Herring and lesser black-backed gull populations have both declined in recent decades. An assessment carried out by Natural England (NE) has indicated that the scale of activity carried out under licences in recent years, were it to continue, would be above a sustainable level and would be likely to have a harmful impact on the population levels of both species. For this reason, it has been necessary to scale back the lethal control of these gull species.
In rural areas, where populations overall are known to be in decline, NE has set upper ‘safe’ number of birds that could be killed. Upper ‘safe’ levels have not been identified for lethal control in urban populations of gulls, as these are faring better.
Beyond a class licence for air safety, gull control is now via individual licence. In taking this decision, it was recognised that there would be an impact on the level of control particularly in rural areas, but this was considered necessary given the situation, so that licensed activity would need to be prioritised. NE considers the strength of need in each licence application individually but generally protecting human life and health is the overriding priority.
Any control to be undertaken under other purposes such as preventing serious damage and conserving wild birds and flora or fauna will need to be targeted. If applicants do not receive an individual licence, they may still be able to achieve some of their objectives by using alternative non-lethal measures.