PROTESTERS gathered at Leighton Moss on Sunday to demonstrate against the controversial culling of red deer at the RSPB reserve.

Campaigners stood outside the visitors’ centre at the Silverdale reserve and handed out leaflets urging members of the public to help ‘Stop the Cull’.

Heated discussions broke out between the demonstrators and RSPB staff – including an ecologist and the regional reserves manager – who attended the protest to explain the charity’s position.

The RSPB says it plans to cull between eight and 10 of the deer before the end of March in order to control the rising population and protect the reed bed - a habitat for birds such as bitterns - from further damage by deer.

But Marianne Birkby, who organised the protest, displayed historic aerial photographs of the moss, claiming that the photographs show there has always been a criss-cross network of deer trails in areas of the reedbeds.

“They (deer) are part of the ecosystem here and by shooting them you could be dispersing them and driving them into other areas,” she said.

Ms Birkby added: “People want to trust the RSPB and believe they’re doing the right thing, but some people we’ve spoken to today have been vehemently opposed to the cull.”

Protestor Stefanie Nield said: “I’m here because I don’t feel that any alternatives to manage deer numbers have been addressed.

“It appears that shooting is the first resort, when it should be a last resort.”

Another anti-cull campaigner, Ron Stirzaker, said: “As a member and supporter of the RSPB I was disappointed to learn that, although they are supposed to be a nature preservation organisation, they are killing deer on their site.

“It seems nonsensical because if you shoot some, more will move in to replace them.”

Robin Horner, RSPB site manager at Leighton Moss, who attended the protest, said: “We’re here to explain the reasoning behind the cull and answer people’s queries.

“We are not trying to eliminate deer from the reserve, but we need to manage the numbers and the alternatives that have been mentioned – such as fencing and contraception – are not an option.”