More than 1,000 seagulls in part of the Ribble Estuary are to be culled to prevent crashes involving BAE Systems aircraft.
Controversial plans to reduce numbers in colonies of herring gulls, black-backed and lesser black-backed gulls have been given the go-ahead by the Environment Secretary.
But the order, by Owen Paterson, has been slammed by bird protection group RSPB.
The charity says it is not against a cull of the birds on Banks Marsh for safety reasons, but is concerned about how Defra has taken 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. 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.”
Bird strikes have brought down aircraft worldwide and with fast jets such as the Typhoon being flown from Warton there were fears a serious accident could happen.
The RSPB accepted that BAE had tried non-lethal means of solving the problem but numbers had grown.
A BAE spokesman said: “The population 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 which we have now undertaken.”