Officials are allowing thousands of wild duck eggs to be destroyed, killing the unhatched ducklings, in part because it is claimed the birds pose a threat to cyclists.
Natural England, the government’s adviser on nature, has given the go-ahead to the destruction of 4,500 mallard eggs in three years, after one applicant cited “a safety concern” as there was “a high number of people cycling and the ducks often walk out in front of them”.
The decision – the latest in a string of incidents that have angered nature-lovers – prompted calls for Natural England to be scrapped.
Documents seen by The Independent suggest the egg-wrecking happens at a site in Bedfordshire where the public can visit lakes, restaurants and food outlets, and another site in Suffolk, although the details have been redacted.
The Bedfordshire licence applicant said the mallard population had risen dramatically and they congregated around seating areas.
Other reasons cited were “faeces around seating areas” and the risk of collisions between birds and cyclists.
Critics branded the decision to prevent ducklings from hatching “lunacy” and “idiotic”, saying birds and other creatures “make up the enjoyment of experiencing the countryside”.
Natural England issued the first Bedfordshire licence, to destroy 500 eggs, in 2016, and a licence was given last year to destroy 1,000 eggs, but details have only just been made public after Jason Endfield, an environmental blogger, uncovered them using Freedom of Information laws.
Officials also rubber-stamped applications to destroy 500 more eggs this year and another 500 next year, the documents show.
In 2017-18, Natural England gave the green light to wreck 2,000 mallard eggs and 300 geese eggs in Suffolk, according to the papers.
The Bedfordshire applicant said she wanted to preserve public health and safety and prevent the spread of disease after the mallard population at the site had increased dramatically.
She said she would apply oil to or prick the eggs to destroy them, and wanted to do it before the bird numbers became “uncontrollable”.
Natural England officials advised her to do this discreetly “early in the morning before most visitors were about”.
They said a duck had been injured by a cyclist when crossing a path, and the action was “likely to reduce the risk of disease to people”.
Mr Endfield, who leads a campaign to reform Natural England’s “shocking” licensing system, wrote: “I am struggling to find the words to express my disbelief and despair that Natural England decision-makers thought it appropriate in any way to issue a licence to an applicant that seriously considered ducks to be a threat to cyclists.
“Surely someone at the agency should have challenged this stupidity at an early stage rather than proceed to issue a licence that legitimised the wanton destruction of wild birds eggs for such spurious reasons.”
He said the Bedfordshire licence-holder claimed to have destroyed only 127 eggs in 2016, but added: “The real or imagined problems caused to humans by ducks could surely be solved much more rationally than resorting to clumsy egg destruction.”
He questioned why the birds apparently posed no danger to the public in other areas of England, adding: “This in itself illustrates the inconsistency of the whole shambolic licensing system.
“It’s time to disband this ridiculous organisation.”
Dangerous Ducks! Mallards are a 'safety concern' for passing cyclists, licence holder tells #NaturalEngland... just when you thought it couldn't get any more ridiculous... https://t.co/589RGq2PTP @Team4Nature @Animal_Watch @RareBirdAlertUK @MarkAvery @JournoJane— Jason Endfield (@JasonEndfield)November 9, 2019
Nature-lovers have been angered by his previous revelations that Natural England has sanctioned culls of treasured and rare bird species, from ravens and kestrels, to moorhens, curlew, linnets, and skylarks, and the destruction of mute swan eggs.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on behalf of Natural England, said a successful applicant must demonstrate – with evidence – that the species targeted is causing a problem; that non-lethal alternatives have been tried; that the action is proportionate and that the species' conservation status will not be negatively affected.
One commenter wrote: “Another reason to make our country a laughing stock. It gets worse and worse. The people who come up with these stupid rules should be sacked.”
Another posted: “I am appalled by Natural England’s ability to give licences to the thick to destroy all sorts of our beautiful wildlife for such ridiculous reasons.”
Others said cyclists should not be using footpaths.