Why do we care about herring gulls in Cornwall?

Herring gulls are a common sight (and sound) in the towns and along the coastline of the UK. On the face of it, they appear to be thriving in Cornwall and elsewhere. However, the species has actually undergone major population declines in the UK since the 1970s. The causes of these declines are not fully understood but are likely to include habitat degradation, botulism poisoning from poor waste management, and culling. Herring gulls are now considered to be of the highest priority for conservation by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. They are also protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Herring gull in its natural habitat. Photo by Drew Baigent

The fact that herring gulls are in decline is not widely known, and they are often perceived as a nuisance or a pest species. There are good reasons why people sometimes find herring gulls annoying: they ‘steal’ food, feed on refuse, defecate on property and accumulate nesting debris on roofs, and they call loudly day and night. When breeding they can become aggressive while defending their chicks, sometimes intimidating homeowners. This leads to regular conflict between people and gulls, which complicates conservation measures for the species.

Herring gull looking for a free meal. Photo by Drew Baigent

We are scientists based at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation in Penryn, Cornwall. Our areas of interest span animal behaviour, cognition, conservation biology, physiology and reproduction.

Project aims

  • We are investigating the cognitive and sensory processes that underlie herring gulls’ exploitation of human resources. This project is led by Neeltje Boogert and Laura Kelley.
  • We are quantifying the effects of marine plastic debris on physiological stress and consequences for the reproductive success of herring gulls at sites across Cornwall. This project is led by Jon Blount.
  • We are engaging the local community to consider the impact of anthropogenic environmental change on herring gull populations. We work with primary school children in Falmouth. This project is led by Camille Bonneaud and Andy Russell.

Please contact us if you would like any further information on any of these projects. We would love for you to get involved!

%d bloggers like this: