We have various species of seabirds which nest in close proximity to people in our coastal towns but two in particular, the Kittiwake and the Herring Gull seem to cause particular vexation in some quarters. Residents and visitors in Whitby, Scarborough and to a lesser extent Filey have reported conflicts arising from living in close quarters to wild gulls. I would like to share with you a recent RSPB blog on urban gulls in Scarborough. A tale of two seabirds – Kittiwakes and Herring Gulls in Scarborough is about the potential problems of living in proximity to these two urban-nesting gull species.
The blog, written by RSPB Marine Officer Helen Quayle, is well worth reading but to give a simple message, one of the central issues is one of naming. We can help by describing our urban seabirds by their correct names, most crucially by distinguishing Herring Gulls from Kittiwakes. This is because the solutions to any conflicts between people and gulls nesting in our coastal resorts are not interchangeable between the species; their different behaviour and ecology means that they need to be treated differently, as Helen explains in her blog.
Kittiwake fatalities due to badly installed or unmaintained bird exclusion netting have been sadly been happening in Scarborough for several years. If it is to safely and legally deter the birds from nesting on them, the netting on some buildings does need sorting out. However it is right to ask whether it is appropriate or indeed possible to net every Kittiwake nesting site in our towns. I welcome the spirit of the blog in trying to educate readers about the broader issue of conflating the ‘problems’ of Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes.
We have a way to go on this matter but movement in the right direction is afoot. In Autumn 2017 a new Yorkshire Urban Gull Partnership was established bringing local authority officers together with key experts on the legal, practical and ecological considerations. One challenge the new group has recognized is in helping influential people in the council and the wider public to understand the differences. Let us help educate the public and local business premises about the ecological and behavioural distinctions between our two urban breeding gulls. We have to live alongside these birds in our coastal resorts and no amount of netting, spikes or deterrent measures are going to change that, so the sooner we learn to accept that they are part of the fabric of coastal urban living the better we will all be for it.