SNH refuses to say whether raven cull licence has been suspended

In a desperate attempt to regain the narrative, this afternoon Scottish Natural Heritage has issued a further statement to try and justify its ridiculous decision to grant a licence to gamekeepers, permitting the mass killing of ravens in a noted wildlife crime hotspot, on the basis of ‘seeing what happens’.

Part of the latest statement is reproduced from the quote SNH provided to The Times yesterday, and there’s a bit of extra PR gloss (i.e. this is a “limited trial“) applied for good measure. Noticeably, the statement does not include the words ‘raven cull’.

Unfortunately, but not unsurprisingly, the statement fails to address any of the serious concerns raised about the licence. Perhaps that’s deliberate, because answering those questions would undoubtedly expose the flawed process behind this licensing decision, like issuing the licence first, in secret, and then assessing its scientific credibility sometime later but only after being challenged by sceptical conservationists.

Here’s the latest SNH statement:

It also hasn’t escaped our notice that SNH has avoided answering the very simple question we posed this morning: Has the raven cull licence been suspended whilst the Scientific Advisory Committee undertakes its review?

We put this straightforward question to the SNH media team this morning and they were unable to answer it. One of them told us that he had been told to tell us to put this question in writing to SNH Chair Mike Cantlay, which we have now done.

We’ll take that response, along with the content of the above statement, to indicate that SNH has NOT suspended the raven cull licence, despite this morning’s (deliberately?) misleading headline suggesting that SNH is having a ‘rethink’.

Please keep writing to SNH Chair Mike Cantlay ( and please keep signing and sharing this petition (here).

This is a long way from being over.

39 thoughts on “SNH refuses to say whether raven cull licence has been suspended”

  1. Absolutely shocking that they are making a serious reference to the ‘Understanding Predation’ report which is nothing more than an attempt to undermine scientific studies that contradict what sporting interests want everyone to believe. SNH have clearly sunk really, really low. This could have been written by SLE rather than SNH, I would have said SGA as well, but TBH a bit too articulate for them.

  2. Interesting that they say the habitat is good quality. There are pockets of good habitat and good wader areas here but not over this entire 42,000 Ha area, most of which is grouse moor. Some is over grazed (backed up by agri- environment schemes that are paying to reduce stocking densities) there are areas of out of control muirburn in some areas and there are live proposals for new Sitka woodlands on important Curlew areas which whilst they provided advice SNH did not feel sufficiently strongly about to object to.

  3. That almost reads like it was written by the GWCT. “Balance or species” “Manage the land”. The birds would balance themselves if left to their own devices, and the only reason they manage the land is to increase their profits at the expense of the natural environment. Land that should be owned for all.

  4. Maybe there’s a problem with my browser, but nowhere can I find what or who makes up the “Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders” I assume it has a long track record of scientific endeavour in the field of wader research and consists of well-qualified people with no ulterior motives? Or am I being naive?

    1. Andy, the make up of the SCCW was covered in the first post on this by RPUK. It can be found through the first link in this article. Basically it’s made up of the local estates, who can obviously be relied on for their scientific rigour, and who can absolutely be subjective in their findings as they have nothing to gain from the results. 😞

  5. It’s just bizarre that if SNH are truly concerned about lapwings, curlews and oystercatchers; that they haven’t consulted with the RSPB or other experts.

    Would they have issued a licence if the RSPB had approached them with this request rather than the SCCW? The whole thing stinks to high heaven.

  6. his is a perfect example of how wealth and privilege avoid holding to the values of the democratic process they say they respect. They avoid respectable scientific bodies previously active in this field and use the “nod and a wink” culture allied with the practical experession of hegemonic power. The scientific input which they have avoided is there to ensure this very thing does not occur. More pressure, please.

  7. Whilst I am well acquainted with the situation re curlew and lapwing and can imagine it’s significance in the area concerned, can anyone fill me in on the position regarding breeding oyster catcher on this patch?

  8. Ok, so I’m not the worlds greatest birder, but don’t waders like soft ground. I’m only guessing here, but maybe if you rewetted a few areas, maybe if you didn’t burn so many insects and amphibians, maybe if you encouraged a more diverse habitat other than just heather, would that not be a little better for both the waders and the Ravens?
    And wouldn’t Ravens take the occasional mountain hare and other mammals If they weren’t shot or found in traps? And one last thought. Doesn’t shooting everything in sight and letting your dogs run riot frighten waders?
    And anyway, just who the hell MANAGED these things before man came on the scene?

  9. Looks as though they’re now looking to their Scientific Advisory Committee to bale them out. If they consider that expert scientific advice is appropriate to a decision of this magnitude, why didn’t they seek it before making a decision?

  10. It is interesting that many of the ‘Collaborative Actions’ presented to ‘stakeholders’ for ‘assessment and listed in the ‘Understanding Predation’ report(s) involve the killing of predators. In the summary report to which this SNH statement links these include the following (p51): FC8, ME11, ME12, ME14, ME15, ME20, ME23, ME24, AV28.

    In the full report more details are provided in 7.2 ‘Future Collaborative Actions’ (pp323-325) and ‘collaborative action’ 12 mentions Ravens, along with other protected species:

    12. Project to examine impact of removal of protected species (e.g. buzzard, raven, goshawk, pine marten, badger) on breeding success of ground-nesting birds – experimental approach to understand the effects of removing predators on the general licence, using appropriate range of removal methods, control sites etc.

    Interestingly, although action 12 was only ranked 24 (out of 29) overall in the table on page 328 of the full report (and p53 of the summary report, as ME12) it was ranked 7th in Priority and 4th in Insight. Furthermore, action 12 is discussed at the bottom of page 328 and top of page 329:

    “In order to be successful in engaging stakeholders, projects should ideally have a focus that is of immediate interest to them, and a remit that does not directly threaten their positions. For example, projects looking at the ecological effects of non-native game bird releases (e.g. action 17) or investigating the effect of removal of protected raptor species on breeding success of ground-nesting birds (e.g. action 12) could yield information that would support a case for societal change. Such change might be welcomed by some stakeholders, and have positive consequences for society or wild bird conservation in the long run, but could also be perceived as threatening the interests or livelihoods of others. This could make it more difficult to successfully engender collaboration through such projects than through those aimed at generating information that all parties welcome and recognise the need for.”

    And action 28, presented to stakeholders for ‘assessment’, also scored highly in Priority and Insight, though 25 overall. This action is:
    “Understanding constraints to implementing licencing for specific protected predators, such as Buzzard – this would involve research and/or trials to determine what level of licencing, if any, could be acceptable to different stakeholders in the context of ground-nesting bird conservation and, if so, in what circumstances.”

      1. Here is RPUKs reaction

        and their links to the report has more ‘supplementary material’

        Click to access moorland-forum-understanding-predation-report.pdf

        This is important stuff. it is what this whole farce hangs on. I wonder what the BTO, who were heavily involved with that ;study’, have to say about the cull.
        If the BTO were political enough to get involved in this ‘study’ surely they can be political enough to comment on it now. I really can’t imagine them promoting this cull as any kind of solution or even as a valid ‘experiment’.

  11. This is appalling they should be able to confirm the status of the cull. You do not have a licensing system and not know what an appeal or review does to any issued licence. The problem is if they will not confirm whether or not the cull has been suspended and someone kills a raven, will they or will they not have committed an offence. If I were Police Scotland I would be demanding clarity.

      1. The truth is revealed, as most of us know anyway. The licencees have applied under the guise of saving waders from natural predation, but the underlying motive is to massacre Ravens which they allege are predating on lambs and sheep. It makes the mind boggle that anyone who is considered qualified to be employed in a scientific capacity by SNH can take either reason for culling Ravens as remotely credible. Wake up you people, the claim that Ravens predate sheep and lambs is a massive LIE ! The only generous excuse for anyone who believes it to be true is the possibility of jumping to conclusions. In most instances, where a farmer finds one of their beasts, usually a lamb which has been scavenged by a fox, crow or Raven, they assume without the slightest evidence that one of the chief suspects has attacked and killed a healthy lamb. During my many years of birdwatching on local grouse moors, and later spending years carrying out research into the requirements of Hen Harriers and Ravens, I feel I have a reasonable understanding of the psychology of those directly involved from farming and game management businesses. Most of them are highly disposed towards exaggeration and fabrication of events they claim to have witnessed first hand. The groupthink phenomenon takes hold, and before long it becomes hard to find anyone among their ranks who believes in reality. It’s a form of mass delusion. How can SNH officers with a background in science believe the fairy stories, when the science research that has been carried out has produced no evidence that Ravens either kill healthy livestock or significantly impact on wader breeding success? Or was the licence application and decision left in the hands of civil service bureaucrats? There is so much unexplained about the process that it is difficult not to conjure up conspiracy theories about who in the background influenced what appears to be a political decision to grant the licence. Or was it just one massive blunder? Whatever, it is a dangerous precedent, and should be immediately overturned and consigned to the dustbin. The reputation of Scottish Natural Heritage is careering rapidly downhill, which is not good news for any of us.

        1. When reading the RSPB response it became very clear the difference between their methodology and that of SNH

          RSPBs reasoning is science based and takes that science to its logical conclusion.
          SNH took a decision to kill Ravens and then worked backwards to find excuses to fit that aim.

          It is quite clear that the grouse lobby have been working towards this for years. Understanding Predation was published in 2016 and must have taken a while to compile.

  12. I seem to remember Curlew and Lapwing numbers were struggling before Raven numbers started to increase. In the Midlands were there was no Ravens in some birds in other areas it was said that drainage of lands were the main cause of lower numbers of Lapwings, which was man’s doing not Ravens. The Curlew was decreasing in numbers were Raven’s were rare or non was probably in main point was more than likely to the increased activities of man on there breeding grounds. But as usual it in the way of man’s hobbies, games or making a bigger profit the answer is kill it.

    1. Along similar thoughts, I wondered how continual burning of the landscape could benefit the food supply for these birds and their chicks? Worms! According to the RSPB site, away from the coast, worms are the diet of Oystercatchers too. Has anyone done a study into soil and invertebrates in dgs areas? Oh, perhaps the Ravens are eating all the worms?!

  13. I find it incredible that curlews (66,000 UK breeding pairs), lapwings (140,000 UK breeding pairs), and oystercatchers (110,000 UK breeding pairs) are being used to justify the slaughter of ravens (<7,500 UK breeding pairs).

    We all know what this sham is about, once again a governement department is being asked to jump to the tune of the shooters and they're jumping.

    Scottish National Heritage are as bad as Natural England, they're both totally unfit for purpose.

    Between them we've had a gull cull in Bowland to protect grouse and what looks to be a poor attempt to make it almost impossible to get to the facts. We've had licences to kill buzzards in England to protect pheasants. We've had a licence to disturb white-tailed eagles in Oban. We've also had a failure to apply licence restrictions to an estate owned at the time by the vice-chairman of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and now this.

    Sadly, we are having the piss ripped out of us.

  14. What a load of f***ing career bureaucratic nonsense, even down to trivial errors like not knowing that “Oystercatcher” is one word not two. They are really floundering to justify this massive bungling error, in providing a licence to cull Ravens to a set-up fake group operating under the pretext of caring a toss about breeding waders. Pardon my language, but I can’t recall any previous action (or inaction) by SNH which has made me so angry. It will be a potential disaster for the UK conservation movement in future if we don’t manage to convince SNH to reverse this appalling decision as soon as possible. Their internal advisers clearly haven’t a clue about Raven ecology, or the nature of predation within all ecosystems, which is perfectly natural and not to be meddled with. We should be focusing almost exclusively on the anthropogenic causes of the wader decline, and not resorting to unethical mindless violence against misconceived so-called pest species, especially so when no scientific justification exists. Please sign the petitions, and flood Mike Cantlay ( with emails !

    1. Iain – I sincerely hope the RSPB and RS group approach you for your expert knowledge if they are going to consider a judicial review.

      1. Thanks for your kind words lizzybusy, but I think that is very unlikely as I’m not considered part of the elite inner circle who attend to matters at that level. With this current development I’m frustrated by the fact that my revealing Raven research has not been published yet.

  15. I cant get anything out of my local SNH staff… they are disgusted and they genuinely know nothing about this project… and they think this points to the licence being issued outside the normal approach to licensing.

    I hope that their scientific advisory committee stick to principles rather than politics.

  16. Closer reading of the task that SNH is setting for the advisory committee suggests that they have been set a very narrow and leading brief. Does anyone know who is on the committee and how we can get in touch with them? We need to be sure they ask the right question’s!
    Basic science….adequate baseline data, rigorous methodologies, control sites to provide realistic comparison etc. We need to be sure they understand that the Understanding Predation study was just a lot of homespun folklore that had been debunked long before the old boys club conned SNH to wasting paper and ink.

  17. ‘We are clear that this trial to save waders is not connected to any local crime and regret the conflation of the two issues by others.’
    Right. A severe case of wilful blindness in need of urgent RPUK spectacles (or perhaps a brain transplant).

    With Permission of RPUK here are the RSBP maps of missing satellite tagged Golden Eagles and in black the proposed Raven cull area. (Not exact but good enough)

    and RSPB crime maps for 1994-2014 with the proposed Raven cull area outlined roughly in black. Since 2014 a Red Kite was found poisoned in January 2015 and a Raven was poisoned in 2017 and the ‘missing’ White-tailed Eagle this month.


  18. Coming back to this, you get the impression whoever wrote this looked up ‘Waders’ in the big book of birds. Oystercatchers are hardly upland moors birds – seashore, farmland and even urban populations, but they are not that common on the moors (Redshank would have been more appropriate)

    1. Well, given that there is bound to be several years’ worth of pre-cull baseline data, I’m sure that SNH will be able to tell you exactly how many breeding Oystercatchers and of course Oyster Catchers there are in the cull area.

    2. In Scotland even Redshank are few and far between on grouse moors, and where they do occur are associated with waterbodies or in peripheral habitats such as slow-flowing streams through rush pasture. The only waders breeding regularly on grouse moors are Curlew, Golden Plover and Snipe, with the occasional Dunlin where there are peaty pools. All these species have evolved strategies for avoiding predation by Ravens and other potential predators. Do the licence holders planning to cull 300 Ravens really care about breeding wader success, other than those which are legitimate quarry species? Has a feasibility study revealed the potential impact on the Raven population within the cull zone and in surrounding areas? Or does SNH really believe the contrived ‘vermin’ hypothesis about these magnificent birds?

  19. What i wrote to the Chair and to the media team – have also written directly to Mike Cantlay too – Good morning

    Having read your response defending the cull I am now astonished that you are NOT conflating raptor persecution which is rife in this area, with the proposed raven cull. Wader numbers ARE under threat, though more by changing land use and although there are pockets of good wader habitat, the majority of this 40000+ Ha area is driven grouse moor. A fair bit is over-grazed – the land owners are even getting subsidies to reduce stocking densities and as far as their faux concern over waders is concerned, they are planning Sitka plantations on curlew nesting areas. Please defend our land and do not pander to these ‘owners’ who just wish to kill everything that they perceive as vermin.

    Best wishes

  20. Always suspicious of notions that it needs people to deliver a sustainable balance between species. What did these species do in the several hundred years between the last British wolf and the late 19th century expansion and range of the human population? It would seem from contemporary writings that species were capable of finding their own balance, just as they were when there were major predators in the UK.

    Even when habitat is consistently high quality species like curlew maintain population numbers through their own abundance – both by being able to mob predators (avian and terrestrial) and by repeat laying. One numbers fall below a critical threshold, this can’t happen. As numbers have failed because of land management changes leading to habitat loss and the dramatic decline in insect numbers due to pesticide use, the ecologically rational response would be to captive breed large numbers of wader chicks for a couple of seasons to rebuild natural populations so that their innate response to perfectly natural predation which a functioning ecosystem demands can kick in successfully. The National Trust has had success in this approach with curlews so what’s wrong with SNH other than it’s lazy supine capitulation to the shooting industry?

  21. Have just sent this to Mike Cantley at SNH

    “Dear Mike Cantley

    I am absolutely astounded by SNH’s decision to issue a licence to cull Ravens in Perthshire. They are a protected species for good reason and have suffered enough over the years at the hands of shooting interests. How on earth do you justify pandering to the designs of an industry that destroys upland habitat purely to make money out of killing birds for pleasure. You should be ashamed of yourself for allowing this and others within SNH with greater moral compass must be sickened that they are part of a responsible government organisation that acts in this way.

    I live in hope that the decision to issue a license to cull Ravens will be reversed and that you will respect the weight of scientific fact and opinion which is against this.

    I would also like to think that SNH will turn itself around and start fulfilling it’s remit to protect the interests of the natural environment, instead of rolling over to the demands of a minority group of blood sport enthusiasts and people who think they have the right to manipulate and destroy anything that doesn’t suit their objectives regardless of legal and moral parametres.

    Please get your act together and do the right thing.

    Yours sincerely”

    Don’t suppose it’ll get a response but it made me feel a bit better saying what I felt.

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