Black-tailed Godwits are large wading birds. In summer, they have bright orangey-brown chests and bellies, but in winter they’re more greyish-brown. Their most distinctive features are their long beaks and legs, and the black and white stripes on their wings. Female black-tailed godwits are bigger and heavier than the males, with a noticeably longer beak (which helps the sexes to avoid competing for food with each other). They’re very similar to bar-tailed godwits, which breed in the Arctic. Black-taileds have longer legs, and bar-taileds don’t have striped wings. As the names suggest, the tail patterns are different, too. (RSPB)
Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, has given the green light to a controversial cull of endangered sea birds on the Ribble Estuary in Lancashire, the Guardian has learned. The said it is “extremely concerned” that the cull of up to 475 breeding pairs of herring gulls and 552 breeding pairs of lesser black-backed gulls at BAE System’s Warton aerodrome could now set a precedent for similar culls elsewhere.
A herring gull cull has been given the green light by the environment secretary. Photograph: Markus Botzek/Zefa/Corbis
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) ruled that the cull could go ahead because it would not reduce the area’s number of breeding seabirds by more than 25% of its designated total of 20,000 birds. The RSPB said that while its recognised BAE Systems’ concerns that the gulls present a risk to aircraft using the airfield, it fears that the 25% reduction threshold cited by Defra could now be used to justify further culls.
BAE Systems’ application to cull the birds was originally rejected in 2010 by Natural England, the government agency responsible for protecting the bird species, on the grounds that it was not compatible with the conservation objectives stipulated by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Warton aerodrome lies inside a SSSI (site of special scientific interest) as well as being part of the Ribble and Alt Estuaries special protection area (SPA), meaning that its endangered bird species are afforded further conservation status and protection by the EU.
However, BAE Systems successfully appealed against Natural England’s original decision, citing in part – according to documents seen by the Guardian – that Natural England had earlier given consent to a cull of lesser black backed gulls on a shooting estate on the Bowland Fells , a nearby SPA in Lancashire. Chris Packham, the BBC Springwatch presenter and naturalist, described the Bowland cull as a “travesty” when it was first reported in the Guardian last month .
BAE Systems also successfully persuaded Defra that the site’s “species diversity” was not a relevant factor when assessing its total number of breeding seabird.
Defra granted the consent to cull on 29 May and BAE Systems now has a year to complete the extermination of the birds. Appeal documents show that shooting the birds within two daily alternating “cull zones” is the preferred method. Marksmen positioned in camouflaged hides will use rifles muffled with silencers.
A Defra spokeswoman said: “After careful consideration, we have taken the decision to allow a limited number of gulls to be controlled that are impacting on air safety.”
A Natural England spokeswoman said: “Natural England has been directed [by Defra] to consent control of a limited number of gulls on the Ribble Estuary that are impacting on air safety. We expect to issue the consent within the coming weeks. We continue to consider ways to minimise the impact on the estuary’s important colony of seabirds, taking into consideration the safety of aircraft using BAE Warton.”
A spokeswoman for BAE Systems said the company legally carried out a smaller cull of 200 breeding pairs of lesser black backed gulls in 2011 and has also been deploying “bird scaring” techniques at the airfield. However, it said that the population of birds had “grown substantially”.
She added: “The population of herring gulls 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.”
The RSPB said that it acknowledged that BAE Systems had first explored using non-lethal methods and that a cull is now necessary to the “reduce the risk [of bird strike] to a safe level”. However, it said it was “extremely concerned” with the way the Defra had arrived at 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 designed to conserve the UK’s best wildlife places. 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 for this and similar sites across the UK.”
Orinoco Geese are 61 to 76 cm (24 to 30 in) long and are resident breeders in the forests of tropical South America. Its preference is forest lakes or marshes with access to open woodland or savanna.
It has a pale head and neck, chestnut flanks and mantle and blackish wings with a white speculum. The legs are red and the bill is black and pinkish. The sexes of this striking species are identical in plumage, though the males are larger; juveniles are duller than adults.
This is a largely terrestrial species, which will also perch readily on trees. It rarely swims or flies unless hard pressed. In flight it looks heavy, more like a goose than a duck, hence the English name.
The Orinoco Goose is a very territorial species in the breeding season, and usually nests in hollow trees, only occasionally on the ground. The male has a high pitched whistling call, and the female cackles like the related Egyptian Goose. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
These handsome diving ducks belong to the sawbill family, so called because of their long, serrated bills, used for catching fish. Their diet of fish such as salmon and trout has brought them into conflict with game fishermen. At home on both fresh- and saltwater, red-breasted mergansers are most commonly seen around the UK's coastline in winter. They are gregarious, forming flocks of several hundred in the autumn. (RSPB)
The commonest small wader found along the coast. It has a slightly down-curved bill and a distinctive black belly patch in breeding plumage. It feeds in flocks in winter, sometimes numbering thousands, roosting on nearby fields, saltmarshes and shore when the tide is high. (RSPB)
Back to the Isles of Shetland. Its striking black and white plumage and bright red feet make it easy to identify in summer. Unlike most other European auks the black guillemot is typically found in ones and twos, scattered around rocky islets. It is typical of the larger sea lochs of western Scotland, and the northern and western isles, but is also found in Ireland, the Isle of Man and in a handful of spots in England and Wales.
The oystercatcher is a large, stocky, black and white wading bird. It has a long, orange-red bill and reddish-pink legs. In flight, it shows a wide white wing-stripe, a black tail, and a white rump that extends as a 'V' between the wings. Because it eats cockles, the population is vulnerable if cockle beds are overexploited. Breeds on almost all UK coasts; over the last 50 years, more birds have started breeding inland. Most UK birds spend the winter on the coast; where they are joined on the east coast by birds from Norway. (RSPB)
The razorbill is a medium-sized seabird. It is black above and white below. It has a thick black beak which is deep and blunt, unlike the thinner bill of the similar guillemot. It breeds around the coast of the UK, with the largest colonies in northern Scotland. There are none breeding between the Humber and the Isle of Wight. Birds only come to shore to breed, and winter in the northern Atlantic. The future of this species is linked to the health of the marine environment. Fishing nets, pollution and declining fish stocks all threaten the razorbill. (RSPB)