Birds Britannia: Seabirds
Ever since I went on holiday to the seaside as a child, I've been aware of seabirds. The haunting cry of the herring gull is one of the first natural sounds any of us hear, and as the theme music for Desert Island Discs shows, it is a quintessentially British soundtrack. Maybe this is because we are an island nation - the sea, and the creatures that live there, are somehow in our blood.
But seabirds are creatures of mystery, too. Of all Britain's birds, they are the most 'out of sight, out of mind' - quite literally, in the case of those that spend the majority of the year out in the open ocean, only coming to land to breed.
When they do come to land, though, they create one of the most extraordinary of all Britain's wildlife spectacles - described by one contributor to Birds Britannia, Roy Dennis, as "our equivalent of the Serengeti". The sight, sound and of course smell of these vast breeding colonies is quite overpowering - and of all my birding memories, watching seabirds on the Farne Islands, the Shetland island of Noss, and the remote archipelago of St Kilda, are amongst the most vivid.
Yet for most of my life - and I suspect yours, too - I do not generally encounter seabirds. Compared to the subjects of our other episodes - Garden Birds, Waterbirds, and Countryside Birds - they are remote and often forgotten. All, that is, apart from one very special and often overlooked group - the gulls. Gulls are the one group of seabirds which have chosen to invade our space, by living and breeding in our city centres - and we don't always like it.
Our changing relationship with gulls will be revealed in this week's episode of Birds Britannia, along with many other aspects of our ancient and turbulent relationship with seabirds as a whole - from the way we exploited them for food, to how we eventually came to protect them. It is a dramatic, exciting, and largely untold chapter in the history of our rise and fall as a seafaring people.
Stephen Moss is the Series Producer.