Tag Archives: Gulls

Life with Justin King of the South Coast and UK Bird/Gull Volunteer Network

Yeah, so where was I? When I moved in here about 11 years ago now there was a gull standing on the fence.”

Which is not unusual in Brighton. 

“I suppose it isn’t, but I just threw out a bit of food and from that moment on, he decided he quite liked being here so he brought his partner along, but then another two came along and were a bit jealous about what was going on so they scared off my first two but they came back and… I’m surprised he’s not here actually”. 

The Whistler is in a garden near the seafront and we’re with Justin King, prime mover of the South Coast and UK Bird/Gull Volunteer Network, a group dedicated to helping and rescuing our favourite birds. If life can be split into “Good Guys” and “Not Good Guys”, Justin is about as good a good guy can be. 

“If I throw a bit of ham I bet you he’ll arrive. He’s called Brutus he’s also a bit of a celebrity because we’ve got an Instagram page and we’ve got a Facebook page I constantly take pictures of him and his partner and… I’ll tell you what, let me get a bit of ham”. Justin disappears into his kitchen and emerges with a small packet of ham slices. He reaches into the packet, throws his hand in the air and, from nowhere, we’re in a scene from Hitchcock. 

“There’s Brutus” he says as a gull that looks disarmingly like a gull swoops down for Justin’s ham. “He’s been a bit of a constant for me, but I have all kinds of birds that come into the garden.” Justin reaches for another handful of ham and throws it over his fence into the neighbouring car park.

The Whistler is admittedly a bit biased, but we think gulls are just lovely and we’re very happy to be in a city where the… whatever the national symbol of a city is called, is a gull. But gulls, like all birds, have had a tough time recently. Avian flu – “flockdown” – has hit hard, which has meant that charities and rescue centres have been reluctant to take injured or needy birds in. And that has meant, what it always means: volunteers need help. In the last year, the Network has raised £170,000 for Bird Aid, which is an extraordinary amount. 

Justin rattled off a list of names. “Tony Bloom, owner of Brighton and Hove Albion, got involved in the Bird Aid campaign last year…” Well, he does own The Seagulls… “which was brilliant. But then we’ve got a lot of celebrities on board. Chris Packham. He put a post on Facebook. Ricky Gervais posts on his Twitter. Holly Willoughby. Oh, Woody Cook. Actually it was Woody who… once he started it snowballed. Loads of other naturalism environmentalists got involved.” 

Just as we’re talking, Justin’s phone goes. He’s making an arrangement. 

“What’s that?” I ask. 

“Someone’s coming round to pick up the pigeon to take him to a sanctuary”. 

“What pigeon?”

Justin takes me round to what looks like a garden shed. Well, OK. It is a garden shed. Carefully he opens the door and there, standing on one foot and looking a bit sorry for himself, a pigeon. 

“He’s hurt his foot and can’t put any weight on it and someone brought him round. He’s stayed here for a couple of days and then he’s going to go to the sanctuary to fully recover”. 

I love these people. I love the person who found the pigeon and picked him up, I love Justin who has nurtured him, I love the people who have a sanctuary where he can recover.   

What is the Brighton gull population? What number are we talking? 

“I don’t actually know, but in general the species is in decline. Herring gulls are on the endangered species list, the Red List. Herring gulls. Yep. The ones you just see. They’re all herring gulls. And I know you wouldn’t think so, but it’s true, they’re on the decline. Saying that though, a lot of wildlife is in decline.

“There’s a lot of ignorance and intolerance towards a lot of forms of wildlife. There’s been cases in Woodingdean of people poisoning foxes because they don’t want them coming into the garden and digging up their lawns. Birds being shot, you name it, it’s happened. Yeah, shocking. Yeah. I mean when you think of Sussex, the word that synonymous with the countryside. If you don’t like birds, don’t live by the coast, go and live in Milton Keynes. Sorry, but it really is relentless”.

How many people are there in your group?

“The group has approximately 3,200 members, but the majority of them aren’t really active. Mostly, it’s just a few people. A lot of people have dropped out because times are hard for everyone and not everyone has so much time anymore. The cost of living crisis has made people reprioritise”.

So hardcore volunteers? Let’s put it this way. How many are as committed as you?

“Probably about a dozen. But it’s been difficult and because of avian flu this year, I’ve literally had to throw myself headlong into this. Yeah, the whole campaign. It’s left no time for anything else.

Watching Justin, listening to him, I know there’s nothing he’d prefer to be doing. He has, in every sense, found his calling. 

Justin looks up to the skies where the gulls are still circling, a bit distracted. Do you listen to the goals and recognise different calls?

“Yes. That’s the whistling you can hear there, the babies. I always know that sound. But I’m also familiar with my regular gull who comes to visit. He stands on the shed and waits for his food. And when he screeches, I recognise it. It’s just, I mean, they’re all different. Anyway, I recognise the way he does it and the sound that he makes and yeah, so I know when he’s here”.

Justin looks up again. 

“I was just thinking I should go and check on the ham I threw over the fence. I want to make sure they all got some” 

Check out the Whistler website for details of the South Coast and UK Bird/Gull Volunteer Network Go Fund Me page or go to their Facebook group page of the same name

Check out the Whistler website for details of the South Coast and UK Bird/Gull Volunteer Network Go Fund Me page or go to their Facebook group page of the same name

https://gofund.me/58fadb2f

https://www.facebook.com/groups/385523575455222/?ref=share_group_link