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Seagull Cull Blocked by Court of Appeal

In a striking example of business interests being overridden by wildlife conservation priorities, the Court of Appeal has blocked plans to cull over 1,000 seagulls which posed a ‘bird strike’ threat to military aircraft which were developed and built near their nesting site.

Large numbers of lesser black-backed gulls nested in a river estuary which was recognised as a special protection area (SPA). A military aircraft manufacturer operated an aerodrome and factory in the locality and the relatively large gulls were capable of causing serious damage if ingested into jet engines. The foreseeable risks included engine failure, loss of aircraft and even pilot mortality.

At the manufacturer’s behest, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs opened the way for more than 500 pairs of the gulls to be culled. That decision was later upheld by a judge. However, in allowing an appeal brought by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Court found that the Secretary of State’s approach had been fatally flawed.

Directing her to reconsider the matter, the Court found that she had misinterpreted the conservation objectives enshrined in the EU Habitats Directive and had concluded on the basis of an erroneous premise that the cull would not have an adverse impact on the integrity of the SPA.