SUMMITS have been held, task forces set up, but to no avail.

Nobody seems to know what to do about the growing menace of urban seagulls.

What annoys me most about these flying rats, as more and more people are calling them, is their ghastly, constant cacophonic screeching. I'm told it's just how they behave at nesting time, but if that's the case nesting time seems to last most of the year. The din goes on night and day, no matter what the weather is (except perhaps when there is very heavy rain). The gulls seem to need to keep up their infernal squawking clamour as some ghastly dystopian sound accompaniment to our daily lives.

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The case for the gulls is that it's all our fault. Their traditional breeding sites are disappearing, and there is so much food easily available in our towns and cities that the gulls are in effect encouraged to become urban creatures. There's some truth in that: if people keep dropping half- eaten pizzas and other disgusting litter, they have no right to complain about seagulls. If they deliberately feed them, which I regard as equally antisocial behaviour, then they too have no right to complain.

But I'm sure (just about) that most of us don't drop litter. We dispose of our refuse properly and we don't treat these infuriating birds as pets rather than pests. Yet we all suffer. Our roofs are damaged, gas flues are blocked, and our vehicles and washing are soiled with their disgusting bacteria- ridden droppings. Some folk can't even go about their legitimate business without being attacked by these increasingly confident airborne thugs.

A council in a seaside town in southern England has had to issue hard hats to some to its staff, who were under regular attack. Paperboys have had to quit their rounds because of intimidation by swooping gulls. In Edinburgh a cricket match was almost abandoned because the players were being buzzed by hyper-aggressive gulls. These birds are winning and we don't seem to know how to fight back.

Seagulls are a protected species, as are all wild birds. You are not allowed to capture, injure or destroy any wild bird. When it comes to their nests, the legal position is more complicated. Glasgow City Council's position is that when gulls nest on private property, it is the owner's responsibility to have the nest removed. This can of course be done humanely and efficiently by experts, but the gulls will presumably just find another nesting site. It seems to be diverting the problem, not dealing with it.

A "seagull summit" was held in Dumfries some years ago. A "seagull task force" was set up and various actions were implemented but from what I hear residents there are still menaced by these birds. Meanwhile Edinburgh City Council is systematically removing eggs and nests from one specific area, Merchiston.

Some experts insist that spikes on buildings which are nesting sites, and even nets, can be effective deterrents. A more eccentric expert reckons that gulls hate the colour red: an excuse for painting our towns red?

As many as 30 years ago, Scarborough Council sought, and received, Government support to take systematic, intensive action because so many gulls were attacking both pets and people in the resort. A cunning retaliatory plan was devised. Council employees placed sandwiches and other titbits infused with a powerful narcotic around the gulls' nests. When the birds were stunned, they were removed and destroyed.

Unfortunately, from what I've heard, Scarborough, 30 years on, is once again plagued by gulls.

Several years ago, on holiday on the island of Hoy, my wife and I were told that if we were walking along the clifftops it might be advisable to wear hard hats because of diving "bonxies", or skuas. We were not attacked ourselves, but we saw three other walkers being dive- bombed by these angry birds when they wandered too near their nests. The spectacle was frightening rather than amusing. Will similar scenes soon be a routine part of urban life in Scotland?