The striking picture by Steve Young, from St Mary's on the Isles of Scilly, scooped the £5,000 prize from among thousands of shots taken by photographers across the UK.
The award for Young British Wildlife Photographer was won by 14-year-old Adam Hawtin, from Packwood, Solihull, for his stunning picture of a blue leaf-beetle.
Winners of other categories in the competition included shots of coots sparring, Canada geese and mallards wandering through the snow, mountain hares, a black and white portrait of frogs and a shot of dragonflies in dew.
A category introduced to mark this year's International Year of Biodiversity was won by Geoff Simpson, from High Peak, Derbyshire, for his shot of a male sand lizard - the rarest lizard in the UK.
And a special award for a portfolio of pictures was won by Terry Whittaker, from Folkestone, for his photographs documenting a water-vole reintroduction scheme by the Wildwood Trust, Kent.
Competition judge Greg Armfield, from WWF, described the winning picture of the herring gull as "a unique and striking image, one that captures perfectly the power, chaos and intensity of the ocean as it surrounds the majestic gull".
Fellow judge Tom Hind, from Getty Images, said: "I like the defiance in this shot - the gull's refusal to be moved in the face of this crashing wave seems to sum up a peculiarly British stoicism.
"It's also a great example of how the commonplace can be transformed in a judicious moment."
Poul Christensen, chairman of Natural England, which supported the category marking the International Year of Biodiversity, said the winning images were a great showcase for the wildlife wonders which exist in the UK.
"I'd like to congratulate all of the entrants for the exceptionally high quality of their images - extraordinary pictures of our rarest animals sit alongside uniquely beautiful shots of the wildlife on our doorstep.
"In this, the International Year of Biodiversity, we should take stock of what a precious resource our natural environment provides and remind ourselves just how much it enriches our lives."
This year a coffee table book of the awards - which were founded in 2009 - is being produced, while a nationwide year-long touring exhibition of the top pictures launches at the Hooper's Gallery, Clerkenwell, London, on October 14.
:: For more information about the British Wildlife Photography Awards, including the opening dates for next year's competition, visit