Failing to protect our seas and oceans is leading to an increase in herring gulls in town and cities

Close up of herring gull

The increase in herring gulls living in our towns and cities is a result of the damage being done to our oceans and seas, the RSPB have said today (April 6).

Close up of herring gull

A report by Natural England suggests three quarters of the gulls now live in urban areas because of the relatively safe nesting options and a more reliable source of food.

The gulls are currently protected because of a dramatic decline in numbers which have seen their population halved at coastal sites since 1969.  Their numbers are now at their lowest on record and they are on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List.  

Despite these declines, the UK Government is now discussing the possibility of councils being able to control numbers in the future, following a trial in Worcester and Bath last year.

Tony Whitehead, country communications manager for the RSPB, said: “Herring gulls are one of the very adaptable species which have been growing into our towns while declining in wilder environments because of the damage we’re causing to our seas and their natural home. The gulls are drawn into urban spaces because of safe, relatively predator-free nesting areas and a ready source of food from our rubbish.

Herring gull nesting in town.jpg

“We do have sympathy that gulls can cause problems in some of these areas, especially at this time of year when they become protective parents. There are things we can do to prevent conflict between gulls and people, such as not feeding them and putting in place gull proof bins. But at a time when nature is being squeezed into smaller and smaller places, the long-term solution must be about finding ways of living alongside our wildlife”.

The RSPB are campaigning for a more effective network of marine protected areas (MPAs) to help provide ideal habitats for gulls and many other marine wildlife. Currently only 10% of our MPAs are well managed and monitored and there are clear gaps in protection offered, such as feeding grounds for cliff nesting birds. You can find out more here.

Tony added: "We have lost more than 40 million birds in the UK in the last 50 years. It would be great if we could spend a lot more time thinking about how we can restore habitats to bring wildlife back rather than trying to remove birds where we have problems“.