Leading nature conservation charities routinely allow game shooters to hunt ducks and geese on their wildlife reserves and bird sanctuaries, an Independent on Sunday investigation has found.
Organised duck shooting is even licensed on scores of internationally designated conservation sites by English Nature, the Government's main wildlife protection agency, to the consternation of animal rights groups.
In many cases, hunters are allowed to kill waterbirds such as wigeon, greylag goose and shoveler duck even though they are on the official "amber list" of endangered species. These birds are among those at risk on the award-winning Nosterfield nature reserve near Northallerton, North Yorkshire, whose own trustees run shooting expeditions for up to 12 "guns" at a time.
The sport - which affects famous reserves on the Ouse in Cambridgeshire, the Medway Marshes in Kent, and the Wash in Norfolk - is defended by major charities such as the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the Wildlife Trusts, and by English Nature. They insist bird-shooting enthusiasts, known as "wildfowlers", help conservationists by actively protecting valuable marshes and wetlands.
However, the practice has been condemned by the League Against Cruel Sports as "management by death". Douglas Batchelor, the league's chief executive, said: "You really don't manage wildlife by devoting yourself to killing it. When people give money to a conservation charity, I very much doubt that they realise in some cases they will be facilitating a duck shoot of the very animals they're seeking to conserve. …