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Like it or not, Sheffield’s seagulls are here to stay

Have you noticed a lot of seagulls recently? Their cries can be heard throughout the city centre, and out into the suburbs. And more than one person has said, “It must be bad weather on the coast because they’ve come inland.”

The closest beach as the crow flies is Cleethorpes Central Beach, in North East Lincolnshire, and is 62 miles from Sheffield. Seagulls have always come inland during winter for the simple reason that it’s warmer in urban areas, but now it seems we may have to get used to them all year long.

As far as we know, it was about 40 years ago, that some gulls decided they preferred Sheffield, and stayed on during the rest of the year. They first started to roost and gather in local parks like Meersbrook Park and Graves Park, back in the ice-cold grip of the winters of 1979 and 1980.

Now they can be seen across the city, with large groups reported in the city centre and around Crystal Peaks.

A disruption in the ready supply of fish, particularly waste, due to changes in the fishing industry, could be a contributing factor in the gulls heading inland.

Adult birds (3 years and over) having once bred in a town or city will generally return to the same colony year after year, often to the same nesting site.

Mating activity will start in February when birds begin to identify nesting sites, courting is in full swing by March, and by April the nest will have been made. Typically, eggs will be laid in late April or May, and the eggs start to hatch in June. Matters get much worse in July and August when the young birds fledge (begin to fly).

It appears to be only the Herring and Lesser black-backed gulls that breed in Sheffield. They prefer flat roofs with a little substrate (gravel etc). They build a very simple nest of moss and other vegetation and if needs be this can be done in a matter of hours. Typically three eggs are laid in each nest. On a modern building, nests will tend to be built behind a parapet wall or where there is protection from the elements.

Gulls like circling round tall buildings: they use the updraughts to gain height, while they socialise or study the neighbourhood for food.

It is thought that the Moorfoot building has provided perfect nesting and roosting points for them, and there is lots of food which is easily available. Even if not fed by people there are always rubbish dumps and litter they can eat, for example, fish and chips dropped on pavements.

Much of the birds’ success in cities is due to their long lives, which allows the birds to build up an extensive memory of where and how to find food. Unlike garden songbirds (which generally live 3-5 years), gulls can live decades and accumulate valuable experience. 

Young gulls have been brought up with no knowledge of anywhere except urban life. None of them know how to catch a fish and have now reached the third or fourth generation.

And so, it appears that our seagulls are here to stay.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Places

Little Sheffield

Fairbanks’ Map of Little Sheffield in 1808. South Street became The Moor. The road marked Little Sheffield is now London Road. There are some familiar road names in the top half of the map. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Once upon a time there was a small hamlet near Sheffield town that went by the name of Little Sheffield.

During the early 1800s, Sheffield’s rapidly growing population needed to expand outside the historical boundaries, and Little Sheffield disappeared.

We know where Little Sheffield was, but its boundaries blurred over time, with experts long contesting where it started and finished. The area has never been clearly defined, like those forgotten places of Port Mahon and Hallamshire.

We must go back to olden days when Sheffield was a town surrounded by fields and countryside. It gradually expanded until its southern edges skirted a gorse-clad swampy common called Sheffield Moor.

Today, we know this marshy land as The Moor with its surrounding streets.

A path was made by throwing up two embankments, between which was a deep ditch, with only a footbridge over Porter Brook.

By the 1760s, travellers had to go down Coal Pit Lane (Cambridge Street) and Button Lane (long disappeared) to Little Sheffield – a group of poor and time-worn cottages. The road to it ran across Sheffield Moor, thence up a sharp rise to Highfield. The only house you came to after passing Moorhead was Mr Kirkby’s, standing on Button Lane (opposite where the ramp to Sainsbury’s car-park on Charter Row now stands). There was one other building nearby, with a bowling green attached to Sheffield Moor. Beyond was Little Sheffield, the outlying hamlet.

By the nineteenth century, the fields around Little Sheffield had been swallowed up for the working classes, a poor and densely populated area, its houses with roofs of stone slabs, low windows, and red brick walls.

Nowadays, we can define Little Sheffield’s northern boundary as being where the Moorfoot Building stands, taking in Young Street, South Lane, St Mary’s Gate, London Road, and surrounding streets like Hermitage Street, Sheldon Street, Hill Street, John Street, and Boston Street (once called George Street), up towards its southern boundary at Highfield.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.