A HAMPSHIRE shopping centre has become the first in the country to hire workers to prevent seagulls attacking customers and eating their food.

The two staff members, called "scaregulls", wear owl masks, red tops and hold brightly coloured balloons – which are proven to deter the sea birds.

They even had a run-in with one bird but managed to startle it before the gull flew away from Southampton’s WestQuay shopping centre.

Their new appointment comes after a number of people this summer were attacked by the violent birds in seaside towns across the UK.

Meanwhile, a number of scared customers have voiced their concern at the city shopping centre about the presence of the animals.

Alexandra Thomas, from WestQuay, said: “We’re thrilled to have our new ‘scaregulls’ on board at WestQuay.

“Seagulls have been wreaking havoc around the country and our customers’ safety is of the utmost importance.”

But many shoppers at WestQuay reacted with laughter to the scheme.

Daily Echo:

While some said any efforts were welcome others expressed scepticism about whether it was necessary and the scaregulls’ effectiveness.

Joanne Sullivan, 44, of Chaucer Close, Fareham, said: “It’s a bit silly.

“I have seen in other places where they have put an owl on top of the building to scare off seagulls – I think that would be more appropriate.

“I have been to seaside resorts like St Ives where they have swiped my Cornish pasty, but not here.”

Mark Trowbridge, 49, of Lackford Avenue, Totton, said: “As long as it works that’s the main thing. It’s worth a try.

“They seem to be on the increase – looking at the news when you see them taking mobile phones and ice cream – if I had younger children I’d be concerned.”

Lucy Carroll, 42, of Hamble, added: “I have never known WestQuay to be overrun with seagulls – pigeons, but not seagulls.

“It’s scary – I imagine they will attract a few children for photos which is probably not the idea or scare a few children.”

Madelaine Attwood, 44, of Bursledon Road, Sholing, said: “I guess if it gives someone employment it’s got to be a good thing. I just think it’s quite funny.”

Victoria Rice, 37, from Lymington, said: “To me it just looks like people in fancy dress.

“I can’t imagine that that would scare a seagull, it looks ridiculous.

“I would have thought they were going to a party but then I’m not a seagull so I’m not sure how they would react.

“I haven’t noticed an issue [in Southampton], I live in Lymington and we’ve probably got more there.

“But I think they would stick out like a sore thumb if they were running around Lymington.”