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Could upland gulls prove a problem for birds of prey as well as ground-nesting birds?

In Aberdeen, gulls are proving themselves a nuisance. It’s the same story as we see up and down the UK; gulls are finding it easier to source food in cities and inland areas rather than in their more usual breeding locations. Aberdeen, being a coastal city, has of course always housed gulls - but numbers are increasing, and new rules mean that councils are unable to control their numbers as they once could.

In order to keep numbers down and discourage them from breeding in the city centre, Aberdeen council decided to bring in SGC Environmental, who use falcons to patrol the city centre and scare off the gulls.

However sadly this backfired. One falcon, named Peppa, became so intimidated by the gulls that she flew off and hasn't been seen since. As her handler Sarah Calderwood explained to the Press and Journal: "The gulls went wild, swooping at her. When she flew away, they went after her." Although she is wearing a radio transmitter, they haven't had any joy in locating her since she disappeared last Friday.

As we have written about on these pages before, the influx of gulls to inland upland areas is proving a huge problem for the ground-nesting birds that choose to live and breed there, many of which are red and amber listed species. Herring and lesser-black backed gulls cannot be controlled through a general licence as they were deemed to to have a poor conservation status (despite evidence that previous counts were flawed, and they are in fact thriving). Estates and individuals must therefore apply for an individual licence in order to control their numbers; but very few of these have been issued. One estate who did receive one had permission to cull just 10 gulls; not even a drop in the ocean compared to the thousands of gulls nesting and predating on the moors.

This means that keepers must sit by and watch chicks and eggs be taken by gulls; there is nothing they can do.

But if gulls are able to scare off a falcon, what other impact is their increased presence on the moors having to the general bird population? It is highly likely that as well as affecting the populations of vulnerable ground-nesting birds, they are also reducing raptor numbers; both competing with them for food, but also intimidating them to the extent that they relocate entirely.


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