The last few days have seen an infuriating surge in the rhetoric of those calling for the control of Britain’s gulls; as campaigners clamour for the lethal action, red-faced MP’s bluster and the national press embarks on yet another misinformed wildlife witch-hunt. It has all been rather depressing, at least for those, like me, rather fond of our gulls. The situation made even worse by the horrendously bias coverage of the issue on television; by shows such as Good Morning Britain who appear content to make light of the situation and further inflame tensions, doubtless to the detriment of our wildlife.
Yes, tuning into ITV this morning – as I do most days – I was left appalled by the incredibly one-sided coverage of the issue by GMB. The relevant segment, presented by Ben Shepard and Susanna Reid (thank the lord Piers was not involved) and including an interview with Oliver Colvile MP, serving little other than to vilify our gulls through the endless use of scaremongering language, incriminating footage and unnecessary exaggeration. With said MP apparently forgetting that all gulls, as opposed to simply the Herring Gull, as stated, are protected to a varying degree by British law; and Susanna painting the natural process of predation – on this occasion between a gull and a sparrow – as some sort of grossly offensive crime. The whole segment was preposterous, in truth,
Given the level of coverage the gull issue has received of late, you would be forgiven for thinking that it represents one of the great wildlife management conflicts of modern times. And for believing the antics of gulls, particularly the larger species contained within the Larus genus, paramount to those of other problem species; to rabbits, rats and badgers that attribute to a significant amount of economic damage each year. Or perhaps to invasive mink or squirrels, both highly detrimental to conservation efforts. They are not, and our grievance with gulls stems from little other than ignorance and mild inconvenience, as opposed to necessity. Our dislike of these birds born of human laziness and a reluctance to coexist with another successful, adaptive species. For this reason, I find the proposed cull of gulls utterly offensive.
There is no doubt in my mind that humans are directly responsible for the gull problem; by providing them with ample opportunity to misbehave. Something we achieve through our tendency to leave rubbish outside or place it in land-fill, providing an irresistible food source for gulls left hungry due to the continued human depletion of natural resources and the erosion of traditional habitats. The same applies when it comes to direct contact with the birds themselves: with many people content to offer titbits to hungry gulls when approached and others going actively out of their way to do so, thus habituating the birds to our usually frightening presence. Is it little wonder then that they return for more? Or that this behaviour has become widespread as more and more animals learn to exploit a new, inexhaustible food source? Surely this is common sense, or perhaps that is just me?
If you have not gathered already, I quite like gulls: big ones, small ones, rare ones, common ones, it matters not. To me, the piercing vocalisation of gulls is the quintessential sound of our seaside, and now, our cites. One I am content to revel in, and seldom annoyed by – a trend not shared by the residents of some urban areas it would seem. Though noise is hardly an appropriate reason to sanction a government lead cull, in my opinion; and those voicing such could easily save themselves the ear-ache by investing in double-glazing, or perhaps some earplugs.
My own, personal love of gulls is not, however, the reason I find myself opposed to the idea of a cull. No, that stems from the nature of Britain’s gull populations – with species such as Herring Gull and Lesser Black-Back, two of the more problematic species, currently declining at an alarming rate. So much so that both species now find themselves of conservation concern; with Herring Gulls removed from governments flawed general license for that very reason. The killing of gulls in our cities, or indeed, the proposed destruction of nests – as advocated by the not so honourable Oliver Colvile – would surely place yet more pressure on these already embattled populations; leading to further declines in the future. This cannot be allowed, and it does not take a genius to see that any such move would be folly.
What is the answer to our gull problem? Well, I do not quite know; though a change in human behaviour would be a step in the right direction. We need to clean up our towns and cities, invest in humane deterrents and, for gods sake, stop the deliberate sharing of food. More importantly, however, we need to adopt a more tolerant mindset – something regularly preached in regards to people but often forgotten when it comes to wildlife. Gulls, much like pigeons, are one of the few, hardy, creatures able to adapt to life in the present day – where natural habitats find themselves replaced by the endless sprawl of concrete and habitation. A fact which should be celebrated; not condemed.
Header Image: Michael Mulqueen licensed under Flickr Creative Commons