Perhaps one of the most overlooked and neglected iconic species of the British Isles, is the Herring gull (Larus argentatus). They provide the soundtrack to the seaside and are featured soaring in the skies of numerous images and paintings of seaside scenes. Nevertheless, it seems that these gulls are subject to a large amount of unjustified abuse and bad publicity.
Seagulls seem to be hated by the majority of the public because they are increasingly moving inland and inhabiting urban environments where they are seen as a nuisance. I must agree that they do not seem appealing by ripping open rubbish bins and dive bombing people for their chips and ice creams. However, the Herring gulls ‘aggression’ seems somewhat justified and in my view, they are not to blame for their increasingly unsociable behaviour, instead it is us that should be held accountable. For it is our species that has irresponsibly and selfishly trawled, decimated and poisoned the oceans that are the home to sea birds such as the Herring Gull.
Despite their gradual increase in urban areas, Herring Gulls are now a red listed species of conservation concern which makes demonising the birds all the more undeserved. One of the foremost reasons for the Gulls decline, is the lack of food available for them at sea, as 52% of fish stocks are now fully exploited with 17% being overexploited and 7% depleted. Our inability as a species to look forward and conserve stocks for future generations shows two things, stupidity and selfishness. It is an insult to the natural world we forget we live in, as well as our children’s children.
Herring Gulls like all sea birds, are threatened by the biomagnification of toxic chemicals such as DDT, PCBs and mercury. DDT is known best for its effects on the thickness of eggs, causing shells to be easily broken resulting in death to the embryo inside. Various studies have found high concentrations of such toxic chemicals in the chicks of Herring Gulls as their parents feed them food caught from an ever increasingly contaminated ocean. You don’t have to search too hard to find reports stating the alarming threat toxic chemicals pose to most seabirds. Humans are largely responsible for these hazardous chemicals as they derive from out waste systems and marine litter, yet we still have such strong hatred towards our Herring Gulls.
I am not suggesting that Herring Gulls aren’t a nuisance when in urban environments because I agree, they can be. I am suggesting however, if we disposed of our waste properly, produced less litter (both at sea and inland), stopped overfishing and destroying marine habitats then there would be a lot less reasons for the birds to migrate to urban environments. We should become more hospitable to these birds, as they are struggling to survive out there and we are the main driving force for their rapid decline since 1969. Moving inland is not a choice the Gulls have willingly made but a choice they have been forced to make due to the constant attacks on their habitat by our species. It is our job as conservationists to spread awareness about the danger these birds and all other seabirds are in and we must do all that we can, to change public opinion and try to create more marine protected areas in order to conserve sea birds natural habitat. As usual it is the wildlife that has to take the burden for our destructive behaviour and nonetheless we attack them further when they try to co-exist with us.
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