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 November 2020 I told you of a problem with the licensing system of dealing with perceived conflicts between gulls and people – gulls could not be rescued and then released under the law.
In July 2020 I contacted NatureScot as I was unhappy that the current licences only allowed for the killing of red- and amber-listed gulls.
I had two jobs come in regarding the removal of gull chicks and the licences only allowed me to either take or kill, both meaning to kill the chicks of these red- and amber-listed birds. As there was nothing in place to protect these birds, even taking them would result in my having to kill them.
Coming from a background of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation I came up with a plan to see if taking these chicks to rescue centres would be allowed, and much to my surprise it was given the okay by NatureScot. I already knew that the larger established wildlife rescues had decades of experience in rearing and releasing gull chicks so knew this would work.
After the 2020 gull season I spoke with two of Scotland’s biggest wildlife rescues, Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Centre in North Ayrshire and The NEW ARC in Aberdeenshire, to see if they would support my mad idea of trying to show that a non-lethal alternative could be found for gull issues. They were both very happy to be a part of the plan.
I approached NatureScot with the idea of taking gull eggs and chicks to rescue centres around Scotland in cases where they cause conflict with residential and commercial clients. This would be an active conservation effort which would benefit everyone involved in the process:
- The people having the conflict would have the issues resolved.
- Pest controllers would be able to meet their contractual obligations and take part in conservation
- NatureScot would look great promoting conservation of red- and amber-listed birds
- The gulls would win by being allowed to live, and hopefully help the recovery of their species in the future
It takes gulls up to four years to mature enough to start breeding and then over a decade before they can even add one surplus breeding gull to their populations, due to the natural high chick mortality rates.
Natural hatch rates vary from 53-85% so many eggs do not hatch; of the ones that do, around 50% of the chicks die within the first ten days. Of these remaining chicks around 50% will make it past their first year. This highlights why we need to help protect these birds and avoid
NatureScot firstly were unsure if this plan would work, so we gathered statements and evidence from gull experts all over the UK to highlight that it indeed can be done, and in a wildlife rehabilitation setting. They were happy with the responses received and allowed us to proceed as
long as we could meet four key challenges:
- Availability of wildlife rescue centres and their ability to cope with large numbers
- Engagement of pest control companies
- The logistics and welfare implications of transporting eggs/chicks to wildlife rescue centres
- The logistics and welfare implications of releasing juvenile gulls once rehabilitated
I sought the expertise of zoologist and wildlife rehabilitator Flo Blackbourn to write the policy and protocols documents to meet challenges three & four and I used my links to wildlife rescues across Scotland to show we could meet the first challenge.
I then had the challenge of speaking to pest control companies around Scotland to see who would come on board and we ended up with nineteen companies joining us. I was taken aback by their enthusiasm to be part of a real-time conservation trial, as when told they would be helping to conserve these species they were excited at being a part of the project.
The trial saw 474 eggs/chicks brought in from fifteen pest control companies under licence. These came in thirty-eight batches of eggs and chicks and ended up only needing two of the four rescue centres due to the areas of Scotland which they came in from. The figure of 474 was broken down to 391 eggs and 83 chicks.
Three different species came into the trial and these were Common Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls.
Of the 391 eggs, 299 eggs hatched and 92 failed, giving the trial a 76% hatch success rate which is slightly higher than some natural rates. Some of the eggs that failed came in damaged or were deformed. These were included in the total figure as they had been taken to the centres, but were never going to hatch.
As for the chicks, 299 were hatched and 83 wild chicks were brought in under license, giving the trial a total of 382 chicks. There were forty-one chicks that died during their care either during hatching or the rearing process. Of the 382, 337 chicks were released back into the wild giving the chick success rate of 88%.
We deemed the trial to be a big success with lots of lessons learnt on how to increase the survivorship rates that were achieved.
NatureScot were happy with how the trial went and the results we produced and agreed that we succeeded with all four key challenges. This trial has shown that taking gull eggs and chicks to rescue centres instead of destroying them is a viable non-lethal alternative option, and will be a new option under NatureScot’s gull chick removal licenses and gull management guidance.
A copy of our report can be requested via email at: