In the past, councils could use “lethal control” of herring gulls as part of their wider clearance to control the number of problem birds in their area.
But in 2019, after campaigning from conservationists, the rules for seagulls changed significantly, removing them from the general permit and requiring municipalities to apply on a case-by-case basis instead.
Seagulls now a city creature
Gulls are now an urban animal, with an estimated three quarters of the UK herring gull population now nesting in towns and cities rather than rural areas.
The declining numbers are believed to be due to the loss of their natural coastal habitats, with gulls increasingly migrating inland and to cities where there is abundant food and safe rooftop nesting sites.
In response to criticism, Natural England rolled out “organization” trial licenses last year with two councils in Worcester, and Bath and North East Somerset, which were designed to give them more leeway, but both councils said they were still being forced to ask for permission almost every time they wanted to trade.
Tim Ball, a councilor for Bath and North East Somerset, told the Telegraph in April: “Only in extreme conditions can you actually remove eggs now.
“We’ve had seagulls in Bath that flew down on people, on children.”
In a report from the time, Worcester Council said the system was “unfit for purpose and a waste of public resources”.
Data from requests for freedom of information show that there was also a significant decline in the share of approved bird permits in England.
Between 2015 and 2019, an average of 95 percent of permits were granted, in 2020 this fell to 73.4 percent.
The number of permits issued for deadly gulls fell from an average of 194 in 2015-2019 to 95 in 2020, before rebounding to 312 in 2021.
This year, Natural England said permits had been improved so that municipalities can take action without asking in situations such as sleep deprivation and attacks on the vulnerable, but only two municipalities have applied for and received a permit this year.
It admitted it struggled to meet demand in 2020, meaning permits were issued when the chicks had fledged, leaving them too late to be usable.
A Worcester City Council spokesperson said the situation had improved, adding: “Natural England has approved every permit request submitted by the City Council this year which has enabled us to remove 196 gull nests and 359 eggs from sites where people were at risk.”
Steph Bird-Halton, Natural England director for wildlife permits and enforcement matters, said: “Gulls have become a common sight in English towns and cities and often arouse strong feelings among local residents.
“There have been recent declines in overall populations of some gull species. However, we sympathize with those who routinely have problems with gulls and recognize that local authorities should monitor large gulls if there is a specific risk to public health.
“In response, we are currently rolling out organizational licenses across the country, allowing local authorities to take timely action by committing nest and egg destruction where appropriate.”