RSPB calls on NE to act (Bowland Gull Cull 1)

RSPB press release:

The RSPB has learned that large numbers of protected birds are being killed on a grouse moor in Lancashire.

A RSPB staff member working in the Bowland area discovered two estate workers shooting nesting lesser black-backed gulls – on a grouse moor managed by the Abbeystead Estate – leaving their chicks to be either killed by dogs or left to starve.

Lesser blacked-backed gulls have been nesting on the moors of Lancashire for more than 80 years. The recovering colony in Bowland is one of the most important in the UK and is protected under British and European law, having once been in excess of 20,000 pairs. Lesser blacked-backed gulls are declining across the UK and the RSPB is becoming increasingly worried about their future in the UK.

This 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. The RSPB understands Natural England – the government agency for responsible for protecting the countryside – granted consent for the cull. But while the nature conservation organisation has repeatedly asked Natural England for scientific evidence which would justify a cull, none has been forthcoming.

Although the RSPB has yet to see the full details of the consent, it has reason to believe that the landowner may have breached both the letter and the spirit of the agreement, and is calling on Natural England to investigate the matter urgently.

Graham Jones, RSPB Conservation Area Manager for North West England, 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. 

We want Natural England to tell us why they think the gulls at Bowland met the legal criteria for a cull and also want them look into whether the terms of an already flawed agreement have been broken. Bowland should be a safe place for this declining species and Natural England should be focussing on helping the colony’s recovery.

We believe the only reason these protected birds are being killed is simply to satisfy the requirements resulting from the ongoing unsustainable approach to grouse moor management.’.


Note the tough words at the end of this press release ‘the ongoing unsustainable approach to grouse moor management’.


Natural England response:







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32 Replies to “RSPB calls on NE to act (Bowland Gull Cull 1)”

  1. This has been going on for far too long. I remember being overawed sitting overlooking the gullery for several hours some 20 odd years ago. I understand the initial rationale was to protect the water supplies, but the estate management have taken the opportunity to annihilate the population - perhaps it was just too noisy for the grouse? The RSPB asked for a review 4 years ago too, that didn't seem to go anywhere, anyone care to bet on the outcome of this new complaint? Not holding my breath.

    1. Innocent - well, English Nature was, and I would say that NE did some good things in its early years under the marmite-like Helen Phillips. It's had a really tough time under the Tories and now is basically a sub-department of Defra rather than the wildlife watchdog of former years..

      1. Sadly the backbone turned to jelly a good many years back in this neck of the woods. I'm sure there are still a few rare species lurking in corners but would they be missed if they were culled?

        They shield the establishment so if that wall no longer stood (albeit the mortar is rapidly crumbling) then we'd have a clearer shot at the criminals?

        Then again the Govt need them as a facade to kid folk that they care about wildlife, the natural environment etc.?

        Go on, NE staff and their mates (recipients of largess) hit the dislike button. Public benefit for public funding, for the many not just the few?

  2. Chris I too have seen this cull or a previous incarnation when I worked in Bowland many many years ago ( 86-91) The justification then was to do with a water supply, essentially used as an excuse because LBBGs can be and sometimes are very good grouse chick predators when working in small groups. However that particular reservoir was taken out of the system years ago yet culling continues and several complaints have been made in the past.
    Gulls are part of the ecosystem too!
    Time For NE to explain themselves but getting to the bottom of it will probably take some FOI requests.
    Of course the estate is owned by the Duke of Westminster so forelock tugging is the expected order of the day, I never did nor ever will.

  3. This is perhaps the final straw that led to me leave Natural England last year. I don't know the full details but I know that an agreement to consent a cull of LBBs in Bowland was being negotiated, supposedly because of their adverse impacts on vegetation! This in an SPA designated for its LBB gull colony. It was billed by the local team as a flagship deal - part of what was referred to as the 'Outcomes Approach', and, believe it or not, held up by senior managers as an exemplar of how 'we' should be working in future. I think the logic was that if you are flexible and give landowners what they want then this will open doors to better relationships and, ultimately, better outcomes for conservation. It beggars belief, it really does.

    1. Ian - thank you, and it must have been very difficult to walk from NE but maybe more should...

      1. Unless one or two could become 'moles' ( mean 'investigative journalists')?!

    2. "Give landowners what they want"

      or in other words, as with licences to kill Buzzards:

      "And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
      But we've proved it again and again,
      That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
      You never get rid of the Dane."

      1. Peter - Mr Kipling makes incredibly good poetry (although somewhat unpolitically correct for these days)

        1. It is what it is. I don't understand why something historical can be labelled 'politically incorrect'. It is of a certain time and place, but the essence of Kipling is timeless.

  4. This is nothing new, some years ago the the North West Raptor Protection Group located as many as 20 lesser black backed gulls which had each been recently shot and left below an active Peregrine nest. When reported no action was taken, so why all the interest now I wonder?
    A file was also submitted to the RSPB, which the Society had asked me to write, regarding the illegal killing of Peregrines in the same general location on the Abbeystead estate. After 6 weeks I received a short reply from the RSPB advising me to raise the issue with the Duke of Westminster MYSELF.

      1. As near as I am able to recall early to the mid 1990's, well before the digital camera, as I think the photos I obtained were on film. I do know the resident gamekeeper on the estate at that time was replaced by two different, possibly three, gamekeepers. I can tell you the last successful peregrine nest on Abbeystead at that location where the gulls were shot was in 2010 when gamekeepers changed; nesting attempts by several pairs of peregrine since that date have all failed.

  5. I had heard of the better outcomes approach, if this is an example along with the Dales deal that gives head keepers on 5 Swaledale/ Arkengarthdale estates the ability as agents on a London licence to visit Merlin nests when several of these keepers have long been suspected of being involved in wildlife crime and a poison cache was found on one of them, this is indeed scandalous. Better outcomes for wildlife is what NE is supposed to be about and these are examples of something else entirely.

    One always knew Ian was one of the good guys

    Truly not fit for purpose!!!!

  6. Surely leaving all the carcasses rot and chicks to eventually go the same way actually poses a health risk? Another crime in itself.

  7. As I understood at the time the water supply issue was when the vast majority of these birds fed on especially Lancaster rubbish tip with Halfway house bathing in blea tarn and langthwaite reservoirs just SE of Lancaster plus or minus the moor being strewn with eg baked beans and dog meat cans. As I understand it now, a significant proportion of these birds roam around looking for recently cut silage and muck spread fields and yes with some of them targeting wader chicks on upland pasture eg upper hindburndale pers obs. So surely the water contamination issue needed reviewing when the main rubbish tip changed from being an 'open dump'?

  8. That's 'poo in the water' compared to this -
    Remember these folk leaving Natural England get a good pay off and none of them have challenged the above. It is all excepted that what ever they do is from 'God' just like the RSPB used to be. The question on this gull removal must be 'why now'. Knarsdale removed the LBB colony on the moor many years ago with Natural England not responding and I think the Black heads close by have almost vanished as well from Whitfield Lough along with the Wigeon that used to nest with them.

    Amazing that Natural England had an alternative to save the Buzzards but preferred to listen to keepers even when the Americans had told them not to kill the resident pair as that would let in even more trouble to their pens!!

  9. Peter, I take the point about Buzzards and don't want to open up that debate again here, but this is far, far worse in terms of what it means for nature conservation. It's a deliberate attempt to reduce the breeding population of a species for which we have international responsibility, on an SPA designated for that very species. Killing a few Buzzards to protect non-native gamebirds is thoroughly unpalatable, though no more so in my view than killing corvids, stoats, weasels, foxes etc. The LBB cull is on a different scale and probably unprecedented in terms of what has been permitted on an SPA in England in recent years - at least I can't recall anything quite as shocking!

    1. Agreed Ian you couldn't make this up and be believed it is utterly appalling, is not all a conspiracy to commit crime?

  10. To be frank its time we broke the law, as all the bodies that are in place to protect the environment, supposedly, are lick spittles to the establishment. Mass trespasses would be a start and during dry spells setting fire to their moors. Yes I know I sound bloody criminal, but I am sick hearing every few weeks of another hen harrier or peregrine found shot or poisoned

    1. I wouldn't advocate trespass or vandalism in any form, but I understand the sentiment, Oliver. Most of us are sick to death of the constant raptor persecution, and more angry about the denial of the scale of the problem. If the GWCT/CA/BASC/NGO etc would acknowledge and condemn it, and make it as anti social as possible, that would go some way to towards resolving the issue.

    2. you are proposing we all commit crime, mass protest may be but not on a shoot day you will be liable for any financial losses the estate incur.

      Setting fire to the moors just simply NO NO NO. think of the wildlife dependent on it.

      We need to stick to the moral high ground despite that at times being frustrating and without immediate result we should not stoop to the level of the wildlife criminals!!!

      1. Mass trespass to protest the wildlife crime caused by shooting estates, YES YES YES. I've never heard of protestors being liable for loss of grousemoor profits as a result of their peaceful protesting so not sure people should worry about that. The shoots need to be hit where it hurts, in their pockets and publically and effectively challenged and condemned.

  11. Consider this scenario, I'm not advocating it because it would be illegal.

    Someone with a gun and a springer spaniel goes onto a grouse moor, the dog is allowed to run around for a while scaring up some grouse. The said grouse are shot by the man with the gun and removed for later sale or consumption. The pair leave the moor but are seen by some gamekeepers and members of the public and are reported to the police and the moor owner.

    Taking into account the inaction of the authorities in recent raptor persecution cases, what would be the chances of the shooter being charged with poaching/theft or whatever?


  13. In my view Natural England are not fit for purpose as they have failed to ensure that licences for protecting EPS Dormice in NE Hampshire are properly enforced. If protected species are killed, this is a matter for the Police and Wildlife Protection officers. Diana Tennyson, Wildlife Suppoert & Conservation.

  14. I'm another Natural England leaver who could no longer stomach such bullshit as the 'outcomes approach' and I agree with the sentiments. But please understand that many people who work there are just as angry and disgusted by the direction being taken by current spineless self-interested senior management. We need a NE; but one with new brave committed leaders who will actually stand up for wildlife.

  15. Well I hope whoever is investigating the report from the local police authorities is not linked to or has any connection with "game" shooting ,,,,,,

  16. Mark, I think it has been mentioned on other protection group forums that several of the current Bowland and Abbeystead Wildlife officers have links to game shooting. One officer removed following a campaign last year, though from what ive read, that person had no connection to game shooting.

    i wonder if the reason behind the killing is a link to gull chicks being a food source for harriers and other raptors in that area...


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