News Article29/05/2019

Poole Harbour rare gull colony to get police protection

This spring Poole Harbour’s important Black-headed and Mediterranean Gull colony will get extra protection with both day and night monitoring being carried out by the Marine Division of Dorset Police. The decision to carry out the extended patrols was made after it had been discovered last year that a mass illegal harvesting of gull eggs had been carried out on the remote islands in the west of Poole Harbour. Last May whilst surveying the islands, local charity ‘Birds of Poole Harbour’ soon realised that most of the 9000 nests were empty with human footprints also found crisscrossing the length and breadth of the uninhabited, marshy islands. The hope is that with extra monitoring being carried out through the peak of the gulls egg laying period, then it will act as a deterrent to any would be poachers who were thinking about heading out onto the islands.

Mediterranean Gull – Poole Harbour – Peter Moore

Through late April and into May, the eggs of Black-headed Gull become hot property as they become available to buy in some of the top restaurants across the country and are often even sold in places like Harrods. However, their exclusivity and high price tag leave them open to exposure as illegal poachers try to steal eggs and then find a way to get them into legitimate supply chains. Last years egg theft discovery in Poole Harbour was not only worrying due to its illegality but more so because of the unknown health risks the poachers were putting on unsuspecting consumers.

Paul Morton from the Birds of Poole Harbour charity explained….

“We know from our survey work last spring that both Black-headed Gull and Mediterranean Gull eggs were stolen from the islands, which is startling because even know its been proven Black-headed Gull eggs are safe to eat, there has never been a test done by DEFRA on Mediterranean Gull eggs to confirm these are safe for human consumption and there’s a very good reason for that. Mediterranean Gulls are a schedule 1 species meaning they have the highest level of protection under the wildlife and countryside act, meaning it’s highly illegal to interfere with their nests or eggs. Anyone found in possession of a Mediterranean Gull egg could find them selves in hot water”

Paul added

Mediterranean Gulls have only recently established themselves here in the UK and the fact their nests are being raided already doesn’t help their long term survival here on the south coast. These are birds that keep themselves to themselves and make it their business to stay out of the way of humans during the breeding season”

It is illegal to interfere with any bird’s nest or eggs in the UK, however there are around 20 licensed ‘pickers’ operating under licenses issued by Natural England which sees Black-headed Gull eggs collected legally at just five small sites in England, none of which are in Dorset.

The discovery last spring prompted the MET Police to visit 13 restaurants in London making sure suppliers were 100% sure of the origin of their eggs as well as insisting that documentation can be shown, proving the eggs must have come from legitimate legal picking sites.

Joel Brooks from the Dorset Police added…..

“Wildlife crime affects everyone. The collection of birds eggs is illegal unless licensed and no one is licensed to collect in Dorset. Having a marine section gives us the waterborne capability to patrol these hard to reach areas meaning we can carry out night and day surveillance operations. We have wildlife officers from The Metropolitan Police in London making enquiries and checks on the establishments likely to be buying and selling the eggs. Its important to remember that quite simply these birds and their eggs are protected by law. To be working effectively with partner agencies including the Environment Agency and fisheries officers as well as the ‘Birds of Poole Harbour’ charity and RSPB we hope to put an end to this crime, therefore allowing the population of this vulnerable colony to flourish once more”

The Birds of Poole Harbour charity will be surveying the islands again this spring to see what effect last years illegal harvesting of eggs has had on the population of Poole Harbours Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls.

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