A PROTECTED species of animal could be under threat in Bedfordshire if a planned culling takes place at an airport later this week, say wildlife campaigners.
On Wednesday bosses at Cranfield University plan to undertake a cull of hares at the Airport in which four qualified personnel carrying firearms will seek out the animals.
The cull is being undertaken following a crash between a light aircraft and a muntjac deer as the plane was coming in to land on the runway on December 16 last year.
Wildlife groups claim that the proposed cull could seriously damage the numbers of hares in Bedfordshire, with the species already having become under threat nationally since the Ground Game Act 1880 gave landowners the right to kill rabbits and hares on their land.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are also working to increase the population in Britain as part of its biodiversity action plan.
Staff at the University raised concerns about the planned killing after receiving notice from bosses telling them from Wednesday there will be machinery operating on the south side of the airport clearing the overgrown scrub area, which is anticipated to last up to three days including a ‘controlled cull of the excessive hare and rabbit population’ within that area.
One member of staff told Bedfordshire on Sunday: “It’s a kneejerk reaction. They are acting in a completely cavalier fashion and helping in the decline of the population.”
John Rimington, from the Hare Preservation Trust in Bedfordshire, said: “Many airfields have hares, Luton, Cardiff, Bristol, you name it. Many airports within the UK and Ireland have resident hares and there is absolutely no policy of culling them elsewhere. Indeed airports (and nature reserves) are the only places where hares can be free of human predators which makes your culling plan even more appalling.
“They have to stop this and consult with the Bedfordshire Wildlife Trust and we need clarification on what the situation is with the muntjac deer and chinese water deer. There aren’t that many hares in Bedfordshire to start with, the majority of them are in East Anglia.
“Hares are intelligent, very fast and highly mobile animals who will naturally avoid danger such as moving vehicles or aeroplanes and have never caused any incidents elsewhere by interfering with air traffic.
Responding to campaigners’ concerns, a spokeswoman for the University said: “Cranfield Airport is required by law to ensure that the airport is run safely in line with all airports in the UK.
“The airport has some areas of overgrown scrubland which reduces visibility of airport safety areas and also harbours various wildlife that are a potential hazard to aircraft. The airport has planned maintenance to clear areas of scrubland over the coming week.
“The University, as owner of the airport, recognises the threatened status of the brown hare and requested that the airport authorities avoid shooting any brown hares during this operation.
“The University has also requested the airport to carry out a further study of the safety risks and population dynamics of brown hare at Cranfield Airport.”