Natural England's latest plans to 'protect' endangered gulls appear to be inept....
Last year, I complained to Natural England that far too many gulls were being slaughtered under licences that they were issuing to 'pest' controllers and others.
I called for a suspension of all Herring gull licences due to the population of this iconic bird being in free-fall, some estimates suggesting an 82% drop in the birds' numbers.
Through freedom of information requests I had discovered truly shocking figures that suggested excessive extermination of the birds and for often spurious reasons.
I received reassurance, from then operations director James Diamond, that new measures would be considered to protect gulls, including red listed endangered Herring gulls.
In July, 2019, Mr Diamond told me that "it seems likely we will need to review again our approach to gull licensing, both individual and class licences...."
Gulls' Decline Is "Worrying Trend," Says Natural England
Today I note with interest that Natural England have modified the licensing criteria for two species of endangered gulls. From now on Herring gulls, together with Lesser black backed gulls, will be afforded a little more protection through slightly stricter licensing rules.
Marian Spain, interim chief executive of Natural England said today "Populations of herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls have declined significantly in recent years and it’s essential that we do all we can to reverse this worrying trend."
Er, yes, well we could have told you that a long time ago - oh hang on, actually we did.
Too Little, Too Late
Though today's announcement from Natural England is welcome, their action really is 'too little and too late'.
Although licences for gull control and management in rural areas are likely to be significantly reduced in number, a statement from Natural England said that "Control levels of nests, eggs and chicks will not be limited in urban areas, where populations are thought to have better breeding success rates."
That is a mistake.
It leaves the door open to largely un-monitored persecution of red listed and declining species of gull. It is absurd to assume that urban gulls are in less danger than rural gulls - and yet that is exactly what Natural England have decided.
It will therefore still be possible for 'pest' control companies and others to kill these magnificent birds in urban areas if they can persuade Natural England that there is a threat to 'human life and health'. In practice, I doubt that this will prevent Natural England from issuing hundreds or thousands of licences to those who make their living from killing birds, as they have been doing for years. No wonder that the gulls are in steep decline.
No Confidence In Natural England Or Defra
Natural England said that they are "working with Defra to explore options for filling current gaps in evidence around urban gull populations, which would enable us to refine our licensing approach in future."
By the time these clunky organisations get their 'evidence' together, threatened gulls will be in even more danger. I have very little confidence that either organisation is competent enough to trust with the future of our beleaguered wildlife.
Public Pressure Can Bring More Change
But let us not forget that it is a very small step towards real change.
Without the support of all the people who continue to sign our petition, and the pressure this support has brought to bear on Natural England, I doubt that even this limited review of gull licensing would have happened. People power has again brought about change, a change that will doubtless save very many gulls, albeit not enough.
We will continue to push for change, for more protection for our native wildlife.
Meanwhile, for those hundreds of thousands of you who have signed the petition, next time you spot a gull, please remember that, but for you, that gull might not be there.
Well done. Now onward, there is much more work to do.
Please continue to sign and share the petition: HERE.
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