The move will reduce the number of licences that are issued to control gulls in towns and cities each breeding season, following new evidence on the extent to which populations are struggling.
The latest Seabirds Count census shows that all five breeding species of gull continue to decline, with numbers in Scotland down by between 44% and 75% depending on species.
The declines are attributed to factors such as changes in food availability and land use, with some species also suffering losses because of recent devastating outbreaks of avian flu.
Currently, herring gull is a red listed species of conservation concern in the UK, while lesser black-backed gull, great black-backed gull, common gull and black-headed gull are all amber listed. A review of the classifications is underway following the latest Seabird Count publication.
In Scotland a specific licence must be applied for to destroy the nests or eggs of gulls, relocate chicks or, as a last resort, carry out lethal control.
Since removing gulls from the General Licence in 2019, NatureScot has been assessing demand for licenses while working with local authorities, pest controllers and the public to emphasise the requirement for preventative, non-lethal measures.
For the 2024 breeding season, in light of the latest population declines and the ongoing impact of avian flu, the guidance for applicants has been clarified further to ensure that applicants are aware that licences can only be issued for reasons of clear public health and safety issues, and where other alternatives are not effective. Applicants may be required to submit additional evidence before a licence will be issued.
NatureScot’s Licensing Manager Liz McLachlan said: “Our role is to balance the conservation and protection of species with public interests such as safeguarding people from health and safety risks. To make sure we get that balance right, it’s vital that our licences take into account the latest science and evidence.
“The ongoing declines in gull species in Scotland reported in the latest seabird census is very concerning. That’s why we are taking steps to ensure everyone is aware of our licensing approach, to ensure that populations are protected, and where possible restored, while health and safety risks to the public are minimised.
“We know that gulls can sometimes cause issues in our towns and cities and that these changes may cause concern for some people. Our licensing team have been communicating with local councils and licence holders to prepare them and we will continue to work with those affected as we enter the 2024 season to provide advice and support.”