The government has given the go-ahead to cull hundreds of birds in the Ribble and Alt Estuaries, because of fears relating to the operation of British Aerospace’s Warton aerodrome.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has directed Natural England to consent British Aerospace Systems a licence to cull 552 pairs of breeding lesser black-backed gulls in the Special Protection Area, as they pose a threat to air and public safety.
This is in addition to existing consents to cull 500 pairs of herring gulls and 200 pairs of lesser black-backed gulls.
A spokesman for Defra said: “After careful consideration, we have taken the decision to allow a limited number of gulls to be controlled that are impacting on air safety.”
A spokesman for BAE Systems added: “The population of herring gulls at the Ribble Estuary presents a risk of bird strike to aircraft operating from Warton airfield. BAE Systems has sought to reduce this risk.”
However, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is concerned it will set a “worrying precedent”. Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “Although we recognise the air safety risk, we believe the Secretary of State’s conclusion is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of wildlife protection designed to conserve the UK’s best wildlife places.
“We strongly disagree with his interpretation that it is acceptable to lose up to a quarter of a protected site’s breeding bird population without it damaging the conservation value of that site. This sets a worrying precedent for this and similar sites.”
Mr Harper said the RSPB is “considering its options carefully”.