Living with the Lesser Black-backed Gull in the Dutch Delta

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In advanced capitalist societies, nature has become more dependent on human influence. But some species are living in closer proximity than others. Including the Lesser Black-backed Gull. Throughout the 20th century, human activities have led to changes in the environment of this “synanthropic” species, a species living in close proximity to humans, not only affecting the size of the population but also the place where they settle. Animals that follow us as humans are often unappreciated and therefore present a challenge.

The Lesser Black-backed Gull is a migratory bird, of which almost 80,000 pairs are spending their breeding season starting from February until September in the Netherlands. It is a relatively new species here that is normally loyal to their breeding ground. However, since its first appearance, colonies have already been displaced from the Dutch dunes to large vacant lots on industrial sites in the Dutch Delta and urban environments.

Because they cause different types of nuisance and friction in the latter two, port owners and municipalities are trying to work around the protected status of the species by, amongst others, applying for exemptions. But ultimately, we ourselves are the driving factor, so the solution will also lie in recognising the agency of these species by studying their response to our entanglements while learning to live alongside them.

Therefore, this project aimed to design an intervention that contributes to a sustainable life for the Lesser Black-backed Gull in the context of the Dutch Delta, by taking a gulls’ perspective and examining the Lesser Black-backed Gull’s desires based on our current entanglements.

As design-with-animals methods are still scarce, the design approach is made up by taking both parts of More-Than-Human design theory and systemic design practices. First, the relations or entanglements between gulls and humans over time and the effects on their population and human-gull interactions were explored. And finally, in case studies of the Port of Rotterdam and cities, attempts were made to understand what is driving gulls to settle there, the interactions between humans and gulls that arise, and the different perspectives of actors on how to deal with the gull in the future.

Human-induced changes in the environment of gulls are both causing them to respond in unpredictable ways by dispersing, and are causing the population to decline, potentially threatening the Natura2000 conservation objective. For these reasons, an intervention has ultimately been proposed for co-habitation in the Port of Rotterdam, which can function as an important example for the many industrial areas in the (Southwestern) Delta.

The Port of Rotterdam, and especially the area of Europoort West is both meaningful to humans as gulls. The largest colony of Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the world is settled here, in the largest port in Europe. Various affordances, while being a species of routines, make it a meaningful place for the gulls.

The intervention is called “Land van Meeuw en Mens” and should ensure that gulls are taken into account in the world we design while highlighting their acknowledged agency to employees and visitors.

The “Land van Meeuw en Mens” first consists of a spatial redesign of an area where gulls and humans are crossing paths. Secondly, it consists of a design proposal for gull roofs that are currently arising from the popular breeding area, but do not yet take into account the loss of habitat for this species. The last proposal includes a breeding object that has been further developed to translate the affordances of their previous nesting site to the roof.

Last but not least, the specific case of the Lesser Black-backed gulls can be seen as an example of how humans and other species can share living space as we will continue to entangle.