Natural England authorises mass culls to protect shoot interests

Posted on the 24th May 2013

Tens of thousands of endangered gulls have been shot, trapped and poisoned on one of England's largest shooting estates with government approval, according to an investigation by The Guardian newspaper.

With permission from government agency, Natural England, lesser black-backed gulls have been systematically destroyed in annual culls ‘for decades’ on the Abbeystead Estate in Lancashire, the newspaper reports. This is despite the bird’s population crashing in recent years.

The official reason for the slaughter is to stop water pollution, but the newspaper reports that an important motivation has been to ‘protect grouse shooting interests’.

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 estate, which hosts pheasant and grouse shoots.

Natural England has also licensed the secret destruction of the eggs and nests of buzzards to protect a pheasant shoot, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. In issuing the licence, Natural England sets a historic precedent, as this is the first time that anyone has been permitted to target birds of prey to protect shooting interests. Natural England is the advisor to Defra, and Defra Minister Richard Benyon’s family estate in Berkshire also has a ‘game’ bird shoot.

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