Natural England licensed cull of tens of thousands of lesser black-backed gulls on one of England's largest shooting estates
Tens of thousands of endangered birds have been shot, trapped and poisoned on one of England's largest shooting estates with the approval of the government agency responsible for protecting the species, a Guardian investigation has found.
The government has licensed an annual cull of lesser black-backed gullson the Abbeystead estate on the Bowland Fells in Lancashire for decades, officially to stop water pollution. However, some experts believe the culling was also partly to protect grouse shooting interests.
The regulator Natural England now admits that, since a government-led bird conservation review occurred in 2001, "confusion" over the legal protection status of the species has allowed the culling to continue, despite its population crashing in recent years.
Chris Packham, the BBC Springwatch presenter and naturalist, has described the situation as a "travesty" and the RSPB is now calling for an urgent review.
The 23,500-acre Abbeystead estate was bought in 1980 by a trust "on behalf" of the Duke of Westminster, one of the UK's richest landowners. The duke's Grosvenor Estate manages the Abbeystead estate, which hosts pheasant and grouse shoots.
The estate was first allowed to cull the gulls in the 1970s on the grounds that droppings were polluting the watercourse. The licence to cull was last renewed by NE in 1999. But a former Abbeystead gull surveyor has admitted that the culling has been conducted, in part, to protect the "economy of the shooting estates". The species is known to eat grouse eggs.