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The prime minister of the fifth largest
global economy has asserted
the need for a big conversation
about gulls: not the greedy and the fearful
who voted for him but the species
laridae, especially the herring gull
that swarms in seaside towns and marauds
the 99 Flake out of the very hands
of the innocent, young and old alike.

Adult birds dive, swoop and grab to eat –
whether mackerel or deep fried Mars Bar.
The herring gull chick knows instinctively
to peck the red spot on its parents’ beaks
for food. It learns about battered sausage
and Cornish pasties from humans lording it.

Though herring gulls have a repertory
of voices – the mew, the yodel, the yelp,
the yuck, the cry, the snicker, the snigger,
the bark, the scoff, the cough, the scold, the plea,
the ullulation – from coastal roof tops
and are experts at inland waste management
they are endangered. Let us converse then
about concern and care.




© Copyright David Selzer
7 Responses
  • John Chapman
    August 30, 2015

    A more slanted piece of politicking one could not wish for but is in true Guardian style. David Cameron was asked a question about Herring Gulls and answered that, as he was not a competent person to answer, perhaps a wider “conversation” should be established about this bird, its habits and its future. A more measured article about this can be found in The Independent here:

    • David Selzer
      August 30, 2015

      I didn’t know you’re a regular Guardian reader, John!

      I wouldn’t have expected our Blairite Prime Minister to have views on how urban gull colonies might be managed humanely but even I thought he would have the gumption to say, ‘Don’t feed them! They’re not born knowing what a Cornish Pasty is!’ But then, like his hero, he only offends those who cannot defend themselves.

  • John Chapman
    August 30, 2015

    Following on from this piece and having first hand experience of Herring Gulls I am certainly now wary of these birds. They are very intelligent and adaptive predators and feeders and able to act in concert when provoked, not at all a loveable species.

    A few years ago I had to access a high warehouse roof in High Wycombe. As part of the Site Health and Safety Induction we were specifically warned about a colony of around twenty breeding pairs on an adjacent roof, that they would mob us continously the moment we showed ourselves. We had to stay together and be accompanied by a minder with an air horn and stick who would deter them until we left. In addition to the normal safety gear we had to wear gloves in case we needed to fend them off. No work was carried out until the breeding season was over.

    The BBC covered this same question in 2008 with a poll and comment section, a section you may find even more interesting having been a teacher!

    So, seven years on and little has changed, we still have a large and vicious disease spreading protected predator amongst us becoming bolder as it learns.

    • David Selzer
      August 30, 2015

      Thanks, John. The account of your High Wycombe experience is a vivid depiction of how instinctively aggressive this type of sea bird is during the breeding season and how far inland they nest.

      Your mention of my being a teacher reminds me that I was head of a large Humanities Faculty in the ’70s and one of the courses we ran was Man: A Course of Study – It involved a detailed study of Pacific salmon, herring gulls, olive baboons and Netsilik Inuit.

      While there are plenty of human beings in Chester (though none of them are Inuit), there are no olive baboons (even in the local zoo) and very few Atlantic salmon left in the Dee. But, being at most 40 minutes from the nearest coast, I’ve had the opportunity to study plenty of sea gulls – please see Fortunately, learning is not passed on from one generation to the next – so the chicks have to learn about fish and chips from human beings!!

      I did find the Jersey comments interesting – not least the notion that non-human animals could be ‘anti-social’! I thought some of the respondents were really expressing their hatred of fellow human beings – which takes us back to the poem in question.

  • Elise
    August 31, 2015

    Man fined for shooting gull –

  • Elise
    August 31, 2015

    Further to my recent comment, another link regarding this incident – West Kirby seagull shooting – Liverpool Echo › News › Liverpool News

    Perhaps the PM would like to hold the ‘Big Conversation’ with this chap.

  • John Huddart
    September 16, 2015

    Half the population of Berwick-upon-Tweed is Gull-related. On break duty, one learns to avoid their large and rapacious presences as they swoop amongst the children. They all sound like the creations that Pixar imagined as Finding Nemo unfolded, with their incessant call of Mine! Mine! Mine!

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