Archived 2015 topics: European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) – uplist from Least Concern to Near Threatened?

European Herring Gull Larus argentatus is endemic to Europe, breeding and wintering widely in the N and NW of the continent. It is currently listed as Least Concern, because when last assessed it was not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN Red List criteria.

Globally, it has an extremely large range in both the breeding season (>1.5 million km2) and in winter (>2.3 million km2), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criteria (B and D2). Its population size is also extremely large, comprising 1,370,000-1,620,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criteria (C and D1). Therefore, the only potentially relevant criterion is A, which relates to reductions in population size. Until recently, the population was thought to be declining slowly, but not sufficiently rapidly to approach the threshold for listing as Vulnerable under criterion A (at least a 30% decline over ten years or three generations, whichever is longer).

New data collated from across Europe for the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015) indicate that the species has declined significantly in recent years, and that this decline is ongoing. A combination of official data reported by 27 EU Member States to the European Commission under Article 12 of the EU Birds Directive and comparable data from other European countries, provided by BirdLife Partners and other leading national ornithologists, suggests that the European breeding population has declined overall by 25–30% over the last three generations (39 years, based on a generation length estimated by BirdLife to be 13 years). Consequently, the species is now classified as Near Threatened at European level (BirdLife International 2015).

As a European endemic, this decline is obviously of global significance. Overall, the species’ global population has probably declined by more than 25% over the last three generations, and is continuing to decline, thereby qualifying it for uplisting to Near Threatened under criterion A.

Comments on this proposal are welcome, along with any information about the threats affecting this species across its range.


BirdLife International (2015) European Red List of Birds. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

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15 Responses to Archived 2015 topics: European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) – uplist from Least Concern to Near Threatened?

  1. During three generations in Lithuanian breeding population increased about significantly from max 10 breeding pairs 30 years ago till 800-1200 breeding pairs by now. Also huge impact on hybridization with Caspian gull, that species also increased a lot, almost from zero breeding pairs by 30 years go to hundreds.

    Reference: Lithuanian breeding bird atlas data, still unpublished and collecting data.

  2. Teemu Lehtiniemi says:

    In Finland Herring Gull increased very considerably from 1950 to the beginning of 1990 (> 100x). Since then population has been in the beginning slowly, and lately deeply, decreasing. This is the situation in (most of the) coastal areas of Finland, where most of the Finnish population breeds. In inland population is mainly stable or even slowly increasing.

    Herring Gull increased in Finland because of easy food: bad waste management, many small dumps, growing fish farming, eutrofication etc. ie. human related positive factors for Herring Gull, but not desirable factors for society.

    Already from late 1980’s there were population limitation projects (largest in one dump of SW Finland), where up to 20 000 birds were killed yearly. Effect of that project was limited / local.

    Better waste management and closure of small dumps from the early 1990’s the population has decreased and it is assumed to still decrease, because of new EU regulation of dumps and growing shortage of easy food.

    I think this human related “unnatural” former increase is an issue to look through in the assessment process. If IUCN guidelines allow, this should be used for scaling the category down for one category ie. back to least concern.

  3. Klemens Steiof says:

    I would not recommend to uplist Herring Gull, and this from different perspectives.

    First, the population is slightly expanding. In Berlin, roof breeding Herring Gulls in the center of the city were first reported in 2010. The population is small, but increasing continiously. This indicates, that the species finds niches even in completely urban environments.

    Second, the populatin is stable from 1985 to 2009 (after a long lasting increase) in Germany, regarding to the new Atlas of German Breeding birds. A decline after the 1990s might be connected to a better waste management in the EU states (recucing the output of organic waste, making refuse tips less attractive to large gulls), but the population is still on a high level.

    Third, the species is highly adaptable to human developments. I don’t know any real threats to the population, although they might exist on a local scale. Putting such a bird on a red list between other species, which are under real pressure, could devaluate the list as the important tool it is right now.

  4. Nicola Baccetti says:

    My personal view (from outside the Herring Gull’s range) is that the ultimate goal of uplisting a species is to promote conservation measures that will allow its population to recover. But do you really want again Herring Gull numbers to grow? If the answer yes, then it’s an easy job (provocatory): just leave them some ‘wild’ rubbish dumps! I cannot imagine any conservation measure more effective than this.
    Should EU rubbish regulations be enforced with effectiveness also in the Mediterranean, we would most probably observe a sharp decrease also in Yellow-legged Gull, which instead is still doing quite well at present. We would then consider its uplist, right after a decision will have been taken about downlisting the Audouin’s Gull (elsewhere in this forum)… I see some paradox in all this, and one has to be very careful with these highly successful, man-dependent species.

  5. Pierre Yésou says:

    The European Herring Gull increased in France as in most of western Europe during the 20th century, peaking at c. 88000 bp by the end of the 1980s. Since then it is decreasing markedly in natural habitats, while urban colonies continue to increase. The last nation wide figure, censused during 2009-2012, is 53,800-79,300 bp, i.e. c.30% decrease from the previous census in 1997-1999. The urban colonies now account for at least 36% of the whole French population (Cadiou et al. in press).

    Because of this important decrease, the European Herring Gull has been categorized as NT and VU on the IUCN validated Regional Red Lists for Pays de la Loire (2013) and Brittany (2015), respectively. Brittany in the region which historically held the main part of the French population. In this context, it is much probable that the species will be categorized as NT (at least) during the next revision of the IUCN Red List for France.

    Of course, there are voices in France too against such an up-listing of this species: since the Herring Gull cause acknowledged problems, it is sometimes claimed that the ‘not natural’ character of its previous increase should be taken into account (however, nobody wonders about the ‘not natural’ previous increase of many other species which, like the Common Swift, have taken advantage of human activities, sometimes for a much longer time that the European Herring Gull).

    However the common policy in France is to take the IUCN Red List protocol and criteria for red-listing at face value : they provide a standardized and objective way to evaluate the risk of disappearance of any species at a given range level. Once this risk is evaluated, people in charge of conservation policy will prioritize the actions, taking into account various parameters, not only the Red List.

    If red-listing was to include unequal treatments for ‘good’ species and for ‘bad’ ones, then the value of red lists would diminish markedly.

    If the use of similar data sets was to lead to different categorizations in European and World IUCN Red List, then how can we trust in the value of these list? Following the national assessments recently made in the course of N2000 reporting by each European country, BirdLife has produce an European IUCN Red LIst where the European Herring Gull is classified as NT. The same classification is expected in the World Red List.

    Reference quoted : Cadiou B. and regional coordinators (in press). Bilan du cinquième recensement national des oiseaux marins nicheurs en France métropolitaine 2009-2012. Ornithos 21.

  6. Dr. Nicky Petkov says:

    Fully support the oppinion of Niccola Baccetti!
    I have lived briefly in Northern European country and my impression from Herring Gull population does not indicate any need of uplisting, though probably have not so long experience with that species as other colleagues might have. Doubtful it is if you compare such flexible and adaptive species to a species like the NT Ferruginous Duck which has suffered significant habitat loss do not match as approach and adequacy in the assessment.

  7. W.R.P. Bourne says:

    The Herring Gull underwent a vast increase in the UK in the recent past, and has now spread from the sea inland to nest in towns, where it is probably now our least popular bird. If its status is changed it should be to “Most Concern” as a real nuisance.

    • Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

      Thanks for your comments on this and other species. Please provide evidence of the recent ‘vast increase’ in the UK, which does not seem to be borne out by the available data (see eg Increased recent breeding in towns and cities appears insignificant in comparison with the declines observed in coastal populations.

  8. W.R.P. Bourne says:

    The big gulls were apparently not very numerous in Britain until they took up scavenging after the bird protection acts of the 1880s, though their initial increase was not monitored: see

    Bourne W.R.P. l996. The past status of gulls and terns in Britain. Sula l0:l56-l59.

    I could provide a reprint if I had your address (note that I have now identified the Brew as the Bihoreau or Night Heron). The conduct of gulls in towns is now so insignificant that it has engaged the attention of the Prime Minister; not a good bird to start defending. Bill Bourne.

  9. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Hans Meltofte, chairman of the conservation committee of DOF/BirdLife Denmark, has provided the following comment:

    The evaluation of some other species is critical as well. For Common Eider, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Herring Gull decreases may primarily or at least partly be due to reductions in the eutrophication from agriculture that a number of successful water quality improvement efforts have resulted in – together with reduced offal from fishing vessels and open rubbish dumps for the Herring Gull. In other words, marked increases in these species during the 20th century were more or less artificial, and we risk to make ourselves completely ridiculous by claiming that declines in these species are a problem, if populations are just returning to sizes reflecting the carrying capacity of the natural (non-eutrophicated) environment.

  10. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Raimo Virkkala of the Finnish Environment Institute has provided the following comment:

    “In general, I agree with almost all changes in threat categories, except one, the herring gull Larus argentatus. I think it should absolutely not be included as a Near threatened species. As pointed out already by several commentators, the species has increased previously considerably due to dumps and other human provided extra food (for example, my own study [see below]). Now, when dumps are largely being closed due to new EU-regulations, the populations are slightly declining, but the populations are still far above pre-dump period. Increased populations of herring gulls are a considerable threat to many other waterbird species by eating chicks and eggs of other species. So the recent declines of the herring gull populations probably have a positive effect on many other threatened waterbird species. In my opinion, only when the population size of the herring gull is considerably smaller, can the species be included as Near threatened or Threatened.”

    Extract from abstract of Virkkala (2006), reporting an increase in breeding Herring Gulls in southern Finland:

    Understanding spatial and temporal patterns of species is a prerequisite for successful species and habitat conservation. Spatial variation in breeding sites of four gull species was studied in southern Finland in an oligo-mesotrophic lake complex covering almost 50 km2 of water areas and 290 km of shoreline in three census periods in 1986–2004. Two of the species have declined and are regarded as red-listed in Finland (black-headed gull L. ridibundus and lesser black-backed gull L. f. fuscus) and two have increased (common gull L. canus and herring gull L. argentatus) in numbers during the past decades.

    Virkkala, R. (2006) Spatiotemporal variation of breeding gull species in a boreal lake complex in Finland: Implications for conservation, Biological Conservation, Volume 128, Issue 4, Pages 447-454, ISSN 0006-3207,

  11. The breeding population was increasing significantly until 2010. However, lately, the breeding population stabilzed and we suppose because of better management of the rubish dumping places. Moreover, because of the rapid increas of the L.cachinnans, which started breed in the same places like L.argentatus, this species started making hybrid pairs with L.cachinnans. In one study area with hiest population of both species (more than 250 pairs), more than 30% pairs are mixed between both species. This means, that during the last 5 years, the number of genetically “virgin” offsprings of L.argentatus decresed significantly. Having in mind rapid expansion of the L.cachinans from the east and facts that number of the breeding L.argentatus is stable, the genetically “virgin” population after some generations will decrese significantly. L.cachinans already predominates in eastern Lithuania and has reached central part of the country, while pure L.argentatus breeding population exist in western Lithuania only, i.e. in the coastal regions of the Baltic including breeding birds in the cities. So, the future of the breeding L.argentatus very likely will show decresing of this species.

  12. Fluctuating of numbers takes place for the European Russia at whole, with local increase in some regions. Some increase of breeding range was recorded from the end of 1980s. It is not necessary to uplist the status of the species.

  13. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List would be to treat:

    Herring Gull as Least Concern; on the basis that further information received subsequent to the European Red List process suggests that recent declines are most likely to form part of a longer-term fluctuation following previous increases. The population should be closely monitored and were it to show no sign of stabilisation it should then be listed in a higher threat category.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 August, after which the recommended categorisation will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  14. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there have been no changes to our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List status of this species.

    The final categorisation will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessment by BirdLife and IUCN.

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