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Gulls and the law

Herring gull perching on railing

Image: Steve Round

All species of gull 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. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is also illegal to prevent birds from accessing their nest, and in Northern Ireland, it is illegal to disturb any nesting bird. In addition, the Mediterranean gull is protected under Schedule 1 of both Acts making it illegal to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds at or close to their nest or to disturb their dependent young.

However, the law recognises that in certain circumstances control measures may be necessary. Simple nuisance or minor damage to property are not legally sanctioned reasons to kill gulls. The UK administrations can issue licences, permitting nests to be destroyed or even birds to be killed if there is no non-lethal solution, and if it is done to prevent serious damage to agriculture, the spread of disease, to preserve public health and safety and air safety, or to conserve other wild birds.

These licences can be specific - issued to individuals on a case-by-case basis or general granted annually by the country administrations for use by an ‘authorised person’ (usually the landowner, occupier or someone authorised by them).

The general licences their terms and conditions and the species to which they apply vary in different parts of the UK, and they can be altered or withdrawn at any time. Anyone considering action against any gull must first consult the appropriate country agency for the current licence terms and conditions. See the links on the right. These agencies should also be contacted for information on specific deterrent or control measures; we are not in a position to advise on these.

Actions outside the terms and conditions of a general licence or that have not been permitted by any other individual licences are criminal offences.