Renowned professor Sir Geoff Palmer and his unlikely friendship with a seagull named Gilbert

He is a renowned academic who was given an OBE in 2003, a knighthood in 2014 and awarded the Order of Distinction in Jamaica’s honours list last week.

And through it all a constant figure in the past two decades of Sir Geoff Palmer’s life has been a seagull named Gilbert, who visits his Midlothian garden every day for food.

Sir Geoff, 80, shared pictures of Gilbert in his garden last week on social media, and added that the seagull was the inspiration for one of the characters in his 2001 children’s book Mr White and the Ravens.

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In the book, a fable about racist discrimination, the seagull Gilbert takes against a pair of ravens and wants them to go back to where they came from.

Sir Geoff said: “The story is that Mr White is white, and he feeds the cat, the seagull and the ravens. He doesn’t like the ravens much, and he tends to try not to feed them.

“But they come down because they want some food, and his relationship with the animals continues until one day the ravens turn up with their baby. That completely changes his whole attitude to them, because he then sees it’s not just about two individuals, it’s a family. They were not looking after themselves, but really looking after the family that they had.

“The seagull didn’t like the ravens, his attitude was that they should go off where they normally go and not come back.

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“In terms of what we have today with Black Lives Matter, I was writing in that basis where people discriminate and they don’t know really why they’re doing it.

“Until they see something like that, like the George Floyd crucifixion, or until Mr White saw the young one, he didn’t realise he was prejudiced against a child and that changed his view.”

The professor emeritus at Heriot-Watt University said Gilbert has been visiting every day for years and he is sure it is the same bird.

“There are not many seagulls who will be standing in your garden almost on your shoulder or at your back door,” he said.

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“There’s a roof out above me and he’s always on the roof. He’s always in that spot so he can see down to our house. And as soon as the curtain moves in the morning, he’s down.

“He then gets his bread, he likes it all mulched up. You have to roll it in a ball, and when you throw it out he catches it.

“If any other bird comes down to this garden, he defends his patch with great aggression. He’s never lost a battle.”

Gilbert has a good relationship with other creatures in Sir Geoff’s garden.

He said: “He has a lovely relationship with my cat Mia. I’ve got two foxes which come every day as well. It’s an equality garden – the fox, the seagull and the cat.”

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