Leader: Action is needed to sort gull problem

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It is easy to sympathise with people in Merchiston and other parts of the city whose lives are blighted by the flying nuisances that are urban gulls.

Others who don’t have to face the pests can laugh, but the fact is that the birds cause mess, spread disease and can become aggressive, especially during the breeding season.

No wonder, then, that hundreds of people signed a petition calling for nests and eggs to be removed and destroyed in a bid to curb the growth in gull numbers. Some would go further and support a cull of the birds.

Yet, council officials are advising politicians not to set up a service to “de-nest” gull colonies. However, quite rightly, this is not over any queasiness or a concern about protests by animal rights groups.

Rather, they are telling politicians that in these tight financial times it would be too expensive to set up a city-wide scheme at £224,000 a year, or even a limited effort in Merchiston that would cost £125,000 over five years.

At a time when there is budgetary pressure on basic council services such as schools, care homes, road repairs and bin collections, it is hard to argue with this logic.

However, it is clear that some sort of action is needed to sort out the gull problem. So efforts need to be made to find more imaginative ways to provide such a service.

For a start, could more be done to support the landowners involved in clearing out any nooks and crannies where the gulls are nesting? On that basis the council would need to take the lead in sorting out its own premises.

But on the principle of “user pays” – or “abuser pays” – this may be one issue on which most of us could support an increase in council- imposed fines.

Gulls only live in the city because they find a ready supply of food which is left lying, sometimes by simple littering but more usually as a result of poor disposal of waste by fast food and other businesses.

So let’s hit them where it hurts, with substantial fines which can be used to pay for pest control officers to improve our streets by clearing them of the gull menace.