Tourism bosses have hired two bald eagles to defend popular United Kingdom coastal beaches amid fears that seagulls are scaring away too many visitors.

Lyme Regis Town Council have deployed two of the carnivorous birds in order to combat the longstanding problem of angry seagulls attacking tourists and eating their food on the beach.

The eagles - named Winnie and Kojak - have been resting on the arms of two handlers while they patrol the promenade of the resort to act as a deterrent to any nearby seagulls.

The pilot scheme could be extended into the summer in an effort to keep visitor numbers up, as their presence has so far prevented hundreds of gulls swooping down on tourists enjoying the beach.

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It is believed to be the first time a council has used eagles to stop seagulls from disturbing people, although Exmouth, Sidmouth and Seaton have all deployed falcons in the past.

Mark Green, Deputy Clerk of Lyme Regis Town Council, said: "We have had an extensive gull problem for some time now and have tried several means of discouraging them from landing. It's not just them stealing people's food - we've had reports of them attacking families unprovoked which has been very scary for those involved.

"If the trial is successful I can definitely see them being used again over the summer. It is certainly not inexpensive so we can't do it every day but maybe during the busiest times."

In recent years, seagulls have blighted popular seaside resorts by attacking people they see as a threat to young chicks.

There have been several incidents of people needing hospital treatment after being left bloodied and bruised by the vicious birds.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to "intentionally injure or kill any gull" or to "damage or destroy an active nest or its contents".

Some tourism resorts have resorted to introducing bylaws making it an offence for people to feed seagulls, with warning signs put up to reinforce the message.

Last year, West Dorset council brought in fines of up to £100 (NZ$195) for people caught feeding birds in parts of Lyme Regis and West Bay.

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However, as the problem of seagull attacks persisted, Dorset firm Xtreme Falconry has intervened by offering the services of the two eagles, who each have a 7ft wingspan and weigh 10lbs.

Falconer Martin Ballam said: "The way it works is that the gulls see the low level threat and stay at a distance. It allows people to enjoy their food and chips in peace and everyone on the beach is that little bit safer.

"You're never going to scare all of the gulls away, that's just nature, but if we can do our bit to help out then we're happy. We're not harming the gulls and this is an ecologically friendly way of dealing with the issue."

Local businesses have welcomed the new initiative as they look towards a busy summer period as scores of holidaymakers flock to the coastal beaches.

Kelly Hutchings, who works at Jane's Cafe on the seafront at Lyme, said: "Some of our customers have mentioned that they've noticed the lack of gulls. It's brilliant to be honest. We get hundreds of gulls down here and there is usually at least one attack a day. I am definitely in support of these eagles being used again."