With their slightly naff arcades and a stiff enough wind to blow sand in your ice cream, there is some unique and nostalgic about the British seaside. The cry of the herring gull is one of the distinct sounds that make the trip to the coast; for some, it is a special sound, others, however, detest these bold avians. However, their reputation is not great though, they are known as bin chickens and frequently called something ruder, especially after they have just purloined your chips. In this modern world, there are a lot of creatures suffering at the hand of man, but some survive and others thrive. Gulls are one of those that are making the most of the way we are now using our landscape.
Where gulls win though is our wastefulness these days, we throw so much rubbish away as well as littering the cities and countryside that they have become intertwined and dependent on us. As we are not allowed to incinerate rubbish these days, the items that we cannot recycle have to go into landfill. On every waste site around the country, you will see gulls in their hundreds, sifting through the plastic searching for titbits to eat. The generic, and incorrect term, seagull covers all of these large white birds. But if you take time to stop and look at them you will start the see the difference between the various species that live in the UK. Until recently it is only with the science of DNA testing that now that we are seeing the subtle difference between very similar looking gulls and that are many more subspecies than was first thought.
“A ghost gull – the colour of dirty ice or wood ashes. It was like an ice-light or snow lantern on the shore.”
Tim Dee has been a bird watcher since his teens, where he would try and look at almost anything with feathers, but he is becoming a “larophiles” or gull enthusiast as they pique his curiosity now. He heads to Essex to one of the main landfill sites for London to help catch and ring them and realises just how large they are when handling them. He travels backwards and forwards across the country seeking them, as well as heading to South Africa and then Madagascar to see their gulls. It is wide-ranging too, he finds gulls in books, those that have made it to the big screen as well as those that have had their fifteen minutes of infamy in the news. Mostly though this is a eulogy to a bird that most would not even consider worth watching, birds that he can see every day when he closes his front door in his home city of Bristol, birds that are intrinsically linked to us. Thought that this was another brilliant read from Tim Dee and after reading this I am never going to look at gull in the same way. Very highly recommended; if you haven’t read his other books, then I would urge you to do so.
Paul Cheney 5/4
Landfill by Tim Dee
Little Toller Books 9781908213624 hbk Sep 2018