Rooftop rescue after disturbance at Sussex Port

The UK Border Agency had to call for back-up on Saturday evening (12th June 2009) after a fight between two rival groups over a youngster. However the disturbance was not of a human but of two rival species of gulls.

Volunteer rescuers from East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service (WRAS) were called out by Newhaven's UK Border Agency at about 9pm after a gull chick fell from a roof and resulted in a fight between neighbouring Herring Gulls and Black Backed Gulls on the roof of their offices at Newhaven Harbour.

Staff at the Border Agency initially found the cute and fluffy gull chick in a drainage channel on the flat roof where he would have died if they had not found him. Unfortunately Herring Gull and Black-backed Gull chicks look very similar and are very difficult to tell apart. Agency staff moved the chick along to a neighbouring flat roof to where the Herring Gulls were nesting resulting in a fight breaking out between the Herring Gulls and Black-backed gulls. Staff were able to quell the fighting by moving the chick onto a different section of roof away from the Herring Gull's nest. Concerned about the gull chick's safety rescuers from WRAS were called to assist with the problem.

On arrival volunteer rescuers Trevor Weeks and Kathy Martyn were shown to the gull chick and climbed onto the roof in order to catch the week to 10 day old chick. "There were three nests on the roof and we had to try and work out who was nesting where and what was going on. Eventually we discovered that the Herring Gulls had a nest at one end of the building on the lower roof and the Black-backed Gulls had a nest of the top most roof at the other end. A third nest was not in use." said Trevor Weeks, Rescue Co-ordinator for WRAS.

"The gull chick was clearly a Black-backed gull because of the size and weight," explained WRAS volunteer rescuer Kathy Martyn, "as we approached and caught the chick the black-backed gulls were clearly distressed with us going close to their offspring."

Rescuers then had the difficult job of getting the gull chick back to its parents right on the top of the building over 35ft up. Using ladders Trevor was able to reach the main roof but then had to carefully pull up a smaller ladder onto the roof in order to reach the top most roof where the Black-backed gulls were nesting. "Erecting a ladder close to a gulls nest is not easy and the parents do not like it at all and quite rightly start to defend there territory by dive bombing, however gulls very rarely hit you - I've only been hit 4 times in 24 years, they normally dive bomb to frighten you as they know if they hit you they could cause damage to themselves as well as you" said Trevor.

"The gull chick was eventually returned to his parents right at the top of the building and the proud parents were delighted to have him home, peace was one again restored to Newhaven Harbour as a result at about 10.30pm" said Kathy.

"If you attempt to place a gull chick back on a roof it is important that you place them on the correct roof or fights like this can break out. If in doubt about how to do this WRAS can be contacted for advice and help where possible. We would like to thank the UK Border Agency for their great support and for showing such compassion towards the wildlife at the port they did a grand job," said Trevor.

Herring Gulls are now on the Red Data List and Black-backed Gulls are on the Amber list too. "Many people don't realise that there are over 5 times as many puffins in the UK as there are Herring Gulls!" said Trevor.

Every year WRAS rescuers are called out to over 350 gull incidents, many are road casualties, shot victims, dog attacked fledglings and young chicks which fall off roof tops. Currently WRAS are erecting ladders and returning at least 1 gull chick a day. Today (Friday 12th June) WRAS returned two chicks and had to bring one in because it had been fed milk which is bad for birds and another had a serious head injured after falling off a roof and had to be euthanased by a vet. WRAS is trying hard to fight the plight of the falling population in gulls across Sussex but it is also fighting a financial battle too and needs funds to help keep the service on the road and responding to such call-outs.

"We are currently trying to deal with as many calls as we can but we are not able to deal with everything due to the workload" said Trevor, "we are trying to raise funds which takes us away from dealing with the call-outs but without funds we can't rescue anything."

Anyone wanting to make a donation to WRAS can do so online or send a donation to East Sussex WRAS, PO Box 2148, Seaford, East Sussex, BN25 9DE.

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Press Contact: Trevor Weeks, East Sussex WRAS, 07931 523958
If you would like to speak to a representative from the UK Border Agency at Newhaven please contact Trevor Weeks on the above number for contact information.

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