There were ruffled feathers and no small amount of flapping at the world's most genteel tennis tournament yesterday after a threat of legal action from animal rights lobbyists over the culling of pigeons that had the temerity to bother some players.
Marksmen armed with rifles and employed by The All England Club spent part of Sunday evening stalking the grounds. Several birds were killed. Wimbledon usually uses a hawk to scare away the troublesome creatures. But some players had complained that they were being dive-bombed and rapid action was deemed necessary before the gates opened to the public.
Yesterday, the club was reported to the Metropolitan Police wildlife crime unit for alleged infringement of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. In a letter to the club's chairman, Tim Phillips, from Bruce Friedrich, the vice- president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), which bills itself as "the world's largest animal rights organisation", the club was warned it could face court action for shooting pigeons.
The letter says: "The wildlife crime unit of the Metropolitan Police has also advised us that in its view, pigeons qualify as protected animals under the Act."
Peta has asked the club to "order an immediate halt to this cruel and illegal behaviour".
The club has made no formal response but it is understood it will respond after the tournament. It is expected to say that guns were raised only as a last resort. The club is not expecting that police will swoop into action imminently.
Mr Friedrich wrote in his letter: "What seems to have happened is that since you last updated your protocol for dealing with pigeons, a law was passed – the Animal Welfare Act 2006 – that you must not know about... Lethal control can only be used if the target species presents a demonstrable risk to public health and safety. [The club] will have to be able to present evidence in a court of law which confirms, beyond any reasonable doubt, that a real and severe risk to public health existed prior to using lethal controls."
The club also took action on Sunday to eradicate a swarm of bees. They too were seen as a threat to players' welfare.