My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
An application by aerospace company BAE Systems to cull 1100 lesser black-backed gulls in Lancashire has been the subject of a High Court appeal. Judgement was received this morning and the RSPB's challenge was unsuccessful. Here is our response to Mr Justice Mitting’s judgment on the RSPB’s Ribble Gull Cull challenge:
This judgement is deeply worrying as we believe it fundamentally misinterprets the law as it relates to protecting birds. It is important to stress that the dispute at the centre of this case is not about air safety – the RSPB fully accepts the risk exists and that the cull is necessary, this is about how the Government can sanction the killing of an additional 1100 lesser black-backed gulls without acknowledging the damaging impact of removing almost a fifth of the breeding population of a species on a protected site. The judge appears to condone the Government writing off part of why the Ribble Estuary is important for nature conservation without compensation measures and, as such, sets a deeply disturbing precedent for our most important sites for wildlife – we are urgently looking at our options to appeal this judgment.
We shall making further statements in due course. More information about the case is shown below...
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 Ribble and Alt Estuaries Special Protection Area, as they pose a threat to air and public safety relating to the operation of British Aerospace’s Warton aerodrome. This is in addition to existing consents to cull 500 pairs of Herring Gulls and 200 pairs of lesser black-backed gulls at the same site. British Aerospace had explored all possible non-lethal alternatives to reduce the risk to air safety and the RSPB understands that, in this instance, a cull is necessary to reduce the risk to a safe level.
However, the RSPB is extremely concerned about how Defra has taken its decision and its implications for the UK’s wildlife. While the RSPB recognises the air safety risk, we believe the Secretary of State’s conclusion was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of wildlife protection designed to conserve the UK’s best wildlife places.
The RSPB strongly disagrees with the Secretary of State’s interpretation that it is acceptable to lose up to a fifth of a protected site’s breeding bird population without it damaging the conservation value of that site. Given the very worrying precedent for this and similar sites across the UK the RSPB challenged the Secretary of State’s decision.
Martin Thanks for responding. I begin to understand. You are aiming at the compensatory measures or lack of them.
As I understand it then you did not challenge the number of birds needing to be killed. Did you look at these figures? I have been slow returning to this as I cannot see anything on the internet on density of birds and the risk of bird strikes. I cannot understand why reducing their number by 20% makes it safer. Also it is not a one off there will be breeding and recruitment if it is a good location in other respects (than being killed)
Also you presumably also did not challenge whether they had made enough effort to deter the birds – did they have to present any evidence in court as to what they had done?
I hope I am not wasting too much of your time.
Hi Naturalist, sorry to be slow in responding. Just to be clear, we have not completely lost this one yet - we have the right to appeal this decision. The key to our case is that under the DEFRA decision, there are no compensatory measures required even though a large number of birds are to be culled. That is the basis of our complaint. We believe the scale of the cull constitutes as adverse affect and ought, under Existing legislation, mean steps should be taken to create habitat for gulls elsewhere.
This is an old blog but as it is moderated could you please bring this to Martins attention.
I assume the RSPB stance is that the site should be protected but you seem to have lost this one. Do the gulls have to be killed. You said somewhere waders on your site, which is protected from vermin, have a 20% recruitment rate. How successful are the gulls? If they are as successful as that, they will be only 4% short of their existing population in one year. (or other birds may move in to join them) So they will have to cull again.
Here the local Herring gulls Orford Ness/ Havergate Island if I remember rightly upped and moved house to another site (for no known reason.) Surely it would make sense to try to encourage the birds to move nesting /resting.
In this day and age trying other means cannot just mean a man waving a red flag and must expect innovative solutions to be developed. BAE Systems has plenty of expertise. If they used mini helicopter drones with cameras and people (some could be disabled at home in their “bunkers”) they could disturbed the birds when they came to nest and rest so that they moved elsewhere. In other words they have not tried other means.
They could purchase land somewhere nearby and RSPB could help develop it as a suitable site as you are doing on the Suffolk coast with replacement reed beds for the Environment Agency.
( I still do not understand the numbers game as in my previous unanswered post.)
I am puzzled by the numbers. You say “removing almost a fifth of the breeding population of a species on a protected site. “
How does removing one if five birds flying round make it safer for a plane to take off. I think of a snow storm with one fifth of the flakes missing you are still going to get hit by some.
There must be something else going on here?
Are these birds nesting in a specific area? At the end of the runway?
As you say Martin, it is not so much that there is perhaps a unique problem in this case,although its proposed resolution is bad enough, it is the cavalier way the Secretary Of State approaches this whole issue and others, when the protection of nature is concerned. I think this Secretary of State may well go down in recent history as the only Secretary of State for the Environment that has indirectly killed more birds or reduced their numbers than he has saved.
Still he does nothing for example, about the illegal killings of Hen Harriers.
A lot of questions are currently being asked at present as to why people are so uninterested in the political process and why they are so cynical about politicians. It is actions or lack of actions like these that provide the answers.
"The Greenest Government Ever"?- it was just a cynical ploy.
Keep up your great work RSPB despite these awful handicaps.
Disturbing news indeed! What would the implications be for a Thames Estuary airport be! Catastrophic for an internationally important site for wildlife.