In a rare move, Cambridgeshire police decided to charge Keith Higginbottom with two offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. He has been summonsed to appear at Peterborough Magistrates Court on 11 July.
The prosecution follows publication in the weekly newspaper last December of a front-page photograph showing a masked gunman on a riverbank with four dead cormorants at his feet. The caption read: "This is the picture every angler wants to see - the man, the gun and the cormorants." The birds are detested by anglers because they have voracious appetites and are blamed for depleting fish stocks.
The accompanying article described an underground campaign by fishery owners to cull large numbers of cormorants, a protected species. Mr Higginbottom was quoted as saying that "the Angling Times does not condemn them for it".
Cambridgeshire police said yesterday that Mr Higginbottom, who left the newspaper last month, had been charged under two sections of the Act that prohibit the killing of protected birds without a licence.
The Angling Times, which has campaigned for cormorants to be removed from the protected species list, said it still supported the view that they inflicted major ecological damage on fish stocks and steps were needed to control their numbers. "We have never urged the public to take the law into its own hands, but have strongly campaigned to have the law changed to that appropriate measures can be taken," it said. It added that the case would be "vigorously defended".
It emerged yesterday that a flock of cormorants has taken thousands of carp from a lake at Sydmonton Court, the estate on the Hampshire-Berkshire border owned by Lord Lloyd-Webber.