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David Cameron has flown into the debate about culling seagulls, calling for a “big conversation” about the issue.

The British prime minister’s call follows an attack on a pet tortoise in Cornwall this week. Liskeard resident Jan Byrne said that gulls swooped on tortoise Stig, who died two days later from his injuries.

“They turned him over and were pecking at him. We were devastated,” she told the BBC.

There have been two reports of seagulls attacking and killing dogs in England in the past three months.

Mr Cameron told BBC Radio Cornwall: “It is a dangerous one for the prime minister to dive in and come up with an instant answer with the issues of the protection of seagulls, whether there is a need for a cull, what should be done about eggs and nests.

“I think a big conversation needs to happen about this and frankly the people we need to listen to are people who really understand this issue in Cornwall, and the potential effects it is having.

“Reading the papers this morning about how aggressive the seagulls are now in St Ives, for instance, we do have a problem.”

This week Emily Vincent (36) said her Yorkshire terrier Roo was attacked by gulls in her Newquay garden. The pet was badly injured and was put down by a vet, she said.

Cornwall council had told Ms Vincent that herring gulls, which nest on her roof, were a protected species and could not be destroyed.

Local MP Steve Double said the incident was disturbing and had asked the environment secretary what measures could be put in place to control Cornwall’s seagull population.

Ms Byrne fears that the gulls will now try to kill her other pet tortoise George, and her pet rabbit, Petal.

“After the attack, George was extremely subdued,” she told The Times. “He wasn’t himself at all for about a week. Petal was not the same either. I think she must have seen the whole thing.”

In May a chihuahua puppy was attacked and killed by seagulls in a garden in Honiton, Devon. Guardian service