Unscientific, unjustified and developed without consultation with conservation or animal welfare groups. This blog looks at why the license to cull 300 ravens in Perthshire must be withdrawn immediately.
For a long time, I thought ravens were naturally upland birds. I associated their ethereal and atmospheric croaking with days in the mountains in Wales and Scotland. What I didn’t realise then was that their limited distribution was a hangover from aggressive persecution.
Ravens were pushed to near extinction in Britain by the early 20th Century. Considered vermin, they were persecuted on an enormous scale until they were forced out of the lowlands and clung on only in small pockets. They were finally given protection in 1981, and in recent times persecution has been restrained for the most part and the population has begun to recover. They’re returning to the lowlands, and even appear to be entering urban environments, with ravens now back in Edinburgh and Stirling.
Here the story should end. Conservationists and policy-makers should pat themselves on their backs and marvel at the efficacity of Government intervention in preventing extinction. Predictably, however, it doesn’t.
The raven has long had a PR problem, as their collective noun – an unkindness of ravens – clearly demonstrates. Farming and gamekeeper communities have not embraced their return, accusing these dark manifestations of evil of preying on lamb, wading birds and – heaven forbid – game birds. There is no space for nature to be cruel in our uplands, it seems, only man. The media have covered the growing hysteria with relish. Attack of the killer ravens, shouts the Mail, whilst the Scottish Farmer warns that ravens are running riot and killing for fun. Killing for fun? Ravens are meant to be intelligent. Surely, they understand that only humans are allowed to do that…
Inevitably this has led to increasing clamours for culls, and these appear to have landed on sympathetic ears within Scottish Natural Heritage, the Government agency charged with protecting nature. Last week it was revealed by Raptor Persecution Scotland that they had licensed the cull of 300 ravens over a five-year period in a large area of Perthshire to the east of Loch Tay. The Scottish breeding population is somewhere in the range of 2,500 to 6,000 pairs, so this is without doubt a large-scale cull. Whilst the details of this licence have yet to be made public – such is the opaqueness of much ‘wildlife management’ in Scotland – the cull is, in the words of an SNH spokesman “a large-scale collaborative trial which will help improve our understanding of factors affecting key wader species, populations of which are declining at an alarming rate.”
Waders are declining at an alarming rate, and this is a large-scale cull, but the helpfulness of this statement ends there. If SNH want to improve their understanding of the role raven control could play, their starting point should probably be the academic literature rather than the keys to the gun locker. As many have pointed out since the announcement, researchers from the RSPB and University of Aberdeen published a paper in 2010 that assessed the link between recovering raven populations and wader declines. It concluded that there are “no significant negative associations between raven abundance and population changes in upland waders, and so does not provide support to justify granting of licences for the lethal control of ravens.”
Perhaps that’s why the RSPB weren’t consulted on this ambitious ‘research’. Which brings us to the collaborative nature of the ‘collaborative trial’. The collaboration appears to have been restricted to shooting and farming interests, with SNH failing to consult key conservation organisations including the Scottish Raptor Study Group, who monitor ravens and birds of prey in the area, and the RSPB, let alone animal protection groups like OneKind.
In fact, we are unaware of any assessment of the impact this cull will have on the welfare of ravens. SNH have a commitment in place to “use peer reviewed scientific evidence to underpin our welfare considerations and where appropriate develop staff guidance to help understand the range of ethical views within particular welfare issue.” It will be interesting to see how this has been applied to the raven cull, and indeed what method of killing is being advised.
Both the RSPB and the SRSG have been damning in their response. The RSPB expressed outrage at the news and are calling for the licence to be withdrawn. It’s important to understand that the RSPB is not opposed to corvid control in principle – 487 crows were killed on their reserves in 2016/17 for conservation reasons – which makes their response all the more serious an indictment on the credibility of this proposed cull.
Then there’s the scientific credibility of what is proposed. The area where this cull will take place selected itself and is a well-known hotspot for wildlife crime, there is no control site to compare it to, no independent monitoring in place… the list goes on. I think we can be confident that the findings of this trial will not be making their way into a scientific journal.
In the absence of a better explanation then, the real motive for this cull, as the RSPB note, appears to be a desire to protect high densities of red grouse that are needed for recreational shooting. Like the mountain hare culls, illegal raptor persecution, and the widespread killing of foxes, stoats, weasels and other corvids like crows, it looks like ravens are set to be yet another victim of the perversities of managing so much of Scotland’s uplands as a playground for grouse shooters.
What you can do
- Sign this petition
- Email Mike Cantlay, Chair of Scottish Natural Heritage, and explain why you think SHN should withdraw the licence – email@example.com