NEWS FROM THE CELTIC LEAGUE
With a focus on the fate of seabirds of late covering articles as diverse as Arctic Terns nest sites, the unsuccessful BAe Black Backed Gull cull on the Irish sea coast, David Cameron’s close encounter with a Herring Gull and the ‘ASBO that never was’ furore in the Isle of Man, Alan Moore, Environment Officer of the CL Mannin branch and an enthusiastic ornithologist, penned this article about the relationship between ‘Gulls and people’.
He warns that although the public believe numbers off Gulls are on the increase in fact numbers are declining and he cites the example of a bird species that almost became extinct
“Gulls and people
There is a lot of talk these days about gulls upsetting people, such that politicians at all levels find them an easy subject on which to comment in the hope of boosting their popularity with the electorate. Do they ever think about why gulls come in to towns to feed? One might think that it is for easy pickings, but another reason is that there is much less natural food available to them.
Here in Mannin the species of gull that causes comment is the herring gull. Historically, the species had a role in the Manx fishing industry as people looked out from places like the Herring Tower on Langness in the hope of seeing herring gulls flocking to shoals of fish and sailing their boats out to harvest the herring. It is said that herring gulls were protected by Manx law for this reason.
It is often said that herring gulls (usually called “sea gulls”, of course) are more numerous in Mannin than ever before, but surveys show that their population in the Island is decreasing (figures available). Even without counting herring gull nests, it is clear that numbers have decreased just by walking along the coast, as I have done for about 50 years. I find areas which used to have lots of herring gulls breeding but now have very few.
What does make herring gulls much more noticeable is their increasing practice of going into towns and villages. Fortunately, I don’t notice it as much now, but people used to buy food on the way home from the pub and drop what they didn’t eat on the pavement, a food source welcomed by herring gulls, especially in the early hours of Sunday morning. The gulls are also more noticeable in towns now as they nest on the roofs and chimney stacks of buildings. This was first recorded in 1924, but happens much more nowadays. That is simply because the towns are where the food is. When we had open landfill sites, as we had at the Point of Ayre, herring gulls were able to feed on the refuge, dying of botulism caught from waste food. This is a major cause of gull deaths, both within these islands and with other species of gull worldwide.
Like most parents, herring gulls are very defensive of their offspring, another cause of conflict. I have been struck on the head several times by herring gulls when I have strayed too close to their nests above the cliffs, so I know how unpleasant it can be. Unfortunately, the reduction of natural food for the gulls, whether by overfishing or global warming, and people making alternative food sources available in towns has given rise to this state of affairs when our paths cross.
Although herring gull numbers have decreased a lot, they are still quite substantial. However, we cannot take it for granted that they will always be with us. A warning to us was the fate of the chough. This iconic bird nearly died out in Mannin in the second half of the 19th century and did die out in Kernow in the mid 20th century. These declines were due to changes in agriculture and to human persecution. Fortunately, chough numbers have built up again in Mannin during the 20th and 21st centuries and they returned to Kernow in 2001. It would be a great shame if hostility to any bird species results in it being put at risk by the actions of mankind.”
For a more light-hearted analysis of David Cameron’s famous fight with a Gull over a ham sandwich check this article by Tony Leamon (Kernow branch) on Facebook:
J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
(Please note that replies to correspondence received by the League and posted on CL News are usually scanned hard copies. Obviously every effort is made to ensure the scanning process is accurate but sometimes errors do occur.)
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