The conservation conundrum of gulls: How do you develop a management strategy for nuisance species of conservation concern?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences

Abstract

Managing human/wildlife conflicts is a major societal challenge. However, in cases where species are both a target for conservation and a potential human hazard, this challenge is greater still. In such instances, research is critical to develop effective management strategies, but is often lacking.

Gulls represent just such a management nightmare. After sharp rises in the latter half of the twentieth century, many gull populations declined steeply in recent decades creating conservation concern. However, at the same time, distribution shifts have brought gulls into conflict with humans, leading to licenced control or other direct intervention. For instance, ~60% of the graellsii subspecies of lesser black-backed gull Larus fuscus (hereafter LBBG) breeds in the UK, most at a few key sites, and is therefore included on the UK Amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern. It is protected under the EU Birds Directive at 10 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) - one of the highest levels of legal protection afforded to wild birds. In contrast, it is subject to licensed control at non-SPA sites on conservation grounds, or because of risk to human health and safety. This current legislative contradiction is problematic since we know virtually nothing about the biology of birds breeding in SPA and non-SPA (particularly urban) sites. This void is significant since urban birds are predicted to have access to more predictable prey and safer nesting sites, leading to predicted higher reproductive output, making them disproportionately important. However such research has not been conducted.

The aim of the current proposal is to compare the ecology of SPA and non-SPA breeding LBBGs. Comparisons between these sites will be used to inform advice in relation to licencing and designated site casework, improving the conservation status of SPA gulls and securing better management of conflicts between gulls and humans.

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