How can we protect moorland SSSIs from the increasing population of gulls?
The sheer carnage and devastation that gulls can cause to the populations of ground-nesting birds is a topic which we have visited before. Opportunistic feeders, they are increasingly moving from their traditional maritime and shore habitats to inland areas: mainly towns and cities, or the uplands. While urban areas provide rich pickings through dumps and landfill sites, on the moors it is other creatures that provide gulls with food – which includes the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds. This does include grouse, but also many other species: red-listed curlew and lapwing, for example.
Historically, gull numbers could be controlled by keepers in order to protect vulnerable birds; but the new rules introduced by Natural England make this impossible to do. Not only is the process long-winded and torturous, but in the North Yorkshire Moors for example, nearly all applications for gull licences have been refused.
The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation have released a new film which highlights exactly the devastation caused by the UK’s growing gull population. It highlights the fact that there are 257,000 pairs of herring, less black-backed and greater black-backed gulls in the UK; and if we don’t control these populations, the ground-nesting bird populations will never recover.
“The numbers are just growing constantly, and the damage that they’re doing is unbearable”, says Andy, a keeper in the Trough of Bowland. Of the 10,000 gulls in his area, one single licence was issued to cull gulls: a licence which allowed them to cull ten single gulls. “That’s not going to have any effect at all”, he says.
John Clarke of the NGO confirms that the one thing that is needed is a "robust licensing system". "If we let gulls breed on these areas to the extent that they are doing, we are going to have big trouble in the future." Many of these areas are SSSIs; designated so specifically because of the bird and plant life that exists there. But the gulls are both destroying the bird populations and damaging the vegetation. Sheep farmers are seeing the impact of the gull population growth as well; newborn lambs are being taken more and more often by gulls, while they also eat the feed left for the sheep.
We highly recommend you all watch the NGO video, which can be seen at the following link, or at the top of this page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OS7uDwfpyZ8.