Birds-of-prey ‘bouncers’ could be deployed to scare food-stealing seagulls from Exmouth town centre and ensure they don’t return.

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Exmouth councillors have backed joining forces with Sidmouth and Seaton in a £15,500 project to hire a gull hawk handler for three days a week in The Strand and Magnolia Centre from now until July in a one-year trial. The birds could entertain tourists and deter gulls and pigeons.

The money would come from the Parishes Together Fund - £1.10 is available for every elector for joint projects, but only if towns work togther.

However, Deputy Mayor Bill Nash had concerns and said: “We are a seaside location and seagulls have been here for hundreds of years, before we were.

“We have built all over their living areas – the problem is not the gulls, but people eating food in the open.”

Jonathan Marshall, from Experience Falconry UK, said: “Herring gulls are globally a threatened species. In small pockets they are a nuisance. We feed them, we are messy, leave chips and KFC everywhere and they make the most of it.”

The main problem is the bugs they carry like E.coli and botulism and he said town outdoor eating establishments had a ‘responsibility’ to tackle the problem.

“We want to stop Exmouth, Seaton and Sidmouth from turning into a colony and to chase them away without killing them,” he said.

“We want visitors to have a good time and the last thing we want is for them to go home traumatised because they have seen a gull ripped to pieces.”

He said that people’s behaviour had given gulls a ‘bad name’ and added: “They are magnificent birds and it’s a shame we have to label them with our filthy habits.

“We are not here to kill gulls, we are here to stop them from nesting.”

Exmouth town clerk Colin Poole said: “The Journal’s striking photograph of a seagull taking food from journalist Paul Strange last year illustrated the very scary incidents visitors to the town centre had experienced – including young children.

“The council recognises that people’s behaviour is the real problem, but unfortunately there is no law against feeding birds in a public place.

“Some people will no doubt be upset at the gulls being the ones moved on, but responsibility for the aggressive gulls sits with those people who amuse themselves feeding junk food to wild animals.”

l A bid to use Parishes Together Fund cash to employ a falconer will now be submitted and considered by the district council.

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