How Feeding the Birds Led to a Senior Citizen Being Threatened with Court Action
Mum has always fed the wild birds
My mum, now in her 80s, has always been a kind and caring person and has fed the wild birds in the garden for as long as I can remember.
As a child, I remember watching as a flurry of seagulls, pigeons, sparrows, starlings and occasionally more unusual birds would feed on our shed roof many times a day.
I grew up in a coastal resort and there were always plenty of gulls about. I never saw them as being a problem and always enjoyed seeing them swoop into our garden.
Mum used to throw any leavings out for the birds and they always enjoyed what ever was given to them.
Now living in council-run sheltered accommodation, mum has continued her lifelong pastime of feeding the birds. It is one of the few simple pleasures in life that she will always enjoy.
She has a pretty quiet life and enjoys it when the wild birds actually wait outside her door on a morning, or gather round when she arrives home, waiting for their food. She recognises some of the gulls, who come back on a regular basis.
There are not many - perhaps four or five - and she has seen a couple of them grow up from being very young, when they first left the nest.
Neighbour told mum she wasn't allowed to feed the birds
When mum feeds the birds, she does not put out huge piles of food which will go rotten. She puts out only a slice of bread, or a few crusts from her own sandwiches.
What ever she puts out is devoured immediately - sometimes within seconds. There is never any food left on the grass outside her window.
So she was amazed - and upset - when a neighbour warned her that she wasn't permitted to feed the birds because it was "unhygienic"! Apparently, before mum had moved in, a letter had been sent to all the residents by the council advising them not to feed the birds because it could attract rats.
Mum was quite surprised, never having seen a rat at the complex. She also felt the small amount of food she put out, which was eaten immediately, was not any kind of health hazard at all. She was upset at the warning.
Personally, I found it ridiculous too and I told mum to carry on feeding the birds if she wanted. She fed them only on the small patch of grass in her own garden area anyway, right outside her front door. So she wasn't causing anyone else problems with her harmless pastime.
Anonymous note pushed through mum's door
For the next few days, mum continued her daily activity of feeding the birds. She did this only twice a day - once on a morning and once after her dinner, when she gave them any leavings. All was devoured within two minutes, literally.
However, someone was obviously watching mum, as one day, she rang me, upset, to tell me an anonymous and rather unpleasant note had been pushed through her letterbox overnight.
It was hand-written and warned her that if she carried on feeding the birds and "creating a nuisance", she would be reported to the council for breaking the rules and "would be evicted".
I was aghast and furious. I told mum there was no way she could be evicted for feeding the birds and whoever sent this nasty and cowardly letter was just someone who had too much time on their hands and nothing better to do than spy on others from behind their curtains.
I suggested she put the note in her window so that anyone walking past could see it, accompanied by a note from me containing my telephone number and advising anyone who had a problem with mum should call me instead.
I didn't expect anyone to ring me - people like to hide behind anonymity to bully an old lady and will not deal in person with someone who cannot be bullied.
But mum wouldn't do this and just put the letter away somewhere. She said she didn't want a fuss.
However, the person who had written the anonymous letter and hand-delivered it through mum's letterbox was obviously determined to harass her and not let it go. A few days later, mum received a typed letter from the council advising her not to feed the birds. The letter said it "attracted vermin".
So she had apparently been reported to the council too.
Upset that someone was watching her
She did not reply to the letter, despite the fact I offered to respond to it myself.
What upset mum most was the fact someone was obviously spying on her in secret. But she had no idea which neighbour it was and it made her distrustful of everyone.
I could not fathom why someone would go out of their way to report an elderly lady for feeding a few birds. It baffled me.
A few weeks passed and although mum sometimes put out a few crusts now and again, she was actually scared to feed the birds.
There was one young seagull in particular that sat on the grass outside her window and waited to be fed. It still had its greyish, downy feathers and was not mature. When I arrived at mum's, I would see it sitting on the roof opposite and it would sometimes swoop down and sit on the grass. It was very friendly.
Mum kept saying she felt sorry for it, so I told her just to slip it a few crusts of bread outside her front door. I knew she wanted to and as she hadn't received any more anonymous notes, I thought the person watching her may have got bored and found someone else to harass.
Another letter from the council
Unfortunately, mum was still under scrutiny, I discovered ... another letter from the council arrived shortly afterwards. This time, it was not personally addressed to mum, but was a general mailing shot delivered to every resident of the sheltered complex.
It was "reminding everyone" that they must not feed the birds after "complaints that some residents were flouting the regulations by putting food out".
Oh, my goodness ... I was incensed with rage!
I just kept thinking to myself, my mum is 85 years of age, is no bother to anyone, has worked hard all her life (from the age of 14 to 65) and now just wants a quiet life. She is doing no-one any harm - yet someone seems determined to spy on her and cause her problems over an innocent and harmless pastime.
I could understand it if she put out lots of fresh food, which was left rotting in the sun, attracting flies or creating an odour. But this was certainly not the case.
I remain totally baffled as to how people can become so irate and spiteful over such a small thing when there is so much more to worry about in the world.
Verbal abuse in the street
Only a couple of weeks later, when mum was walking back from the supermarket and had just entered a public area of the sheltered complex, she saw the young seagull hanging around the path. He appeared to be following her! He still regularly sat on her grass and on the roof opposite, watching her front door.
Instinctively, she reached in her carrier bag, where she had just bought a loaf. She was going to give him a little crust. But then she remembered the warnings and decided against it.
However, just seconds later, a woman came storming down the path and started yelling at mum, "I saw you feeding that bird! You're not allowed to!"
Mum was truly shocked and said she hadn't fed the bird at all. But the woman was shouting that she was a "liar" and becoming very irate.
At that point, had I been there, the abusive woman would have been told to mind her own business and go back indoors. But because mum was alone, the woman continued to hurl verbal abuse at her.
She shouted at mum, "You'll be attracting rats here! You're not allowed to feed the birds, you're breaking the law!"
Mum continued to protest that she hadn't even taken the loaf out of its wrapper, but the woman insisted, "I saw you with my own eyes - I'm not senile like you!"
She threatened that mum would "end up in court".
Mum just walked away. She couldn't take any more and she went home very upset. She telephoned me to relate this awful incident to me.
I asked her where the abusive woman lived. I wanted to go and see her and ask how she thought it was acceptable to shout at an 85-year-old pensioner in the street. But mum wouldn't tell me. She was scared of what I might say or do.
So I suggested she should report the incident to the police, as I considered it threatening behaviour, or at the very least behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace.
But mum was so traumatised by what had happened, she would not allow me to do anything at all about it. She said she was scared that if she kicked up a fuss, she would end up in trouble with the council for feeding the birds in the first place.
I looked into the legal implications of feeding wild birds
Mum was shaken up by the verbal attack.
I was frustrated that she wouldn't tell me where her abuser lived, as I would certainly have done something about it.
I told mum it was nonsense that she could end up in court for feeding the birds. But subsequently I decided to do some research into whether she was actually breaking the law.
And to my amazement, I discovered she could indeed be fined for the horrific act of throwing a few crusts to half a dozen wild birds!
I read a number of cases online where local councils had successfully prosecuted and fined residents for feeding wild birds.
In one case, a resident of Devon, Rose Rodell, had been fined in May 2014 after being "warned" not to feed the birds. She had been fined £80 for "littering" as the council had claimed the seagulls were a problem.
So mum was correct to be worried, as she could indeed find herself in trouble with the law and subsequently fined if she continued to feed the birds - a seemingly harmless pastime that she had enjoyed for 80 years!
I am left stunned by this. I feel very disappointed and disillusioned that in these times of increasingly horrific crimes taking place, there is legislation to stop an elderly lady from feeding a seagull in her own garden and a very real threat she will incur a financial penalty if she does so.
Surely the powers-that-be should be targeting their resources towards apprehending the real criminals?