Blog about animals
Selected the best cow in Germany
Fishing ban proposed near Rockall after rare scientific finds
Life and death on the riverbank
Baboon shot dead after escaping from Knowsley Safari Park
Birdwatch: Peregrine falcon
Iceland's fin whales are endangered. Stop this bloody cull
The pitfalls of elderly dog insurance
Valley where Edward Carpenter, gay rights campaigner and socialist, walked
Green groups warn government of national parks hunting backlash
Demand for ivory destabilising central Africa
Dog walker found neighbour trampled by cows, inquest hears
Cat stands for election in Mexican city
I hear some hip cat's running for mayor in Mexico. That gives me an idea
Wader chick fever grips birds and spotters alike
Philippines destroys five tonnes of elephant tusks
The Dwyfor is surely one of the loveliest of Welsh rivers
New to nature No 107: Typhochlaena costae
How to beat the midges this summer
Controversial herring gull cull gets green light
Whaling's day in court is a sea change for conservation
Australia censures Japan for 'scientific' whaling
The young red deer stags were on their hind legs boxing, just like hares
Our garden's blackbirds started their nest-building early this year
UK wildlife and nature hit hard by erratic weather
  Controversial herring gull cull gets green light
Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, has given the green light to a controversial cull of endangered sea birds on the Ribble Estuary in Lancashire, the Guardian has learned.

The RSPB said it is "extremely concerned" that the cull of up to 475 breeding pairs of herring gulls and 552 breeding pairs of lesser black-backed gulls at BAE System's Warton aerodrome could now set a precedent for similar culls elsewhere.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) ruled that the cull could go ahead because it would not reduce the area's number of breeding seabirds by more than 25% of its designated total of 20,000 birds. The RSPB said that while it has recognised BAE Systems' concerns that the gulls present a risk to aircraft using the airfield, it fears that the 25% reduction threshold cited by Defra could now be used to justify further culls.

BAE Systems' application to cull the birds was originally rejected in 2010 by Natural England, the government agency responsible for protecting the bird species, on the grounds that it was not compatible with the conservation objectives stipulated by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Warton aerodrome lies inside an SSSI (site of special scientific interest) as well as being part of the Ribble and Alt Estuaries special protection area (SPA), meaning that its endangered bird species are afforded further conservation status and protection by the EU.

However, BAE Systems successfully appealed against Natural England's original decision, citing in part - according to documents seen by the Guardian - that Natural England had earlier given consent to a cull of lesser black backed gulls on a shooting estate on the Bowland Fells, a nearby SPA in Lancashire. Chris Packham, the BBC Springwatch presenter and naturalist, described the Bowland cull as a "travesty" when it was first reported in the Guardian last month.

BAE Systems also successfully persuaded Defra that the site's "species diversity" was not a relevant factor when assessing its total number of breeding seabirds.

Defra granted the consent to cull on 29 May and BAE Systems now has a year to complete the extermination of the birds. Appeal documents show that shooting the birds within two daily alternating "cull zones" is the preferred method. Marksmen positioned in camouflaged hides will use rifles muffled with silencers.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "After careful consideration, we have taken the decision to allow a limited number of gulls to be controlled that are impacting on air safety."

A Natural England spokeswoman said: "Natural England has been directed [by Defra] to consent control of a limited number of gulls on the Ribble Estuary that are impacting on air safety. We expect to issue the consent within the coming weeks. We continue to consider ways to minimise the impact on the estuary's important colony of seabirds, taking into consideration the safety of aircraft using BAE Warton."

A spokeswoman for BAE Systems said the company legally carried out a smaller cull of 200 breeding pairs of lesser black backed gulls in 2011 and has also been deploying "bird scaring" techniques at the airfield. However, it said that the population of birds had "grown substantially".

She added: "The population of herring gulls at the Ribble Estuary presents a risk of birdstrike to aircraft operating from Warton airfield. BAE Systems has sought to reduce this risk. Following a public inquiry, and a decision by the secretary of state, we were given consent to cull up to 475 pairs of herring gulls on Banks Marsh."

The RSPB said that it acknowledged that BAE Systems had first explored using non-lethal methods and that a cull is now necessary to the "reduce the risk [of bird strike] to a safe level". However, it said it was "extremely concerned" with the way the Defra had arrived at its decision and its "implications for the UK's wildlife".

Martin Harper, the RSPB's conservation director said: "Although we recognise the air safety risk, we believe the secretary of state's conclusion is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of wildlife protection designed to conserve the UK's best wildlife places. We strongly disagree with his interpretation that it is acceptable to lose up to a quarter of a protected site's breeding bird population without it damaging the conservation value of that site. This sets a very worrying precedent for this and similar sites across the UK."
'Wild' animals in travelling circuses benefit no one
The intoxicated world of the spotted flycatcher
Fishing quotas can be redistributed to favour smaller vessels high court
Madagascar battling worst locust plague since 1950s
A broody sparrow meets his match
Climate change is happening too quickly for species to adapt
The weird and wonderful world of the naked mole rat
Australian woman seriously injured during Spanish bull run
Spain's endangered Iberian lynx brought back from brink of extinction
One man and his sniffer dog help tackle Germany's hidden drug problem
The hotel that only takes dogs
T rex tooth found embedded in prey, restoring dinosaur's reputation
Bog cotton covers the summer Peak District moors in snow
Lifelike after death: the intricacies of a taxidermist's craft
The six-spot burnet moths complete their transformation
Research on animals in UK rises by 8% to exceed 4m procedures
Animal testing it's time to talk about it again
A pair of lithe animals are tumbling across the grass within feet of me
New to nature no 109: Anochetus hohenbergiae
England's ceremonial mayors eschew fur to support animal rights
Birdwatch: Corn bunting
Madrid declares war on plague of raccoon and parrot invaders
Snow leopards and wild yaks becoming 'fashion victims'
Horn seizure prompts rhinos warning
Threatened seabirds 'neglected' in plans for Scottish marine protected areas
Los Angeles campgrounds closed after plague-infected squirrel found
Only when I look down at the last second do I see it. I recoil instinctively
China's wine boom of little profit to giant pandas and small farmers
Let's not martyr the white-throated needletail to the anti-wind cause
Grasshopper breeder up for design award and educating western palates
Spanish national park could lose Unesco status over illegal boreholes
Dog mauls boy at primary school in Northern Ireland
Our dog walks are punctuated by the corn bunting's jingling ringtone
End in sight for painful branding of semi-wild moorland ponies
New to nature No 108: Carlia decora
Penguins support gorillas as biscuit makers respond to palm oil threat
Measuring carbon age in ivory could help combat poaching, study shows
How to survive a seagull attack
A walk by the river triggers memories of a bygone age
Whales flee from military sonar leading to mass strandings, research shows
Down among the grass stems, a ball of recently hatched orb-web spiderlings
Owen Paterson vows to rid England of bovine TB with badger culls
Gassing of badgers considered in plan to eradicate TB in cattle
Visitors to the Pamplona bull run have blood on their hands
Bats: they've never had it so good
These dew ponds have been on the Downs possibly since medieval times
Australian bushman claims to have footage of legendary night parrot
Secret badger shoots pose 'a risk to public safety'
Cheshire police seize dog believed to have killed Pomeranian
Whale watching season is back - but how close is too close?
Plan to ban wild animals in travelling circuses 'goes too far'
Morrissey donates Channel 4 payout to Peta campaign against foie gras
Visit Statistics