A few weeks ago I was asked if I’d look into which kinds of gulls are seen following the farmer’s plough in autumn and winter. The answer is that any of the seven species found in Britain, with the exception of the kittiwake, may be part of the flock. In fact the name seagull is deceiving as, apart from the breeding season, more of them are to be found inland than around the coast. During the last century more and more gulls have forsaken the seaside. They move back to coastal regions only to nest and can now commonly be seen foraging not only on farmland in winter but also in vast numbers all year round on landfill sites. At night these inland gulls seek out large expanses of water, such as reservoirs, on which to roost. Numbers are boosted in winter by migrants from Scandinavia, northern Europe and the Baltic. The latest trend is for gulls, particularly the herring and lesser black-backed, to make their homes permanently in towns and cities not necessarily near the sea. They have been recorded as living and nesting on roof tops in places such as Worcester, Swindon, Cheltenham and King’s Lynn.
The black headed gull is the species most often seen inland and will follow the plough very closely. There are about 130,000 resident pairs in Britain but in winter migrants swell the number to 2.2 million. In hard weather they can be seen in urban gardens, parks and on playing fields. They will also join bigger gulls foraging on rubbish tips. Herring gulls are real thugs snatching food from people sitting outside enjoying their lunch. Landfill sites are like a McDonalds to them and they’re not averse to scavenging from sewage works either! The average life span of a herring gull is 20, the oldest recorded lived until it was 35. Great black-backed gulls breed around the coast but the rest of the year can be found on farmland and rubbish tips. There are fewer of them than Lesser black-backed gulls. In summer these can be seen around the coast and on some high moors but in winter they desert the most northern areas of Scotland. The Common gull is in fact not that common. It is similar in looks to a herring gull but is smaller and tends to stay nearer to the sea. It is resident in northern England and Scotland and occupies other areas of Britain in winter. Mediterranean gulls are very similar in appearance to the black-headed gull only they are slightly larger. Prior to the 1950s it was rarely seen but is now becoming more common. In winter it is widespread across the east and south of England and increasing numbers are nesting around the coastal areas of south east of England
The Kittiwake really is a proper seagull and is very unlikely to be seen inland. It only comes to Britain to nest and raise its young on our coastal cliffs but spends each winter out in the Atlantic sea.