The Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus in England: how to resolve a conservation conundrum

Viola H. Ross-Smith1*, Robert A. Robinson1, Alex N. Banks2, Tim D. Frayling2, Chris C. Gibson3 and Jacquie A. Clark1

1 British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU, UK;

2 Natural England, Renslade House, Bonhay Road, Exeter EX4 3AW, UK;

3 Natural England, Mail Hub Block B, Whittington Road, Worcester WR5 2LQ, UK.

Full paper


Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus numbers in England have fluctuated in recent decades. Both breeding and wintering populations rose sharply in the latter half of the twentieth century, mostly due to increases at a small number of colonies and changes in migratory behaviour. However, there was a decline in breeding birds between 2000 and 2013 (largely because of losses at the same key colonies) and this species is on the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List. Although protected at various sites in the breeding season, the Lesser Black-backed Gull can be taken under three General Licences issued under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, allowing population control in certain circumstances without specific permission or reporting. There are no sites where the Lesser Black-backed Gull is a protected feature outside the breeding season, although numbers surpass the relevant thresholds at certain roosts. This review paper synthesises available information on the Lesser Black-backed Gull in England to help policy makers resolve this apparent legislative contra- diction and formulate a clearer conservation policy to guide future practice.


The Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus is traditionally considered to breed around the coasts of northern and western Europe, and winter in southern Europe and northern to central Africa (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Malling Olsen & Larsson 2004). During the twentieth century, this species expanded its breeding and wintering range, moving into new countries and continents (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Malling Olsen & Larsson 2004; Boertmann 2008), and increasingly took advantage of new habitats, including inland and urban areas (e.g. Balmer et al. 2013). It is a dietary generalist and is able to subsist off anthropogenic food sources, which, combined with its reputation for being aggressive, noisy and a potential public health hazard, particularly in urban areas, has brought it into conflict with man in various parts of its range, including the UK (Rock 2005), France (Cadiou & Guyot 2012) and the Netherlands (Camphuysen 2013). This conflict has been exacerbated not only by range expansion, but also by an increase in numbers. The global Lesser Black-backed Gull population rose sharply in the twentieth century, although in several areas this trend has since levelled off or reversed ...


This work was funded by Natural England. Valuable information was collected and provided by many people, especially Mike Marsh, Peter Rock and Kees Camphuysen. Thanks also to Niall Burton, Mark Grantham, Greg Conway and Aonghais Cook at the BTO, Nigel Shelton at Natural England, and Roddy Mavor at the JNCC. Figures 2 and 4 were reproduced with kind permission from the JNCC. Data extracted from JNCC’s Seabird Monitoring Programme have been provided by the generous contributions of nature conservation and research organisations, and of many volunteers throughout the British Isles. This paper was also much improved by helpful input from two anonymous referees.


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