Planned cull upheld by High Court

Herring Gull
Herring Gull

Plans for the culling of thousands of seagulls have been upheld by the High Court.

A judge dismissed claims by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) that the Government-sanctioned cull is unlawful and will set a dangerous precedent for bird conservation in the UK.

Mr Justice Mitting, sitting in London, ruled the claims “unfounded”, dismissed the RSPB’s application for judicial review and ordered it to pay £10,000 in legal costs.

The Environment Secretary sanctioned the cull in the Ribble Estuary on the Lancashire coast at the request of aerospace firm BAE Systems.

BAE said a reduction in the population of lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls was required because of fears over birds being sucked into the engines of jets using the airfield at its Warton site.

Consent was given in May last year for the killing of 552 pairs of lesser black-backed gulls and for further operations to maintain the population at a reduced level for 10 years, provided the overall population was not reduced to fewer than 3,348 pairs.

By that date a cull of 500 pairs of herring gull had been completed, and the Environment Secretary directed Natural England to consent to further operations to maintain the herring gull population at the reduced level.

David Forsdick QC, for the RSPB, said at a two-day hearing in London earlier this month: “As far as we are aware, this has never happened before in the UK and that is why the RSPB is so concerned to have the decision set aside.”

He asked Mr Justice Mitting to order a rethink and said the culls threatened to undermine the conservation purposes of European directives for birds and habitats.

The populations of lesser black-backed gulls were in “substantial decline” across the UK and in need of protection, he argued.

He suggested that, if the judge was not convinced the law was in the RSPB’s favour, a reference should be made to the European Court of Justice for a final decision on important questions raised by the case.

Dismissing the RSPB application, the judge said: “I can see no purpose in referring (the questions) to the Luxembourg court.”

He also refused the RSPB permission to appeal against his ruling, although the society can still ask the Court of Appeal to hear its case.