A spate of seagull attacks across the country, led the then Prime Minister David Cameron to call for a “big conversation” on the issue. All gull species currently enjoy protected status in the UK, but some people have called for a cull to remove gulls in problem areas.
Animal welfare is a devolved issue. Gulls currently enjoy protected status in the UK; all species of are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. This makes it illegal to intentionally or, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, recklessly injure or kill any gull or damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.
All “seven breeding gull species in the UK are birds of conservation concern” according to the RSPB. The herring gull is red listed due to severe declines in its national breeding population, and the other species are amber listed for differing reasons. Only, the Mediterranean gull population is not in decline.
Dealing with problem gulls
Natural England advises that:
In many cases the problems [with gulls] can be avoided or kept to tolerable levels by local authorities and landowners taking preventative measures such as installing netting or wire over vulnerable roosting areas, keeping food storage and waste facility areas secure and discouraging deliberate feeding of birds by the public.
Councils are allowed to issue licences for birds to be disposed of or nests to be destroyed where there is no other satisfactory solution, and there is a risk to public health or safety. There are slight differences in the licensing arrangements in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, though all adhere to the EU Birds Directive.
A gull cull?
Currently, DEFRA’s approach to managing gull populations is through licensing and effective long-term management. However, some people have called for a cull to remove gulls in urban areas.
There is some public support for a cull. In the summer of 2015, YouGov surveyed 1,746 people on their support for a cull on seagulls. This revealed that: “by a small margin British people tend to support the idea of a gull cull (44% support, 36% oppose), while in rural areas support reaches 50%. Most people aged 60 or over (53%) also support a cull, but 18-24s oppose one by a majority (53%).”
The RSPCA is opposed in principle, to killing or taking wildlife and would instead advocate the use of non-harmful methods of deterrence where possible.
In 2015, the then Minister for Natural Resources explained that he felt that the powers in place for local authorities to take action were sufficient, but that the Department would look at what else could be done:
We have been very careful, on balance, to make sure that we manage protected species, but I think there are already powers in place for local authorities to take action. It is something I’ve asked my team to give me some further advice on, because I do recognise, actually, some of the activities in urban settings, particularly in Cardiff, where there are some wild birds that take their actions on innocent bystanders as you walk past their nests.
In 2010, Dumfries and Galloway Council, the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage published a report which examined gull deterrence using Peregrine Falcons. This study found that falcons could act as a deterrence, and made a number of recommendations. In answer to a PQ in September 2015, Environment Minister Aileen McLeod explained that she “hoped that local authorities across Scotland will be able to implement the recommendations in this report, and learn from measures.”
The Northern Ireland Government states that “Choosing the right course of action is essential as it is illegal to intentionally harm or kill any wild bird species.” It goes on to say that not all of the measures you can take are lasting solutions, and recognises that in some circumstances local authorities may need to reduce gull numbers for public health reasons.