herald

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Chip stealing and raiding bins but seagulls now 'at risk'

Seagulls are down 90pc
Seagulls are down 90pc

Raiding bins, stealing chips from hapless tourists and even occasionally attacking pedestrians, they appear to be abundant in numbers.

However, seagulls have suffered such alarming population declines in Ireland they are now considered to be "at risk".

Although still the quintessential sight and sound of the Irish coast, the herring gull has been placed on the national "red list", which means they are of "high conservation concern", alongside other more obvious species such as golden eagles, curlews and corncrakes.

The population of breeding pairs has plummeted by a massive 90pc over the past 30 years - from approximately 150,000 to between just 15,000 and 20,000 today.

The decline of the fishing industry is cited as one of the major factors, according to conservationists.

"There are many different species of gulls in Ireland, but it's the herring gull that most people mistakenly refer to as a seagull, and anecdotally people think the numbers of herring gulls are actually increasing," said Birdwatch Ireland's Niall Hatch.

Concerned

"They are now more common in towns and urban areas than they used to be, but the species has declined massively.

"We'd certainly be concerned about their numbers, and that's why they are on the red list."

Mr Hatch acknowledged reports of herring gulls wreaking havoc and attacking people in towns like Howth and Sutton have become more common.

"They are attracted to litter on the streets, overflowing bin bags and, of course, people feeding them chips," he said.

"But we would urge people not to feed gulls, because it's bad for them."

The biggest colony is on Lambay Island, with more than 1,800 nests. Another type of gull - the smaller Mediterranean gull - is increasing in numbers.

"Their main stronghold would be in the Black Sea area, and 20 or so years ago you'd never have seen them," Mr Hatch added.

"But in Dun Laoghaire it's the most common gull species, with more than 100 of them. And the reason they're there is because of climate change."

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