Probe into killing of protected birds near Lancaster

Culled lesser black-backed gulls on land managed by the Abbeystead Estate.
Culled lesser black-backed gulls on land managed by the Abbeystead Estate.
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An investigation is under way into claims that protected birds have been unjustifiably killed on land run by a renowned country estate.

Natural England, the government’s advisory body on the countryside, is looking into allegations by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) after they discovered “large numbers” of nesting lesser black-backed gulls being shot on a grouse moor managed by the Abbeystead Estate.

The conservation charity claims Natural England gave consent for a cull “without justification”. The RSPB also said it believes the Abbeystead Estate breached “the spirit” of an agreement with Natural England.

A Natural England spokesperson said: “We are currently investigating the reports from the RSPB and we cannot comment further on an active investigation.”

A spokesman for Abbeystead Estate said: “Natural England are conducting an investigation with our full cooperation. We are not in a position to comment while this investigation is under way.”

An RSPB spokesman said one of their staff working in the Bowland area discovered the gulls being shot and their chicks left to be either killed by dogs or left to starve. The RSPB said the species can only be legally culled if they pose a threat to human health, risk spreading disease or are having a negative effect on other species of conservation concern. They also said they had repeatedly asked Natural England for scientific evidence justifying a cull but “none had been forthcoming”.

Graham Jones, RSPB Conservation Area Manager, said: “We are devastated that this cull of a protected species has been taking place, apparently without any justification. Although it may occasionally be necessary to cull a small number of large gulls for conservation and health reasons, there is absolutely no evidence to support it in this case.”

The Abbeystead Estate, in the Forest of Bowland, is a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty known for its grouse and pheasant shooting.