Police nest protection deters Poole Harbour gull egg thieves

Gull chick Image copyright Birds of Poole Harbour
Image caption Gull chicks have started to hatch on the remote islands

A scheme to protect rare gull eggs off the Dorset coast has been hailed a success after an increase in the number of breeding pairs is revealed.

Egg theft had become such a problem on remote islands off Poole Harbour that police patrols were put in to protect the seabirds this year.

Charity, Birds of Poole Harbour, said a survey carried out on Tuesday revealed "zero evidence" of thefts by poachers.

Just over 2,500 out of 9,000 nests were left following egg thefts last year.

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Paul Morton, who runs the charity, said the colony was back up to nearly 6,000 nests.

He said: "We're thrilled. We saw our first chicks too which means that the eggs are now beyond the picking stage."

Image caption Police officers have patrolled the islands day and night to protect the nesting birds
Image copyright Amy Robjohns
Image caption The gulls' egg laying period falls between April and May

The eggs from black-headed and Mediterranean gulls - considered a delicacy - are stolen in April and May for their exclusivity and high price tag, and are often used in top restaurants.

The charity said it planned to continue to monitor the seabirds year on year and hoped to see the colony "recover and grow".

There were around 20 "pickers" operating under licenses issued by Natural England, which allows black-headed gull eggs to be collected legally at five sites in England.

No one is licensed to collect the eggs in Dorset.

Image caption Thousands of nests were found empty on the remote islands in May 2016

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