To the utter disbelief of conservationists, statutory conservation agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has issued a licence authorising the mass killing of ravens in a large area of Perthshire (an area identified as a wildlife crime hotspot where six satellite-tagged eagles have suspiciously disappeared in recent years), as part of a proposed five-year experiment, on the basis of ‘seeing what happens’ to wader populations when ravens are removed.
The licence has been issued to a consortium calling itself the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders (SCCW) which, according to the licence application, ‘represents some of the local land management (farmers, gamekeepers) and private interests in the area who value wading birds for their biodiversity, social and economic value to the area and to Scotland more widely. The application is supported by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and technical advice and support, notably data gathering and interpretation, is being provided by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT)‘.
[Raven photo by Dieter Schaeffer]
The following has been written by a group of Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) members as a guest blog:
STRATHBRAAN RAVEN LICENCE
The news about the missing white tailed sea eagle disappearing in Glen Quaich on Tuesday 17th April could sadly not have been more timely as Scottish Natural Heritage, (SNH), have issued a licence to several estates in the Strathbraan area in Perthshire, including Glen Quaich Estate, for the killing of 300 ravens in a large scale trial over five years to see if wader productivity and populations can be improved by removing raven predation.
The manner in which the government’s statutory nature conservation agency have conducted themselves has come as a shock and there is grave concern about the mis-application of science, the lack of consultation with key stakeholders, such as the RSPB and SRSG, their choice of estate partners and the lack of transparency, trust and honesty, and even seasoned SNH watchers are aghast.
We have raised our concerns and are unhappy with the response so far and have resorted to writing this blog to make the matters public. Following the “suspicious” disappearance of the white tailed sea eagle and the fact the police are describing this as ‘an illegal act’ we call upon SNH to conduct a review and if the circumstances fulfil what we consider to be the established criteria set out in SNH’s own report then we expect the licence to be withdrawn.
Our concerns focus on three areas, firstly the choice of partners:-
Firstly when selecting a trial area why would you choose an area dominated by driven grouse shooting with a history of illegal raptor persecution? What message does this send out to the many law-abiding estates? Is it that persecution will enable you to ‘cut a deal’ with the statutory nature conservation body? Cynics might suggest this is more about an opportunity to kill ravens in an attempt to protect red grouse stocks and it could also be argued that a licence has been issued to kill one species of bird to enable another bird to be shot for fun.
[Map of proposed cull area in north Perthshire, from the licence application, running from Loch Tay in the west to the A9 in the east]:
Raptor workers over the years have been monitoring the area and can speak with authority on raptor persecution. The Scottish Government’s review of satellite-tagged golden eagles showed that four of these birds have disappeared suspiciously in this area, with a satellite-tagged red kite also disappearing in 2010. In all cases, the tags can be classed as “stopped – no malfunction” as used in the review – ie. highly suspicious.
[Map of north Perthshire showing the last known fixes of five satellite-tagged golden eagles that disappeared in suspicious circumstances. Sea Eagle Blue X also disappeared in Glen Quaich last month]:
In addition, a radio-tagged white-tailed eagle was tracked to this area, but disappeared in January 2012, while a further satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle recently similarly disappeared in Glen Quaich. An illegal clam trap was found in November 2012, while a buzzard was spring-trapped in January 2012. A red kite was found poisoned in January 2015. A raven was poisoned in 2017. In addition, licenced raptor study group members have noted a number of cases of suspicious failure of nesting attempts by hen harrier, red kite and buzzard across the area. They have also recorded a higher than usual turnover of red kites and a loss of breeding pairs at nearby sites. All of which indicates on-going illegal persecution.
Even bearing in mind these detected incidents represent an unknown proportion of actual persecution taking place, this is an area where land management practices have displayed a proven criminal intolerance to protected species, stretching back for many years. All this has been in the public domain so why did SNH press on knowing that their partners in this initiative have such a dubious record, and what level of confidence can we have in their honesty and integrity?
Secondly, science and key questions that remain unanswered:-
- What monitoring is in place to assess that this cull will not affect the raven population status?
- How will SNH be able to differentiate from other factors affecting the decline of waders such as other predatory pressures, the loss of suitable habitat and changes in agricultural practices?
- What criteria will be used to differentiate between breeding and non-breeding birds? This year we have noticed that the breeding season is later than usual.
- What allowance has been made for the immigration of immature flocks into the proposed licence area?
- Why has the licensing decision been taken in the absence of the raven population modelling report, as it was commissioned with the sole, or at least the main, purpose of underpinning raven licensing decisions with sounder background information?
- What is the nature and extent of the independent scrutiny that has been carried out?
- If any raven roosts are located during the period of the licence, can we be assured that any Schedule 1 non-breeding species and other protected species (possibly also using the same roosts) will not be disturbed?
- What safe guards are in place to ensure the numbers killed will remain within that permitted?
Thirdly, the lack of engagement
SNH are always keen to trumpet words such as ‘trust’, ‘building relationships’, ‘shared objectives’ ‘working collaboratively’ but we have seen none of this.
- There has been no communication with SRSG workers who have been active in the proposed licence area and have many years of breeding data on ravens and raptors.
- We understand that not all landowners/managers within the area of licence have been contacted about this licence, contrary to reassurances provided.
- This proposed application was developed outside the much lauded ‘Working for Waders’ initiative and we only became aware of this by accident; hardly working together or building trust!
- Under the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme raven data are submitted to SNH (who is a key partner), yet it seems this information was not included in the licence considerations, (we know this as under the permission sharing protocols raptors workers who collected the information in the first place would have had to have been consulted).
We are deeply suspicious that the lack of engagement was deliberate as SNH knew their proposal was weak and would not stand up to the rigour of an independent scientific review.
We again call upon SNH to withdraw the licence.
It’s well known that SNH issues a number of licences every year to cull ravens where they are considered a ‘serious threat’ to livestock (e.g. see here, here) but these are apparently for a limited cull, not related to game management and supposedly based on sound scientific evidence of a perceived local problem.
It’s also well known that ravens are routinely demonised in the press, including this outrageous piece published by the BBC (see here, and well worth a read to understand the hysteria whipped up around this protected species).
However, this latest licence authorising a multi-year mass culling of ravens over a large area for spurious reasons (and apparently very little, if any, scientific justification) is unprecedented. That it also happens to be a well-known raptor persecution hotspot just adds to the lunancy of this situation.
If you share the concerns of the SRSG members, please consider sending an email to Mike Cantlay, SNH Chair, calling on him to withdraw the licence with immediate effect. Emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE 14.20hrs: Thanks to the blog reader who brought this article to our attention, reporting on the results of a scientific study that dispels many of the myths associated with ravens and wader population declines. And here is the scientific peer-reviewed paper by Amar et al that specifically warns against making predator control licensing decisions without a thorough evaluation of the evidence.
UPDATE 21 April 2018: A quote from SNH Head of Wildlife, Robbie Kernahan:
“We understand the concerns over wildlife crime in Strathbraan, but we are also clear that the granting of this licence is wholly unconnected to the issues concerned.
This licence is about a pressing and complex conservation issue. It is 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. We are satisfied this licence will not affect the population of ravens overall, and is over a five year period.
The licence places significant responsibility and expectations on all those involved – to be able to show that this approach can work and will help deliver what are essentially shared objectives.
Trust is a key element of this and this presents a great opportunity to develop that trust and relationships with all involved. If it becomes apparent that actions are not being carried out in accordance with the terms of any licence then we will have no hesitation in removing the licence“.
UPDATE 21 April 2018: A quote from RSPB Scotland Head of Species & Land Managament, Duncan Orr-Ewing:
“We are extremely concerned about the likely scale on impact of this research licence on the local raven population in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire. We are also very surprised that SNH have issued such a research licence in the vicinity of Strathbraan, which has an appalling and well documented track record of illegal persecution of raptors, noting also the very recent “suspicious” disappearance of a satellite tagged white-tailed eagle in this very same area.
We, together with local raptor workers who have been monitoring ravens in the area for decades, could have helped SNH with this background detail to the licence application if we had been consulted.
We will be seeking a high level meeting with SNH shortly to discuss. We will be pressing for the research licence to be revoked on the back of the white-tailed eagle incident, and instead consideration given by SNH to removing the use of the Open General Licence in this area, as is within their powers“.
UPDATE 22 April 2018: Raven cull update and what you can do to help (here)
UPDATE 23 April 2018: Article published in The National (here)
UPDATE 23 April 2018: Article published in The Herald (here)
UPDATE 23 April 2018: RSPB Scotland blog in response to raven cull licence (here)
UPDATE 25 April 2018: OneKind blog in response to raven cull licence (here)
UPDATE 25 April 2018: Chris Packham’s response to raven cull licence (here)
UPDATE 26 April 2018: Is the raven cull licence still active whilst SNH review takes place? (here)
UPDATE 26 April 2018: SNH refuses to say whether raven cull licence has been suspended (here)
UPDATE 27 April 2018: Green MSPs seek urgent meeting with SNH re: raven cull licence (here)
UPDATE 27 April 2018: ‘No justification’ for raven cull licence, says RSPB Scotland Director (here)
UDATE 28 April 2018: Raven cull licence: SGA evasive on benefits to grouse moors (here)
UPDATE 1 May 2018: Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders: who’s involved? (here)
UPDATE 4 May 2018: Raven cull: next steps to take as SNH blunders on (here)
UPDATE 7 May 2018: “Let’s have more trials [culls] whether it’s about ravens or other things” says SNH (here)
UPDATE 8 May 2018: Parliamentary questions lodged on raven cull licence (here)
UPDATE 9 May 2018: Alison Johnstone MSP lodges Parliamentary motion on raven cull licence (here)
UPDATE 12 May 2018: Raven cull: please ask your MSP to support this Parliamentary motion (here)
UPDATE 23 May 2018: Raven cull update: scientific advisory committee not being asked to repeal licence (here)
UPDATE 23 May 2018: Raven cull: Parliamentary questions and answers (here)
UPDATE 20 May 2018: Raven cull: latest update (here)
UPDATE 5 June 2018: Legal challenge to raven cull licence: your help needed! (here)
UPDATE 6 June 2018: Raven cull: legal challenge crowdfunder smashes £10k target on day one! (here)
UPDATE 19 June 2018: Raven cull: a few updates (here)
UPDATE 20 June 2018: #Justice4Ravens fundraising merchandise now available (here)
UPDATE 22 June 2018: Preston man receives warning for raven cull death threat (here)
UPDATE 1 July 2018: Last push on #Justice4Ravens crowdfunder (here)
UPDATE 1 July 2018: #Justice4Ravens crowdfunder target smashed! (here)
UPDATE 5 July 2018: #Justice4Ravens: application lodged for judicial review (here)
UPDATE 23 July 2018: Surprise! Gamekeeper in raven cull area declares cull a success (here)
UPDATE 30 July 2018: Raven cull licence: scientific rigour ‘completely inadequate’ says SNH’s scientific advisory committee (here)
UPDATE 30 July 2018: Voluntary suspension of raven cull is meaningless greenwash (here)
UPDATE 7 August 2018: #Justice4Ravens: judicial review update (here)
UPDATE 20 August 2018: Raven cull: application for judicial review withdrawn, for now (here)
UPDATE 30 April 2019: SNH reluctant to discuss licensed raven cull in Strathbraan this year (here)
UPDATE 2 May 2019: SNH rejects 2019 licence application for Strathbraan raven cull (here)
UPDATE 30 May 2019: Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s pity party in response to failed Strathbraan raven cull bid (here)