Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Where there's muck ...

Today's gulls are well fed, with an option on surplus food worth £18 bn each year in Britain's landfills.
The propensity for waste in modern society knows no bounds, and the scale involved is staggering. “Food charities estimate that more than 17 million tonnes of surplus food, including fresh produce, is dumped by supermarkets in landfill every year,” according to The Guardian (23 January). However, every cloud has a silver lining, and it’s somehow reassuring to know that the relentless westward march of Caspian Gulls is being fuelled by the provision of unwanted mange tout, croissants and chicken nuggets on an industrial scale (not to mention food waste in even larger quantities).

The same goes for other gulls, too, and burgeoning landfills no doubt play a part in the changing distribution of species like Lesser Black-backed Gull, which was known largely as a summer visitor to Britain when I began birding back in the early 1970s, but which is now abundant in winter too. Similarly, it’s easy to forget that Yellow-legged Gull wasn’t recorded in Britain until about the same time, yet is now expected in many parts of southern England, especially in late summer, and gatherings sometimes reach three figures.

The ready availability of food at landfill sites, especially those along major estuaries such as the Thames, must play a part in this, and perhaps history will repeat itself with Caspian Gull. We might not find them quite so fascinating in 20 years’ time, but we’ll only have ourselves to blame. In the meantime, for the gull buffs out there, I’ve uploaded a longer sequence of Caspian Gull images from Rainham to my Flickr site (where comments are welcome).

Below: second-winter Caspian Gull.


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