The National Gamekeeper?s Organisation (NGO) has accused Natural England (NE) of ignoring evidence from gamekeepers that great black-backed gulls and herring gulls predate on rare bird species such as blackgrouse, curlew and redshank.

The news comes after NE announced on 30 September that the two native gull species had been removed from the new General Licences, which are due to be implemented on 1 January 2010.

Defending the controversial decision, NE?s Dr Matthew Heydon said: ?The populations of both these gull species are vulnerable? and no hard evidence supporting the claim that these gulls pose a major threat to England?s most rare and vulnerable ground-nesting birds was received in response to this consultation.?

The NGO said the government body has completely dismissed its consultation response on the matter.

Lindsay Waddell, chairman of the NGO, commented: ?The NGO submitted an extensive response outlining how numerous gamekeepers have witnessed these gulls predating on Red List bird species. These gulls take eggs and chicks up to eight weeks old. There have been substantial losses incurred as a direct result of gulls. I have written to Helen Phillips, the chief executive of NE, to point out its complete failure to take on board the views of those that actually work and live in the countryside.?

Mr Waddell added: ?If NE refuses to put the two gull species back on the General Licences, then the only option will be for keepers to apply for a specific licence to control gull numbers. It currently takes six weeks for NE to arrange a licence, so my advice would be to apply for one now, in advance of 1 January.?

BASC?s Conor O?Gorman echoed these sentiments.

He said: ?BASC was disappointed there were only 35 full responses to the consultation earlier this year. This was the opportunity for hundreds, if not thousands, of people to come forward with explanations of how they have been able to utilise the General Licences to prevent significant losses of iconic British birds to the predatory pressure of gulls.?

Mr O?Gorman urged keepers to apply for a specific licence before gull numbers get out of hand: ?If NE is inundated with justifiable applications for licences, that will be evidence alone of the scale of the problem, previously overlooked.?

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