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JUST when you thought the il­le­gal per­se­cu­tion of pro­tected birds could not get any worse, the RSPB has learned that large num­bers of pro­tected birds are be­ing killed on a grouse moor in Lan­cashire.

And this time I’m not talk­ing hen har­ri­ers, al­though the so-called ‘sky dancers’ con­tinue to suf­fer at the hands of mis­guided mo­rons, but no, an RSPB staff mem­ber work­ing in the Bow­land area dis­cov­ered nest­ing lesser black-backed gulls be­ing shot, leav­ing their chicks to be ei­ther killed by dogs or left to starve.

Lesser black-backed gulls have been nest­ing on the moors of Lan­cashire for more than 80 years.

The re­cov­er­ing colony in Bow­land is one of the most im­por­tant in the UK and is pro­tected un­der Bri­tish and Euro­pean law, hav­ing once been in ex­cess of 20,000 pairs.

Lesser black-backed gulls are de­clin­ing across the UK and the RSPB is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly wor­ried about their fu­ture in the UK.

This species can only be legally culled if they pose a threat to hu­man health, risk spread­ing dis­ease or are hav­ing a neg­a­tive ef­fect on other species of con­ser­va­tion con­cern.

The RSPB un­der­stands Nat­u­ral Eng­land – the gov­ern­ment agency re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing the coun­try­side – granted con­sent for the cull.

But while the na­ture con­ser­va­tion body has re­peat­edly asked Nat­u­ral Eng­land for sci­en­tific ev­i­dence which would jus­tify such an act, none ● has as yet been forth­com­ing.

Gra­ham Jones, RSPB Con­ser­va­tion Area Man­ager for North West Eng­land, said: “We are dev­as­tated that this cull of a pro­tected species has been tak­ing place, ap­par­ently with­out any jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

Al­though it may oc­ca­sion­ally be nec­es­sary to cull a small num­ber of large gulls for con­ser­va­tion and health rea­sons, there may be no ev­i­dence to sup­port it in this case.

Slightly smaller than a her­ring gull, the lesser black-backed gull has a dark grey to black back and wings, yel­low bill and yel­low legs.

Their world pop­u­la­tion is found en­tirely in Europe.

Af­ter de­clines in the 19th cen­tury due to per­se­cu­tion they in­creased their range and num­bers.

This ex­pan­sion has now halted and there is se­ri­ous con­cern about de­clines in many parts of its range.

The species is on the Am­ber List be­cause the UK is home to 40 per cent of the Euro­pean pop­u­la­tion and more than half of these are found at fewer than 10 sites.

The lesser black-backed gull in flight

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