Bowland Gull Cull 18 – the Habitats Regulations Assessment

Having read NE’s response to my FoI/EIR request, and the proposed MoU between NE, Abbeystead, Bleasdale and United Utilities and the SSSI/SPA Management Plan, we now move on to the 27 pages of the Habitats Regulations Assessment.

This document is where NE assesses whether a plan or project will affect a site designated under the EU Birds Directive or and/or EU Habitats Directive.  It is, I note in passing, unclear what the future of such sites will be, and the future of such assessments, after Brexit.

And these are highly technical documents which don’t contain many laughs but are very important. They set out the legal basis for action, except of course where they are flawed as in the case of the management plan which NE agreed at Walshaw Moor but which, once challenged by me, was agreed to be unlawful (also see here).

So let’s look at the HRA for … for what?

Well this is how the document starts:

… and this is what it says that it is assessing…

This HRA by NE is of the Management Plan and MoU agreed by NE and a bunch of landowners. In other words, NE local staff come up with some agreement, perhaps a completely hair-brained agreement, and then NE technical staff assess whether or not this is lawful.  You might think that this is a less-than-ideal situation if we are looking for a rigorous and independent assessment of the legality of a plan or project but that is the current system.

It puts a lot of faith in the integrity of the staff carrying out the HRA (and my feeling is that that is well-deserved but that clearly must depend on the staff involved) and the integrity of the system.  My successful challenge to NE’s HRA of the Walshaw Moor plan shows that these days the system cannot always be relied upon to deliver a lawful result.

However, let’s move on.

NE’s HRA states that:

…which means that there is something to check here.

And later…

… which means there really is something that needs to be looked at here.

And then there is a table with the following headings where the first column contains each of the actions in the Management Plan.

Let’s skip to the one about culling LBBGS…

So culling LBBGs might have a LSE (Likely Significant Effect – right hand column) on the numbers of LBBGs in the site.  All very logical.

And so…

…which means that…

…we move on to the next stage…

So, a pile of information about LBBGs, but look at the first sentence. LBBGs are not a ‘formally-classified feature’ of the SPA (although see here) and NE doesn’t have any firm plans to get its paperwork in order in this respect. Now, I have to confess that I am not entirely clear exactly what this means nor of its significance. It does look a bit odd that a site notified in 1993 hasn’t got its paperwork (if that is a fair description) up to scratch some 25 years later but in my reading of all these documents NE is acting as though LBBGs are important and as if they were already ‘classified’.  At least that’s what I think is happening. I might have to ‘phone a friend (or you could ‘phone me!).

Note that in 1973 the Bowland gull colony (almost all LBBBGs) was 24,000 pairs whereas NE’s Management Plan for the SSSI/SPA has the rather weak ambition of there being under 7000 pairs.  This is our statutory nature conservation agency. I’m glad that the NHS and education system don’t aim for the present day to be only c25%as good as 1993.

But it goes on…

Hang on!  ‘Culling activities carried out under a non-time-limited and un-constrained consent held by Abbeystead Estate who own a large part of the Tarnbrook sub-colony were the main reason for an almost continual decline in the population on Tarnbrook from an estimated 18,080 breeding pairs in 2001 to an estimated 2,215 BPs in 2010.’!!!!

And then it goes on…

…and in a later part of the document…

The estate certainly does seem to have demonstrated their desitre and ability to limit gull numbers – but why has NE gone along with that desire and indeed consented it?

Let’s keep going to another table …

The very last sentence is important. NE is happy to consent to gull culling because although it risks prejudicing the conservation value of the site, it represents a better outcome than that which would be likely to happen under the extant consents which NE (or its predecessor EN) gave years and years ago which were even more damaging.  I guess this would be called pragmatism – other descriptions are available.

So, the outcome is…

The outcome is that NE has consented culls of LBBGs in an SPA set up to protect that species because it has already consented even worse culls. Why? Presumably because the Duke of Westminster’s Abbeystead Estate asked for those consents – I don’t believe that even NE pressed the Abbeystead Estate to cull a species of conservation importance on one of its most important breeding sites in Europe.

I’ll let that sink in for  a while.

And now we have come to the end of reading the papers that NE sent me, and analysing what they mean, I will come back and comment on this sorry state of affairs in a blog this evening.

That gives NE time to contact me if they feel that anything I have written in four blogs here today so far is unfair, and it allows real conservationists to get in touch with me to lambast me for being far too soft on NE so far. Any comments, either prvately or to be posted on these blog posts would be welcome, including corrections.

I’ll be back to this subject at 6pm.





7 Replies to “Bowland Gull Cull 18 – the Habitats Regulations Assessment”

  1. So is the site officially recognised for lbbg or not?
    If it’s not then there was no need to address it in the HRA? If it is an LBBG SPA then they are in deep Doo Doo.

    An important point of principle to note, the SPA is not for the birds! It’s protections are for the habitats that support the birds. The birds themselves are protected by species legislation.

    So if LBBG actually are a classified feature then the SPA should include sufficient nesting and feeding habitats. The LBBG should be able to nest an feed anywhere within the boundary. The population numbers are indicators of the condition of the habitats.

    Natural England could revoke the outstanding consent. This could be challenged so they were probably hoping that signing them up to an agreement would be less controversial. Except getting an agreement required them to compromise where the EU legislation requires thing’s to be black or white. Doo Doo.

  2. Lesser Black-backed gull is listed on the SPA standard data form, based on its 1992 breeding population of over 11,000. Available here
    I think Natural England need to explain how this can be interpreted as not being formally representing a classified feature of the SPA.

  3. So it is an SPA for LBG’s.
    Therefore the nesting and associated foraging habitat should be protected and free from disturbance. Article 4.1& 4.4.

    I would find people trying to kill me highly disturbing….. Deep DOo Doo – unless they have a special derogation from Brussels?

  4. I suspect that the killing of LBBGs which has been going on in Bowland more or less since the Dukes of Westminster have owned Abbeystead estate and possibly longer. Grouse botherers hate big gulls because they believe they take eggs and young grouse and perhaps they do but it is what they are gulls are predators. That this area now SPA, which it has been for some time still has gull killing apparently sanctioned by NE is probably due to forelock tugging by the local office to the duke(s). It seems most people are still expected to do that with such a man.
    All I will say is I met the old duke ( same age as me) several times and whilst polite to each other ( just) there was no love lost in part I suspect because I didn’t treat him with deference—- Just another bloody grouse moor owner on the moors of whom raptors used to go missing or fail to breed now Abbeystead appears to have none, make of that what you will. Remember also the killing in 2016 was not on Abbeystead it was on that part of UU land tenanted by Abbeystead.

  5. I feel a crowdfunded judicial review coming on!
    More seriously, it’s a minor miracle how NE and it’s predecessors managed to generate so many documents, paragraphs, sections and sub-sections in the name of conservation that add up to a complete quagmire of obfuscation and opacity.
    It’s like a cross between Franz Kafka and Yes Minister.
    Good to know our wildlife is in such safe and competent hands…

    1. YES! Who needs Trump and Scott Pruit when we have feckless NE? And all this before Brexit, when we have the backing of the EU in our efforts to keep this government to its commitments. Post Brexit, things will get a whole lot worse.

      This may be harsh, and I realise that many of the best people have now left NE, but some good people remain and, frankly, they should get out. Having decent people in an organisation that’s doing so much damage is reprehensible.

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