Those gulls again (Bowland Gull Cull 2)


The revelation towards the end of Friday afternoon that nesting Lesser Black-backed Gulls were being killed, perhaps under licence from Natural England, in the Forest of Bowland AONB has attracted a lot of comment on social media over the weekend.

Natural England responded very quickly to say that they were investigating matters.

The Forest of Bowland (803 km²) is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty whose logo is a Hen Harrier but where Hen Harriers have not nested for a couple of years.  In 2015 male Hen Harriers ‘disappeared’ from four active nests: they were almost certainly bumped off (as so many Hen Harriers are).  There is a Hen Harrier Day event in the Forest of Bowland on 6 August, with a great line-up of speakers.

A relatively small part of this area (160 km²) is also an SPA – a Special Protection Area designated by the UK government as part of our obligations to the EU Birds Directive (no, not designated by faceless Brussells bureaucrats, but designated by our very own bureaucrats).  The Bowland Fells SPA was designated because it held over 2% of the GB population of Hen Harriers – 13 pairs at the time – but also because, you could say rather more importantly, it held nearly 14,000 pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls which represented around 11% of the western European population.  The LBBG population has been culled before, on the grounds that they represented a human health threat to water supplies, and the colony is, I understand, greatly reduced in numbers.  These are the birds that are the subject of the recent news.

Gulls are wildlife too! And the fact that the wildlife importance of this site, designated by the UK according to criteria which apply right across the EU, is haemorrhaging is shameful. It’s not the job of the AONB to sort this out, it is the job of the utterly hopeless Natural England and yet NE is a bigger part of the problem and very little of the solution.

Two comments on my earlier blog on this subject by former NE staff member, Ian Carter (who occasionally reviews books on this blog as well as commenting on it), are worth reproducing here:

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.’


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!‘.

The NE Board does have a few nature conservationists on it, but not many. As a group they must realise that they are failing to keep the senior managers of NE’s attention on the nature conservation task.  They should all consider what more they can do to improve things otherwise they will be accused of presiding over the dismantling of state nature conservation efforts in England and with them the bleeding away of the wildlife that they are there to protect. A mass resignation of Board members would be an appropriate and noticeable response to the failing state of the organisation of which these events in Bowland are just one symptom.  There comes a time when giving any credibility to a failing senior management is doing nature a disservice.




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11 Replies to “Those gulls again (Bowland Gull Cull 2)”

  1. Gulls are beautiful birds that are every bit as much a part of our natural heritage as, say, hen harriers or curlew yet somehow we have allowed them to become widely perceived as thuggish pests that need culling. Conservationists may know that this is misguided but amongst the public at large I suspect rather few people would be much bothered at the thought of culling LBBGs and against this background it was perhaps too easy to sign off on a proposal to cull them in Bowland - who would care? It is good that the cull is in fact being challenged and I hope this will be pursued energetically by the RSPB and others but there is also a need to improve the PR status of gulls in general as they are regarded with a threatening eye by local authorities up and down the country.

  2. This is a complete failure of the state to do the right thing and say no to the licence application from an albeit powerful land owner. it is applications like these that really test the licensing authority (NE) and frankly this was and is a total failure on their part. Yes gulls are noisy, sometimes noisome aggressive predators but they are also beautiful sleek birds doing what evolution designed them for and this is an area designated as a special protection area for them, the locally extinct Hen Harrier, it was their most important stronghold in England with over twenty breeding females as recently as the early nineties and Merlins. The latter of course are not deemed undesirable by most driven grouse estates and are not under threat in Bowland.
    That is the nub of the problem driven grouse estates. NE should have seen the request to control, no lets be blunt here kill Lesser Black backs for what it really is the intolerance of the grouse lobby for grouse predators and the alleged vegetation damage is just an excuse and refused the licence request.
    That the local NE office thought this a good deal says it all, in my experience they were never very supportive of harriers in Bowland either and the lot of them should hang their heads in shame and resign.
    It may be the estate have broken the conditions of the licence and should suffer any consequences, they won't some hapless lackey keepers will.But this is an SPA which along with NNRs should be our wildlife flagship sites no ifs buts or may be and we are allowing it to be trashed to shoot grouse. The harriers have gone, hopefully temporarily, the Peregrines are almost gone and the Lesser Black-backs, a declining species on a world scale are being killed and for what so the Abbeystead estate owned by the Duke of Westminster can provide more grouse, pheasants and red legs to be shot for fun.
    It is SCANDALOUS and the NE board and those who made this decision should be gone forwith and grouse shooting, it is another nail in that ever more robust coffin!

  3. Yet again mono culture of the uplands for 1 species. I once watched a LBB come down and take a Curlew egg. I have watched Red Grouse rise vertical up in the air and hit Short eared Owl and Carrion Crow protecting their young but as yet to see them hit LBB as they petrol at such a height before diving down. The late Geoff Macfarland used to say for the Whitfield colony of LBB that any bird could nest in the colony and be safe but outside was vulnerable.

    As for the licensing of Buzzards it is far worse as there is a solution to save the pens from attack but NE feel they should yet again have PR with land owners. Just the same for Grey Squirrels they want PR rather than protect Goshawk and certainly not bring in Pine Marten which will increase 'Wildlife Tourism' into the areas where they are released.

  4. Following the NE Board link, lower down the page I see there is a Board Meeting in Peterborough on 19th July, open to members of the address is given to register for attendance etc.

  5. Just another example of how the estate owners in conjunction with the CA really call the shots over everyone from Government to law enforcement. Until this power is reduced none of our wildlife will be safe regardless of species be it bird or mammal.

  6. The Government gave up listening to any evidence put to them by NE some years ago. Indeed, it suppressed any reports that presented evidence that it did not like. It placed 'anti-environmental protection', pro-business at any cost ministers in charge. This included climate change deniers. Over this period they reduced the number of staff by half and denuded the organisation of much of its expertise. This has left a largely impotent body with demoralised officers struggling under the weight of statutory work and unable to do most of the 'outreach', research and habitat restoration work that could lead to a turnaround for our beleaguered wildlife in England. Not a green government just a black outlook.

  7. It's a pity Natural England did nothing last time when dozens of gulls were found shot below a peregrine nest containing eggs by our group. If they are asking the police to investigate this incident why now but failed to do anything last time? Why are Natural England turning a blind eye to the disappearance of the Hen Harrier and 90% of all breeding Peregrines from the Forest of Bowland? Natural England appear to be more concerned with upholding the interests of estates than protecting wildlife throughout Bowland. This above anything else in my opinion is why the governments wildlife advisor removed licenses from our group in 2010 which had for four decades allowed our members to monitor and protect Hen Harriers and Peregrines in this region, successful I might add.

    There is no doubt the estate owners did not like the bad publicity the group published on a regular basis highlighting the illegal killing of protected raptors on their estates, and still don't . Well the estates and their gamekeepers have got their way, Bowland has now become a 'Raptor free zone', no investigation into this appalling situation, infact had the North West Raptor Protection Group not highlighted this on going problem in the first place very few people would know about what had been taking place for decades.

    1. I would be extremely interested to know if there have been any changes to the board of directors at Natural England, it seems to me that they have been infiltrated by certain bodies who are steering this organisation in the wrong direction, I will see what I can find out, its always handy to look at the backgrounds of the people who make these decisions. This is the first I have read about this as I have just this minute joined the blog after speaking to Terry, it is good to be in the loop as I care a great deal about the decline in all of our wildlife, it is extremely worrying 🙁

  8. Is it time for any cull application to be advertised along the lines that local planning authorities have to publicise planning applications thus providing the public with an opportunity to feed into the system? Ok may need to redact private data but these things are usually submitted by an agent so no need for secrecy?

    Sadly NE have demonstrated their failure to protect the natural environment & wildlife so is a public review in order?

  9. Interesting to follow up on the make-up of Natural England's board. They are all high achievers in their fields, it would seem, but the question is how relevant are those fields to the work of Natural England? Half of them seem to have direct or indirect links to farming (two of whom also have links with building developers), another is CEO of GWCT (which I'd regard as a direct conflict of interests these days), one thinks cutting red tape save business and land managers time and money is an important part of NE's role and another is a very distinguished environmental lawyer, but only two are trained scientists. Now running an organisation like NE obviously needs people other than scientists but two out of ten seems disproportionately few (particularly since none of the others seem to be keen amateur naturalists).  Perhaps, then, the most important cull should be a humane one of the NE board to put in place more naturalists (professional or otherwise) and fewer with links to farming and hunting.


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