by Claire Cuddihy
Many of us (including myself) will happily confess to having boasted to friends attending inland universities that Swansea has “the closest campus to a beach in the world”.
Even if we rarely paddle in the murky blue waters, unsure of its content from upstream in Port Talbot, we emphasise the beauty of being able to watch the fireworks on the beach on Guy Fawkes night, runs along the promenade, water sports, and at the end of our university days, having graduation photos with the beautiful sandy stretches of Swansea bay as a backdrop.
Yet there are downfalls to being this close to the sea.
Like any British seaside, Swansea is synonymous with seagulls. Whether it’s a sausage roll, a pack of chips, or an ice cream these opportunistic omnivores are not fussy, and as pests go, they have proven an increasing problem for Swansea City Council over the years as their numbers have risen.
A number of deterrents have already been introduced in Swansea city centre, including nets and spikes on public buildings, the launch of an education campaign to reduce litter, and more drastically, the introduction of specially trained hawks on the roof of Swansea’s Market.
In mid-January this year, the university distributed an email, issuing a warning to staff and students of the prevalence of incidents where these sky rats have scavenged from people outside Fulton House on Singleton Campus.
This seemingly tongue-in-cheek email offered a number of handy tips on what you should do to prevent being ‘mugged’ by a gull including: being alert and protecting/hiding food, taking your food to a sheltered wooded area to eat, such as in the Botanic Gardens at Singleton Park; and ‘eating with your back against a wall’, to prevent them from swooping in undetected from behind!
People were also implored not to feed them.
President of the Student’s Union, Lloyd Harris emphasised the importance of this, claiming that the “gulls have found a convenient food source and are exploiting it to the full.”
“By encouraging them to approach people by some giving them food or dropping litter is only making this problem worse, and it could soon cause an injury”
It seems that these strategically-positioned birds have come to learn of our student psyche during peak deadline and exam season – where many of us over the past month have broken up our day at the library to pop to Costcutter to stock up on sandwiches, sweets, or hot food from Blas café – and taken advantage of the easy food supply.
Staff and students alike have been targeted, with scenes ensuing reminiscent of that nightmarish scene in the Alfred Hitchcock horror film, ‘The Birds’.
Third year Mechanical Engineering student, Will Tyson, recalls his experience as a victim of one such incident.
“Me and a mate went to get some food from Costcutter between volleyball games and two seagulls stalked me and my BLT sandwich from Fulton up to the hospital before they actually dived in and tried to poach it.”
Final year student Tasnim Uddin was attached by a seagull in 2013 as she reminisces how she had ‘just picked up a lovely protein cookie from Blas and started my stroll over to the uni gym for a midday workout… suddenly a seagull lands on my shoulders and won’t let go! (I’m screaming because I think I’m getting mugged) the seagull takes the cookie and jumps off my shoulder onto the pavement, looks straight at me whilst munching my cookie!”
Having researched reports of incidents involving seagulls elsewhere in the UK, there are horrific stories of people almost being ‘scalped’ by the birds; bloodied split lips, where the seagulls had ripped food straight from people’s mouths, and one case where a pensioner subsequently suffered from a heart attack after being harassed by a gull in his back garden.
When food is involved, it seems that these ordinarily placid creatures can turn nasty, and their scavenging has even been known to lead to fatal attacks.
In July 2015, a seagull was reported to have attacked and killed a Yorkshire Terrier in Newquay, and in a nearby seaside town, pecked a tortoise to death.
Their destructive capability is hardly surprising when we consider the features of the average British herring gull (the most common type of seagull in Britain). Weighing over a kilogram, with a sizeable wingspan of 1.3-1.6m, razor-sharp beak and talons, and able to reach speeds of over 40km/h, you do not want to be the chosen victim of this feathered frenzy.
Lloyd Harris appeals to the student community to respond positively to this advice.
“All jokes aside, all I can say is that by teaching gulls to associate people with food, we are simply leading them to become aggressive, and so I’d encourage all students to take measures to not feed them.”