The decision to cull gulls near a Lancashire airfield has been challenged by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) ruled in 2013 a cull in the Ribble Estuary would go ahead, despite raised concerns from BAE Systems about safety.

David Forsdick, RSPB’s QC, told the hearing it could undermine European conservation directives. A Defra spokesman said the gulls were impacting on air safety.

BAE said a reduction in the population of lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls was necessary because of fears over birds being sucked into the engines of jets taking off at the airfield.

Consent was given to kill 552 pairs of the gulls and for further operations to maintain the population at a reduced level for 10 years.

The decision also stated the population must not go below 3,348 pairs. Mr Forsdick told the sitting judge Mr Justice Mitting that as far as the RSPB knew.

He said: “this has never happened before in the UK and that is why [we are] so concerned to have the decision set aside”.

He said lesser black-backed gulls were in “substantial decline” and in need of protection.

The Defra spokesman said the cull was legal and it was necessary as, in this instance, “human life is more important than wildlife”.

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