Thursday, 19 May 2016

Plunderers

White specks on Bishop, April 2015



About this time last year I shared some allegations with RSPB Investigations about disturbance to the breeding gulls on the Medway, namely the theft of eggs from specific gulleries around the islands Although numbers of sitting birds had indeed dropped in those areas at the time (with three satellite groups deserting), nothing could be substantiated and no further unusual activity was recorded- that season.

Rumours had been rife during all three summers I'd been back on the estuary.

In 2015 the local sources alleged this desertion was due to the work of a small team, with the eggs being taken and sold for food.

Earlier this spring a third local source, unaware of my interest in the matter, freely informed me of the group and that it appeared they were about to become active again.

To date, nothing untoward appears to have happened (when viewed from the shoreline at least), but this week is potentially a ‘good’ time for any such visit, following on from the re-building and re-laying seen since the last spring tides a fortnight or so ago, especially among those outer satellite groups which are easiest to access.

Several of the more active local birders on the ground have been in the loop on this for some time. I had also updated RSPB Species Investigations again, and took an opportunity to speak informally with Natural England. Both now both feel getting the word out within the wider local birding community could be useful. Sadly it seems this type of wildlife crime does still occur routinely in the UK, and may be becoming more frequent. RSPB Species Investigations had already been dealing with a 'live' incident in Dorset, news of which they have made public this week.

The message for anyone about the estuary at this time is, essentially whilst our gulleries can and do take to the air en masse for several ‘normal’ reasons, if a gullery goes up and it appears there are people acting suspiciously within the colony, it is worth considering contacting the police on 101 (the Medway and Swale are of course served by a River Police Unit). Also worth getting a picture, however distant. It goes without saying never challenge such individuals.

Of course, there may be people out on the islands for other reasons; many are in private ownership an do boats, canoes, etc. can and do land on the islands, away from the main colonies from time to time, all quite innocently. Last year’s allegations were of a group of individuals watched working methodically through the gulleries, bending down, picking things up, stashing carefully in bags..

The trade in gulls' eggs hangs on legally- just. I first looked into this a couple of years back and found the background to the remaining high end restaurant trade can be found here in a 2009 article in the Daily Telegraph. Essentially there are just a handful of historical licences left, and there were no plans to issue new ones- the legal trade could well die out. A list of licence holders hasn't been found to date, although I'm informed might be available through a Freedom of Information request to the correct licencing office. At the present time, moot point for here. There are 'schedule one' species breeding with several of the Medway colonies, which are legally protected from disturbance.

In the meantime we can only keep watching.

Anyone interested in the legal background can visit the licencing pages here and here.

More information on all of the various gulleries around the estuary can be found on another of my blogpages under construction here.

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