Falcons could clear town of gulls

A FALCONRY expert is letting birds of prey loose on a college roof to clear the building of nuisance seagulls.

Ben Potter says putting the peregrine falcons in the sky has the same terrifying effect on the birds as “letting a lion run through a football stadium”.

Ben Potter with one of his birds

Ben Potter with one of his birds

He has been hired by Hartlepool College of Further Education, in Stockton Street, to rid the £53m new build of gulls that are noisy, cause damage and create an unsightly mess.

The pests are said to be petrified of falcons – their only natural predator in England – and will scatter as far afield as Redcar to get away from the agile hunters.

Mr Potter, who goes all over the country with his aviary of animals, said: “Hartlepool is perfect for gulls. They need water, food and roosting points and the town has the sea, high buildings and landfill sites. Sadly though, they can be a nuisance.

“What we are doing is removing the college as a roosting point before the breeding season gets into full swing.

“Putting a falcon up is like letting a lion run through a football stadium. The bird doesn’t need to kill or attack anything, just seeing it is enough for the gulls to realise they have to get well out of the way.”

Mr Potter, who runs Thirsk-based Birds of Prey Display, said the seagulls will fly as high as they can to get above the falcon and then head out to sea before looking back at the coast to see what is happening.

They will then try and find a safe haven away from the predator, with landfill sites and the cliffs near Redcar said to be two of their favourite haunts.

He says the birds will think twice about returning within 5,000 sq ft of where the falcon was last seen.

Mr Potter, 30, who has been working with birds of prey for the last 14 years and now has 27, added: “People often say silly things like ‘just shoot them’, but nine out of 10 gulls are protected and you can’t just go discharging firearms in a town centre.

“There are very few options, but this is a natural and harmless way of dealing with the problem.

“Falcons may be smaller but they are fast, stealthy and aggressive and would hunt gulls in the wild.”

Mr Potter will be returning to the college throughout the next month to make sure the gulls do not set up roost on the state-of-the-art centre.

Helen Watts, head of marketing for the college, said: “This is the most environmentally friendly way of solving the problem and protecting the new building.

“They are beautiful birds and do the job without causing any harm.”