Love them or hate them, gulls are part of the United Kingdom’s natural history, as well as an increasingly visible part of urban landscapes. These attractive birds are intelligent and adaptable and have learned to survive and even thrive in a changing landscape. Sadly, their old way of life has become increasingly unsustainable due to habitat destruction and limited resources caused by overfishing.
So let's get into it, are seagulls protected in the UK?
All wild gulls in the United Kingdom are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. While they may have become far more numerous in our towns and cities, many species have declined dramatically in their natural habitat. As such, it is illegal to kill, catch or injure wild gulls in the UK without a permit. This applies to active nests, eggs, and chicks as well.
The natural food supply of wild gulls has undoubtedly been reduced due to various practices such as overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction. At the same time, seagulls have learned that food is readily available wherever people are. Be it a sandwich in the hand of an unsuspecting tourist, or a rubbish bag full of kitchen scraps set out on the pavement, seagulls are quick to take advantage of an easy meal.
Wild gulls nest on cliffs in nature, and it just so happens that our roofs provide an equally suitable alternative, conveniently situated near their new food source. Gulls are highly protective over their eggs and chicks while nesting, and this causes further conflict between us and these feisty seabirds in the built environment.
This article covers the protection status of seagulls, the threats they face, and how we can better live alongside them. Read along to learn more about these frequently maligned and misunderstood seabirds.
Unfortunately, Lesser Black-Backed Gull numbers are in decline
Many of the world’s seabird species are under threat from various human impacts and activities, and seagulls are no exception. These birds deserve protection to preserve their numbers and safeguard their future.
In some parts of the United Kingdom, seagull numbers are on the rise, but this belies an ongoing decline in wild populations, something of grave concern to conservationists and nature lovers alike.
The two gull species which most often come into conflict with humans are the Herring Gull and Lesser Black-Backed Gull. Both of these birds are in decline in their natural habitat, and the Herring Gull is, in fact, a Red list species.
European Herring Gull in flight - Red List species, due to their declining numbers
It is unfortunate that many people see gulls as an increasing nuisance while their numbers in the wild continue to decline.
The major threats to seagulls are overfishing and habitat destruction. Climate change may also play an increasing role in changing seabird populations and distributions. These birds have relatively few natural enemies, although they do fall prey to mink, foxes, falcons and seals.
The United Kingdom is home to a rich diversity of gull species, and as many as a dozen different species can be seen off its coastline, inland water sources, and even towns and cities. There are 6 species which can be considered the more common seagulls of the UK, all of which are of conservation concern and believed to have declined in their natural habitat.
Continue reading to learn more about the UK’s most common gull species and their conservation status:
Numbers of this common species have increased in the last two centuries or so, although recent declines have resulted in their Amber UK conservation status.
Despite its name, this relatively uncommon species has declined in number. It is on the Amber list of conservation concern.
The Kittiwake is a red list species. These small gulls have declined dramatically since the 1940s.
Kittiwake numbers have significantly declined since the 1940s
These large gulls often cause conflict in urban and residential areas. Despite their increasing numbers in the built environment, their wild population has decreased by as much as 50% in their natural coastal habitat. For this reason, Herring Gulls are now included on the Red list of conservation concern.
This is another species that has adapted well to urban areas. These birds are currently in decline in the wild after recovering well from the 19th century. Their conservation status is Amber.
This is the UK’s and the world's largest gull species. They show a long-term moderate decline and are on the Amber list.
Great Black-backed Gull - the largest UK species of gull
All gulls are protected in Scotland by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This means it is illegal to disturb or damage an active nest, or kill, capture or injure eggs, chicks or adult gulls, intentionally or otherwise.
Understanding the cause of the conflict with seagulls is the first step towards developing compassionate strategies for dealing with these conflict-causing seabirds. So what makes seagulls so prone to conflict with humans? There are two important factors, and these are food and nest site availability.
Humans have a tendency to be rather wasteful when it comes to food. From half-eaten fast food in open bins to tonnes of waste disposed of at tips, seagulls have found us to provide an easy source of free food. Here’s what you can do to encourage seagulls to look for food elsewhere:
The second factor that causes conflict with gulls is their habit of nesting on the roofs of homes and other buildings. It is illegal to interfere with an active gull nest, but preparations can be made to prevent future nesting. Here’s what you can do:
Despite being named the Common Gull, their numbers are slowly declining
Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls can be a real nuisance in urban and coastal resort areas, but it is vital to remember that they are protected by law. This means it is illegal to kill, injure, or capture a gull. You may not interfere with nesting gulls, or their eggs and chicks either.
It is natural for those affected to feel that destroying seagulls and their nests is the best solution to this problem, but as a strategy, it fails to address the cause, and simply perpetuates a cycle.
The general licences for wild bird control no longer apply to Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the United Kingdom. Affected parties wishing to control seagulls can, however, apply for an individual licence from Natural England.
Licences are only granted in instances where the birds pose a real danger to health and safety.
It is illegal to kill, injure, or capture a gull in the UK.
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