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Wiltshire Council accused of ‘catastrophic failure’ for destruction of gull colony

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“Destruction and killing of nests, eggs and chicks was unlawful; there was a catastrophic failure by WC in managing this project,” say RSPB

THE Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has issued a formal complaint to Wiltshire Council over its destruction of a gull colony at the derelict Christie Miller Sport Centre last year.

The RSPB say that a long-established breeding colony of herring and lesser black-backed gulls was destroyed at the former sports centre in the spring and early summer of 2022.

They say that there was a ‘catastrophic failure by WC in managing this project’, that undue financial pressures took precedence over wildlife and the council ignored expert advice that the demolition shouldn’t take place between April and August.

The herring gull is a ‘red-listed’ species – the highest level of concern in the UK – while the lesser black-backed gull is ‘amber-listed’.

The RSPB’s criticism follows a story broken by Melksham News last year which included photos of young chicks in the rubble during the demolition works and complaints from local wildlife campaigners.

At the time of the demolition last year, Wiltshire Council obtained a licence from Natural England to carry out the works, despite warning by wildlife campaigners that gulls were nesting and raising their chicks.


But the RSPB say that the licence was not properly checked before work was commenced, conditions of the licence weren’t followed and, “the subsequent taking/destruction and killing of nests, eggs and chicks was therefore unlawful and contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.”

They also say the licence was just for herring gulls and didn’t cover other birds and have asked Wiltshire Council what ornithological advice they took to confirm which bird species were actually nesting.

The RSPB say, “it is clear the work should not even have commenced during April 2022 and that, “Sadly, the circumstances suggest to us that there has been a catastrophic failure by WC in managing this project.”

Serious concerns

They say that they have, “serious concerns regarding the sequence of events that led to the unnecessary loss of eggs and offspring from the 2022 breeding season.”

The RSPB has asked four questions of the council:

  1. Were WC aware of the well-established breeding colony of herring and lesser black-backed gulls on the CMSC?
  2. In view of the clear advice on the ecology report, why was work allowed to commence in April 2022?
  3. What ornithological advice was sought to confirm herring gulls were the only species nesting?
  4. Will WC be undertaking a review of this matter and looking to put in place mechanisms that prevent a reoccurrence of these issues?

At the time of the demolition, Wiltshire Council told Melksham News that they undertook the work because of ‘serious concerns’ about the ‘stability of asbestos materials’ on the site and its risk to the health and safety of the community.

Financial pressures

But the RSPB say that Wiltshire Council’s ‘significant concerns’ about the financial implications of any delays may have “caused undue influence on the decision” to press ahead, rather than delay the work until the August.

“Considering the presence of the well-established breeding colony and advice from your own ecologist, we completely fail to understand how this work was allowed to start at this time,” said the RSPB. “We also fail to understand how contractors on site could not have realised the obvious presence of the breeding colony before work commenced.”

And the RSPB says that, as there were no planned development works immediately following the demolition, works could have been delayed until August 2022.

“The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries, with huge pressures on existing wildlife populations,” said the RSPB. “Further  developments such an Avian Influenza are having devastating impacts for several species including many seabirds…In the current biodiversity crisis, we believe it is essential that local authorities play an active part in helping to address these issues. The events at Melksham appear to be an illustration of these wider environmental concerns.”

After being asked to respond to the complaint by Melksham News, cllr Ian Blair-Pilling, Wiltshire Council’s cabinet member for operational assets, said: “We can confirm that the council has received a complaint from the RSPB. We are currently reviewing the matter and it would be inappropriate to comment further until we have formally responded to the RSPB.”

  • The herring gull is a ‘red-listed’ species of high conservation concern due to severe breeding population declines during the last 25 years and now listed as ‘Endangered’ as a breeding species in Great Britain. The lesser black-backed gull is ‘amber-listed’ by virtue of the fact that the breeding population is concentrated at a relatively small number of important sites and Great Britain has internationally important breeding numbers of this species.

2 Responses to Wiltshire Council accused of ‘catastrophic failure’ for destruction of gull colony

  1. Yartsie

    March 14, 2023 at 10:14 am

    Can Melksham Council be prosecuted for what must be a criminal destruction of this breeding colony of rare gulls?

  2. Lesley Lawson

    March 25, 2023 at 10:51 pm

    I’m new to Melksham and have been traumatised from seeing seagulls kill and eat a pigeon, which made me think they shouldn’t be encouraged inland, as it isn’t their natural habitat for food.

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