Guest blog – Gull Rescue as a Non-lethal Solution by Kevin Newell

I am Kevin Newell owner and founder of Humane Wildlife Solutions we are Europe’s only non-lethal, ethical, environmentally friendly alternative to pest control. We help businesses and individuals all over Europe find solutions to wildlife conflicts without causing harm to the wildlife or the environment in the process.

In the spring of 2020 coming out of the first Lockdown I was called to help with two Lesser Black-backed Gull conflicts, one at a
Mosque and the other at a residential property. These clients wanted a non-lethal solution to the problem of being swooped at by parent gulls and they turned to me at Humane Wildlife Solutions to find them a solution.

Here then started the process of applying for a licence from the then
SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage, now NatureScot) to obtain a license to remove these gulls chicks, but we were soon surprised by the limited options the licenses gave us.

When applying for the license we wanted to take the gull chicks alive to a wildlife rescue centre but the only options offered under licence were to kill or destroy, rather than allow for preservation. This is the case for Red and Amber listed species which are in decline, but it seems to me to make no sense that an alternative non-lethal option is not offered or included. So I wrote in my licence application that I wanted to take these gulls to a wildlife rescue centre despite this not being a listed option in the licensing process. My proposal was accepted, so the work was carried out and the gulls went off to a wildlife rescue centre where they were raised and eventually released, along with many other gulls chicks in the same situation as them, having been orphaned or having gotten into trouble.

Across Scotland there are several large wildlife rescues which between them can care for up to a thousand chicks and hundreds of eggs.

It seems to me that the current licensing options are not supporting
SNH’s own conservation advice regarding these species. SNH issues
hundreds of licences allowing the killing of gulls, which is surely only
adding to the problems surrounding the conservation status of the
species which so desperately need our help.

I believe the current licence allowing killing should be a last resort,
with an accountable process in which applicants for licences must show evidence of having exhausted all non-lethal options prior to even considering going down the lethal route. In an ideal world, a lethal route is one which would never need to be attempted.

So why was taking these gulls to the many professional rescue centres in Scotland never an option, despite these centres having years of experience and success with raising and releasing gulls chicks? Surely to take a bird to be reared is the ultimate last non-lethal resort which then would result in every party being happy at the outcome?

I decided then to try and find a way to propose to NatureScot a new idea that would seek consideration to include a new option of taking gull chicks to wildlife rescue centres. This idea gained a lot of support from experts in the area of gull conservation.

We are now at the crucial stage. NatureScot are reviewing the current licensing system and gull licenses, and my proposal has been received and is being considered. This is the moment where NatureScot can get licensing right and be a shining example to the rest of the UK. They can choose to trial this new proposal which can work with the support of all of the different organisations across Scotland. This proposal has been backed with evidence: bird ringing data, a study into ringing of rehabilitated gull chicks, and from gull and wildlife rescue experts.

This new way will see pest control companies, their clients, NatureScot and the gulls all win. Then maybe jointly we will start to see a reverse in gull declines.

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10 Replies to “Guest blog – Gull Rescue as a Non-lethal Solution by Kevin Newell”

  1. The danger with this approach is that is could perpetuate the problem and mean taking 100s or, as you say, 1,000s of chicks into captivity year after year. There are some parallels with Hen Harrier brood management here. Is there also a danger that chicks reared in captivity will habituate to humans to some extent and so become more likely to behave in a way that causes problems in future? If so then this would also exacerbate the problem. Ultimately we need to learn to live with these birds, with lethal control as an absolute last resort when really needed.

    I don't think establishing a new industry of mass collection of young birds from the wild for rearing in captivity is the way forward. In England it could easily involve many 1,000s of birds being 'rescued', every year. This is surely not a good way to promote the way we should be learning to live with wild birds.

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    1. Hi Ian, Kevin here. This solution is and only needed as a last resort and is a viable alternative to killing hundreds and thousands of chicks and adults each year under licenses. These birds red and amber listed should be protected and not killed in this way.

      Without this idea going forward or not being used these chicks will simply be killed and that is not an better option. There is aways a risk they may become attached to humans as is the case in all wildlife rescue cases but from the 100's I have reared and released over the years at rescue centres I have never found this to be the case. Even more so when they have minimal contact with humans and are reared with lots of their own species.

      Your very right about learning to live with them and also understanding them. They only causes 'conflicts' for around 3 months of the year and spend the rest of the time away from our towns and cities.

      Past cull of gulls before they lived in our towns and cities is a possible reason they moved into our urban areas, we literally chased them from their own natural habitats into the urban areas. Example is the gull cull on the Isle of May.

      This is not about establishing a new industry its about changing a current one so that all parties benefit. If a species is in decline and are Red or Amber listed then surely every action should be taken to protect them and making small changes like this could have real positive impacts.

      I have only looked at how this would work in Scotland as this is where I hope to see the change, looking at England and Wales I know would represent different challenges which I could be asked to look at in the future.

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      1. I think our differences are partly philosophical. These are wild birds and they become a little less wild if taken into our buildings to be reared artificially (with who knows what long terms effects on behaviour), year after year.

        As an absolute last resort I'd be more supportive but as you suggest, this is aimed at thousands of birds in Scotland alone. A concern is that once a non-lethal option becomes available and publicised then it is taken up with increasing frequency, with lots of wildlife centres wanting to get involved and seeking out places where the birds are perhaps causing only minor problems that we should learn to tolerate.

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        1. From the experts in these fields, records from BTO ringers and a study conducted into this does not show any impact on their humans to gull relationship and this is from accounts going back over 20 years with thusands of gulls.

          The gulls can only be removed under license so that should stop wildlife rescues seeking them out and no wildlife rescue should ever seek any wildlife animal out and i hope that they don't do this.

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  2. I'm not sure removing gull chicks from their parents can be considered a "win" for gulls, but this is certainly an interesting idea and preferable to culling.

    I'm also concerned that wildlife rescue centres are already full of gull chicks each spring/summer. I'd like to know the sort of numbers that are expected to be removed.

    Have other measures been tried, e.g. habituation/desensitisation to human presence, visual barriers? I suppose removal is the quick/cheap option.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, if the gull chick remains and is not wanted the other option is for it to be killed, so in the cases where this is an option and where there is no other way removing the chick to be raised at a rescue is the win.

      I would rather people were educated and tolerant of gulls and left them on their roof top nests for the short time they require but sadly people in some cases just want them gone.

      The numbers removed is some thing only the licensing authority has the control over and can decide. The centres i have worked with on this in great details know their capacity and what they can expand to and within the proposal this has been made clear.

      Removal of chicks should again only ever be a last resort one after all other non-lethal measures have failed. The proposal would need to see evidence other methods have been tried first to safe guard against this being the quick cheap fix option for people.

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  3. I think I agree that this is a better option than killing them and you rightly say that this should be a last resort option. However, I think that there should be almost no cases where a license is granted to kill/remove chicks just because they're a bit annoying for a short period of time. Why does Nature Scot (or NE or NRW) issue so many licenses? Perhaps if there was a substantial application fee it would put people/business/councils off applying (particularly if most were turned down anyway). They should also be responsible for the full costs of rearing and rehabilitation to the wild. It's only in the Daily Mail that gulls kill old ladies and carry off small children, let them breed in peace.

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  4. Yes will and i agree that no gulls should be taken but as long as they are being taken I would rather see that as many as possible are taken and not killed. The ideal and preferred situation is to leave the chicks to their parents to care for. Thats a good idea about a fee and i agree rescues shoud in some way be given some funding to support their conservation efforts in preserving these birds and their populations.

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  5. What an interesting and brave idea.
    Although I am philosophically inclined towards Ian Carter’s view, any alternative to simply killing animals deemed inconvenient needs to be looked at carefully. There is the danger that this simply encourages more rescue centres and an industry to support without ever getting to the source of the problem. It reminds me of the well-intentioned dog rescue charities which are importing van loads of street dogs from Romania. While it keeps the charities solvent (the rescue dogs are rehomed in the UK in exchange for a large ‘donation’), it doesn’t solve the problem since the vacant territories are rapidly filled by other dogs. Instead of siphoning off the excess, what’s needed are efforts to improve the quality of dog ownership in Romania.
    Similarly, as Ian says, we need to get better at living with wildlife and finding ways to deter nesting where their presence cannot be tolerated.
    Too, too often society reaches for the gun, poison and traps. If only some of that same effort was directed at non-lethal solutions, we’d be all the better for it.

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