Thursday, 27 August 2015

Birdwatch - latest editorial

September 2015 | Issue 279

In the quiet news period of the summer holidays, frivolous stories often compete with factual reporting on the front pages of national newspapers. This year’s ‘silly season’ has been worse than most, with national media attention focused on the perceived problem of ‘aggressive’ gulls. It stemmed from three incidents involving attacks on pets in the West Country, leading Prime Minister David Cameron to call for “a big conversation” about whether a cull was needed.

At least the Prime Minister admitted he knew little about the subject. It’s a shame that those responsible for the ensuing press coverage weren’t so frank about their ignorance. Instead, we were treated to such idiot reportage as ‘Moment killer seagull turns cannibal ...’ (Daily Mail), ‘Seagull terror: lock up your babies’ (Daily Star), ‘Psycho seagulls keep out illegals’ (Daily Star again), ‘Reign of terror by vicious seagulls’ (Express) and, from an American perspective, ‘Killer seagulls are terrorising animals in the UK and experts fear a baby might be next’ (Time magazine).

Ah, ‘experts’. Step forward the much-quoted Gull Awareness Group, apparently the creation of a single Cheltenham resident with no declared expertise beyond hating gulls and launching a petition to have them culled. Tabloid hacks would surely do better to talk to the RSPB, which has been at pains to point out that the main species involved, European Herring Gull, is a declining Red-listed Bird of Conservation Concern, and shouldn’t simply be culled. The RSPB has backed the call for a gull “conversation”, but even though the charity will bring scientific evidence to bear in the debate, is this really the answer to an issue over-hyped through irresponsible media coverage?

Common-sense measures to change refuse practices, humanely deter roof-nesting gulls and stop people feeding them in problem areas would surely go a long way to reducing nuisance issues, even if there are wider questions about population dynamics and the marine environment that need addressing. In the meantime, let’s hope the tabloid press find a more productive way of filling column inches before the summer’s over.

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