The Queen faces calls to admit the extent of animal culls on her land, after permission was granted to kill 600 greylag geese and destroy another 1,000 of the birds’ eggs at one of her estates, while another royal institution has recently ceased to be transparent over killings.
Leaked documents from Natural England obtained by animal rights group Stop the Cull reveal that the Sandringham Estate, the Queen’s private country retreat in Norfolk, received permission to destroy 1,000 greylag geese eggs across the grounds over February, 2019 to May of this year, along with consent to destroy 200 nests each year from 2015 until 2019.
It is understood permission was also received to kill 600 of the birds from February of 2019 to August of 2020 as part of attempts to preserve public health and air safety.
The leaked wildlife management applications also disclose that Buckingham Palace has twice received permission to shoot and kill 10 greylag geese per year, also “to preserve public health and safety and air safety”, most recently in 2019.
Palace sources confirmed that the greylag geese population is controlled for health and safety reasons in the Buckingham Palace garden, but said non-lethal management methods were generally preferred. However, they would not comment on wildlife management at Sandringham, since it is the Queen’s private estate.
It would be incorrect to interpret a licence to destroy a specified number of birds as evidence that this is put into practice, palace sources added.
A former government minister called on the Royal Family to admit how many animals are killed every year on their grounds, and highlighted that the animal welfare act exempts land owned by the Queen from being subject to checks by RSPCA inspectors.
The Queen is a patron of both the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“Sadly, it is all too common to associate the Royal Family with animal killing,” said former Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, author of And What Do You Do? What The Royal Family Don't Want You To Know. “They must explain why animals are being killed on royal land, and how many.”
In the section on inspectors' wide-ranging powers in the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, it reads: “No power of entry conferred by or under this Act may be exercised in relation to land belonging to Her Majesty in right of Her private estates.”
Baker, who is a member of the privy council which formally advises the Queen, said he was certain the monarch's permission would have been sought early in the legislative process, since the measures affected her land.
Geese can cause damage to grassland and crops. Supporters of culling have argued that mass slaughter is required to avoid agricultural harms, to protect fish and humans from purportedly dangerous excrement, and to protect businesses. Greylag geese are an amber protected species, but can be killed outside of the close season.
However, many animal rights activists maintain that non-lethal methods can often be employed more rigorously to manage wildlife, and that geese are sometimes killed because they are considered to be nuisances.
The Natural England records showed that the gamekeeper at the Sandringham Estate performed wildlife management tasks from April of 2018 to January of 2019, while the license was under the name of the former holder.
“It was only when the reports were logged on 07/01/2019 that it was discovered that the licence was still under the name of the previous licence,” the application said. “And therefore it was too late to amend the licence to show [him] as the new licensee.”
It was unclear which type of ammunition may potentially be used to kill geese at Sandringham. Earlier this year, shooting groups announced a pledge to ban lead bullets due to the risk of long-term wildlife poisoning and pollution of the countryside.
Shield Pest Control is employed by the royal household at Buckingham Palace to carry out unspecified activities, but it was unknown who would be tasked with executing any killings in the gardens in central London.
The Royal Family has a long history of enjoying bloodsports. In 2000, the Queen was photographed killing a pheasant that had already been shot, while her husband, Prince Philip – one of the founders of the Worldwide Fund for Nature – is known to have killed tens of thousands of animals.
In previous years, the Duke has been reported to have frequently invited people to Sandringham, a 20,000 acre estate, to join him in shooting pheasants. In 1993, he reportedly killed 10,000 of the game birds in just four days.
On the grounds of another of the royal residences, Windsor Castle, animal rights organisation Animal Aid has revealed that 7,129 animals were killed in 2013 – including 3,901 pigeons, 1,161 rabbits, 325 squirrels and 159 foxes.
A royal spokesperson said at the time that most of the animals were killed at the request of farmers who rent parts of the vast estate. This information is no longer collected, the crown estate that manages Windsor Castle confirmed following an FoI request.
VICE News can also reveal the current extent of culls in the royal parks, which are owned by the Crown but managed on behalf of the government.
In Richmond Park, 113 parakeets and 304 jackdaws were killed between 2017-2019; along with 338 rabbits, 119 foxes, 94 crows and 41 magpies in Bushy Park; 417 squirrels in Hyde Park, likely to protect red squirrels from non-native grey squirrels; six magpies in Kensington Gardens, and many hundreds more animals of various species after the receipt of Natural England licenses.
Egg oiling is also used as a wildlife management method under license, and Royal Parks has insisted that culling is essential to maintain ecological diversity in its open spaces and to ensure the survival of ancient trees and rare habitats.