herring Gulls are thought to have been mostly coastal foragers in the intertidal area or offshore. The end of post-World War 2, food rationing probably marked a significant increase in food waste going into larger and larger landfill sites, and this may have triggered an increase in scavenging in Herring Gulls.”
Also, the rise of discarding of undersized or unwanted fish species in sea fisheries, and the gutting and filleting of fish at sea, meant following fishing boats became very profitable for gulls. Nowadays, scavenging is an increasingly important feeding strategy: discarded takeaways, rubbish bins, flimsy black sacks containing food waste on the streets, green spaces in coastal cities and towns, all reward the enterprising gull,” she said.
BirdWatch Ireland said it will “monitor very closely” what happens next in Balbriggan and the worry is that once Balbriggan gets it, then Skerries will want it, Howth will want it, where will it end? Birdwatch Ireland relies on scientific evidence and the spokesperson concluded by saying, “Nobody in Balbriggan has even bothered counting how many pairs of nesting gulls there are to start out with. That is a key issue for conservation.”