A mass cull of gulls is set to go ahead on the Ribble after an appeal to prevent it was thrown out by the High Court.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) had taken the decision to judicial review after BAE Systems had successfully applied to carry out the cull, claiming the gulls were a threat to aircraft safety at nearby Warton Aerodrome.
Sitting in London, Mr Justice Mitting held that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had addressed the issues required of him by the European Habitats Directive and come to a conclusion which he was entitled to reach.
He said: “It was for the Secretary of State to determine for himself what the conservation objectives for the Ribble Estuary site were. The Secretary of State was entitled to determine for himself the size of the cull which would not adversely affect the integrity of the site.
“He undertook a meticulous analysis of the number of lesser black-backed gulls on the site at designation in 2002 and accepted Natural England’s conclusion that it was 4,100 pairs.
“He concluded that the conservation objective for this species should be to maintain or restore that population above 75 per cent of that designation.”
The RSPB had argued that lesser black-backed gulls are a species “under significant pressure” in the UK, and it was wrong to permit the population to be reduced below the “baseline” population of 4,100 pairs.
But the judge said that the Secretary of State knew that the population had “increased exponentially” before the 2002 designation, from fewer than 10 breeding pairs in 1973.
He added: “It was obvious, and the Secretary of State was entitled to conclude that the culling would not affect the ability of the species to maintain itself on a long-term basis on the site or lead to its decline.”
Mr Justice Mitting ruled that it was not necessary to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union, and also refused the RSPB permission to appeal though it remains open to them to ask the Court of Appeal directly to take the case further.
And he ordered the RSPB to pay the Government’s legal costs, capped at £10,000.
The animals will be destroyed by rifle shot, although no date for the cull has yet been set.