7000 Herring Gulls condemned to death in two years
"...if this level of lethal control continues.......then the public will want an explanation as to why Natural England allowed - and facilitated - the demise of another iconic species...."
7000 Herring Gulls condemned to death in two years
In the course of my ongoing research into Natural England's bird kill licences, I've uncovered some truly shocking statistics....
Including the fact that in just two years, between 2017 and the first few months of 2019, the agency issued licences to kill more than 7000 Herring Gulls.
The population of this beautiful bird has collapsed in the UK in recent years. The very survival of the Herring Gull is threatened to such a degree that the iconic bird is classified as being of primary conservation concern, and has been included on the ever growing Red List of species at risk since 2009.
We have known about the rapid population decline of the Herring Gull for more than ten years, yet it has been earmarked for widespread extermination by Natural England, the government sponsored body tasked with 'protecting biodiversity'.
Is Natural England itself the biggest threat to the survival of this red listed bird?
The figure of 7000 Herring Gulls, for which Natural England has issued kill licences, represents 5% of the entire UK's breeding population of this beautiful species.
And this total does not even include licences that Natural England issued for removal of Herring Gull eggs or nests, nor does it include licences issued to control the birds in order to protect another species. The agency's onslaught against this much misunderstood bird has been relentless.
Based on their own data, Natural England's actions appear to present a direct threat to the species' very survival in the UK.
Baffling decisions of bizarre licensing system
So what is the reason that the agency considered it appropriate and acceptable to sanction the potentially devastating cull of 7000 Herring Gulls?
As part of my dialogue with Natural England, I have asked them for an explanation of just one of their Herring Gull licences, issued to an applicant in Devon, which permitted the shooting of 100 birds on the grounds of 'preserving public health'. I requested both the precise reason for lethal control in this instance and the final number of birds killed. Using this as an example, I hope to discover the 'logic' behind the agency's baffling decision to officially support the shooting of 7000 red listed birds. I'm currently waiting for the results of this request
Bizarrely, Natural England's own Operations Director has himself had to submit a Freedom of Information request, on my behalf, to obtain this fairly basic information from within his own department which, some might say, speaks volumes about the secretive way in which Natural England conducts its affairs. The fact that he put in a FOI request to access the data might be a delay tactic or it might just prove that Natural England's system is woefully inadequate.
Public must have more involvement in licensing decisions
One piece of information that the agency will be unlikely to divulge is the identity of the applicant, even if that applicant happens to be a local council or other public body. This I find unacceptable. If a public body applies for a licence to kill so many protected birds then the public have a right to know. And (should they wish to) a right to object. Making these details available for public perusal continues to be one of the main aims of our petition.
And there is at least a glimmer of hope that change is in the air.
Recently, in the course of some correspondence I had with Natural England, their Operations Director hinted at the possibility that in future they might not be opposed to public involvement in decisions where bird culling was being proposed in public areas, such as parks. Notices might be posted to alert the visiting public about a planned cull. In such cases, the applicant's details would be made public, together with their motivation for requesting a lethal control licence. Any interested members of the public would then be able to offer an opinion or an objection. And this, to my mind, is essential in order to maintain a democratic and balanced approach to protecting wildlife. Wildlife, which it must be said, does not belong to Natural England or any other organisation.
The public must be allowed to have an opinion.
Our campaign is pushing for this more democratic approach to licensing. The consensus of opinion is that the public would overwhelmingly resist lethal control and would rather work with authorities to find alternative solutions in situations where birds are causing a perceived or actual problem.
Slow progress - but it is progress....
I've said it before, and it's worth repeating, that I am indeed thankful for having ongoing dialogue with the agency, and in particular I value the assistance I am receiving from their Operations Director, James Diamond. I wish progress were swifter but I do believe that, at least within the restraints under which he is working, Mr Diamond is willing to listen and to consider changes in policy, changes that will instill much needed public confidence in the role of Natural England.
But change is needed - as the Herring Gull saga all too clearly illustrates.
Natural England: facilitating the demise of an iconic species?
Meanwhile I await the results of my enquiry into the Herring Gull licence, and we can only speculate just how much of a role Natural England has played in the decline of this beautiful creature. What is certain is that if this level of lethal control continues, then the wonderful sight of the Herring Gull soaring above the coastline of England could become a distant memory.
And the public will want an explanation as to why Natural England allowed - and facilitated - the demise of another iconic species.
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