Raven cull update: scientific advisory committee NOT being asked to repeal licence

Earlier this year, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) issued a licence permitting the mass killing of ravens in Strathbraan, Perthshire, on the basis of ‘seeing what happens’.

The licence was issued to a consortium calling itself the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders, on the pretext of protecting waders, but many of us believe it is actually to protect red grouse, given the number of game-shooting organisations involved and given the amount of grouse moor within the raven cull zone.

[Map of the raven cull zone at Strathbraan by RPUK. Boundary line in yellow; grouse moor boundaries in white]:

Earlier blogs on the controversial raven cull licence can be read here.

There are a few updates on this issue:

Firstly, the public petition opposing the killing of ravens ‘just to see what happens’ has now reached an incredible 165,000 signatures (see here). Public opinion is clearly against this cull and yet SNH, and the Scottish Government, continues to ignore these concerns.

Secondly, SNH has delayed the release of information about this cull licence for a further 20 working days. It was due to release its FoI response yesterday but has said it needs more time. It is now due to report no later than 20 June 2018.

Thirdly, and perhaps most shockingly, it now looks like SNH’s so-called ‘re-think’ on the raven cull licence, as reported in The Times, was nothing but a blatant attempt to mislead the public and quell the barrage of deserved criticism about this licence. Remember, SNH told us that ‘in recognition of the concerns expressed’ it had asked its Scientific Advisory Committee to review the subject. However, in response to a Parliamentary question lodged by Claudia Beamish MSP earlier this month, it turns out that the Scientific Advisory Committee is NOT being asked to advise whether the licence should be withdrawn:

Question S5W-16449:

To ask the Scottish Government when the review of the lethal control of ravens licence that was granted to the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders will be completed; what aspects of the licence will be reviewed and whether the review will consider repealing the licence.

Answered by Roseanna Cunningham on 18/5/2018:

Scottish Natural Heritage’s Scientific Advisory Committee will review at the end of May of how the licence that was granted to the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders fits with the wider work on adaptive action to save waders.

The Committee will consider the scientific evidence available on potential impacts of raven predation on wader populations in Strathbraan, and the methodologies proposed in this particular case. The Committee will also review the proposed monitoring to maximise what will be learned from this project. The Committee is not being asked to consider repealing the licence, but their advice will help inform ongoing discussions with the licence holder. The licence was granted initially for one year as part of a proposed five year project.

What the hell? So even if the Scientific Advisory Committee (an esteemed panel of scientifically-qualified experts) considers that the scientific evidence IS NOT available to support the notion that raven predation impacts on wader populations (as far as we’re aware this evidence isn’t available), and therefore the licence shouldn’t have been issued, SNH can, if it wants, ignore this advice and continue to licence this multi-year raven cull.

If our understanding of this situation is correct, we believe this gives us further grounds to challenge SNH’s decision via judicial review. We continue to have discussions about this with some lawyers who have a special expertise in judicial review.

We’ll be blogging again shortly on the other responses to the Parliamentary questions about the raven cull licence lodged by Claudia Beamish MSP [UPDATE 4pm: see here] and also providing an update on the Parliamentary motion lodged by Alison Johnstone MSP (Lothian, Scottish Greens) calling for the withdrawal of the raven cull licence.

Meanwhile at SNH HQ:

[Cartoon by Mr Carbo]

27 thoughts on “Raven cull update: scientific advisory committee NOT being asked to repeal licence”

  1. Yes please take them to judicial review. I for one would contribute. This worked with Scottish Borders Council who were proposing to destroy our local park with a 3G football pitch. You need to make yourselves a limited company though.

  2. Are the SNH clowns unaware that Ravens also prey on Red Grouse chicks and eggs and the “WADER PROTECTION” is an elaborate con?????

    1. I doubt it. Past experience has shown that SNH is not neutral – read previous blogs for how cosy they are with the pro-shooting organisations

  3. The Strathbraan Community Collaboration for grouse chicks, sorry Waders doesn’t give a toss about the outcome of all of this. All they want is enough time to kill as many Ravens as possible before something brings it to a halt.

    It seems pretty obvious to me that for all the bullshit, the scottish government are fully supportive of DGS and SNH facilitate. Then they have the cheek to proclaim Scotland a premier wildlife destination.

    What with golf courses on SSSI’s and DGS in national parks it makes a joke of wildlife and environmental concern.

    Typical hypocrisy of our times. They give you all the platitudes and corporate doublespeak, feed you a few titbits via banal official statements; but don’t let anything stand in the way of the money.

    Rant over for now.

          1. The maxim “They’re only in it for the money” doesn’t reveal the whole story, and although partly true the real money nowadays is in the land value attributed to grouse moors, due to international interests of the super-rich who like to spend a holiday in wild, rugged Scotland and the uplands of northern England massacring grouse. The notion that the profits from this enterprise contribute significantly to the national or rural economy is largely imaginary, because most of the profits made from shoots and land sales end up in secretive hedge funds and elsewhere in international tax havens. The number of gamekeepers that would be laid off were grouse shooting banned is insignificant in relation to the overall unemployment figure in Scotland and northern England. Many of them could be redeployed in other game interests like pheasant shooting (unfortunately), which may increase following the loss of grouse moors. Or more hopefully, redeployed in real jobs in industry or agriculture. The idea suggested now and again, that they be retrained as nature reserve wardens, is plainly ridiculous, and an insult to those who genuinely wish to enter that profession.

            Ironically, the money currently spent on employing gamekeepers to lurk around the countryside killing native wildlife, including endangered birds of prey like Golden Eagles and Hen Harriers, is actually being wasted as well as being illegal, because the killing is prompted by an obsessive view that predators significantly affect grouse bags. Meanwhile these presumptions have never really been tested (cf. the Raven cull), and in any case if there was some impact, it is likely to be negligible and the investment involved in killing them not really worthwhile. The slaughter of so many thousands of Mountain Hares for example, under the false pretext that their grazing has a negative impact on vegetation, might appear to outsiders to be completely pointless. However the truth is that it provides more fun for the sadistic killing brigade that enjoys killing wild animals, and a perk for the gamekeepers themselves. It seems that those who indulge in such cruelty will stop at nothing in their mission to demonise and persecute “unwanted” predatory birds, or any natural competitors which can be construed as worthless. Ravens are truly iconic creatures both in nature and cultural human history, useful and harmless scavengers which do not deserve their false reputation as “devil birds.” If anything is indeed evil, it is the gamekeepers and farmers who persistently persecute the birds, sadly now joined and encouraged by the organisation that used to be Scottish Natural Heritage.

            1. That’s what I was suggesting in my first comment.

              What I was driving at was the apparent gullibility of many politicians who seem to take all statements at face value, repeat endlessly what their peers have said and follow the lead set by NGO’s and others with authority and wealth.

              Then of course there are politicians who have a vested interest such as those who go driven grouse shooting and are interested in any perceived personal benefit this may bring them.

              As a group I get the impression that for all their fine words the government will be in favour of anything they think will increase the flow of money into the country, real or perceived.

  4. I would have thought that the Scientific Advisory Committee wouldn’t have been responsible for issuing or refusing the licence to the applicant in the first place. The responsibility of the SAC would have been to provide the SNH with advice, based on scientific evidence following a transparent consultation process, where the views, experiences and contributions from all interested parties were taken into account.

    They (SAC) just weren’t asked to do so. At least that’s the way it appears. Unless, of course a decision was taken in the knowledge that advice (from the SAC) would have been unfavourable there a conscious effort to make sure that no advice was forthcoming.

    Pressure will now be on the SNH to justify their decision; their decision-making process; and, very likely, to deal with robust questioning on what supporting evidence for the cull was asked of, and provided by, the applicant. There’s every reason to have the same level of transparency here as there is in the planning process.

  5. This further shocking revelation has profound implications for bird protection and avian conservation throughout the UK. How much lower can SNH stoop, and abuse the science-based rationale for assessing licence applications? I feel for the ground staff who must be quite shocked and deeply embarrassed by the supposed conservation advisory role that Government agency represents. The future must surely be at a potentially dangerous turning point for a range of vulnerable species, including Cormorants, Goosanders and who knows what other fish-eating birds, not to mention gamekeeper demon birds like Goshawks, Sparrowhawks, Buzzards and other raptors. Just to see what happens. Those of us who know and understand Ravens intimately are fully aware that these magnificent birds pose no significant threat to breeding waders, and the concept that flocks descend upon wader territories and hoover up eggs and chicks is sheer fantasy and with no foundation in scientific fact. Neither is it the case that Ravens pose any significant threat to grouse. The proposed cull is also founded upon a false premise that the non-breeding flocks are more or less sedentary, and ignores the fact that the “resident” Raven population consists of only 43 breeding pairs in Perth and Kinross at the latest census. The truth is that non-breeding Ravens can wander over considerable distances, concentrating in temporary ‘hotspots’ for field voles. So the potential for creating a sink effect is very real, and could easily mask the true number being killed. The mind boggles as to how SNH intends to monitor the actual number being culled. We must resist this trend vigorously, and I sincerely hope that RPUK and others manage to achieve a judicial review as soon as possible. We face an insidious and dangerous enemy of nature, whose morale has been significantly boosted by this latest sinister development. SNH is clearly no longer fit for purpose, having betrayed nature and science in one fell swoop.

  6. I wish I could support a judicial review financially, but we are on a fixed (and post Brexit rapidly eroding) fixed income. I agree there seems to be a case for such a review. Good luck!

    1. Natural England were recently challenged, successfully but interestingly they conceded on minor points – a skeptic might ponder that they did not wish to see a precedent set in the High Court?

      SNH appear to be heading along that same path ….

      Are either organisation still fit for purpose?

  7. Happy to contribute to judicial review costs… it works. Mark Avery brought Natural England to heel over their arrogant rule bypass.
    However, we do need clear answers on what baseline information was used to support the fake research application. Are there several years of wader and raven counts, collected under a rigorous methodology? What other potential impacts on wader nests are being monitored, other potential predators? weather?, disturbance by livestock? How will the grousemoor owners claim success (as they will). SNH are well known for accepting dreadful data when it comes to licence applications- but this is for “research” so surely the standard should be higher?
    All of this information must have been wrapped up in a robust project brief that was surely submitted in support of the licence? Although they have not consulted anyone outside the organisation (including it seems academics at Aberdeen, (or Scottish Goverment ?) who may well have offered a crumb of support).. surely this must have been widely consulted internally- they have ornithologists and moorland scientists- there must be an internal paper trail?

    1. Agree totally with the view that any application must be supported by evidence (not fabricated fiction) as circusmaxim describes above and that the application must be made available to public scrutiny. If it is underpinned by legitimate robust science based studies then these need to be peer assessed by a respected community of scientists, not corporate consultants in the pay of landowners and associates.

  8. I can’t vouch that this is true, but a few years ago I was informed by an SNH Manager that the organisation was no longer consulting external ornithologists, due to imminent redundancy threats posed by austerity to their own field and advisory staff. I was further shocked to be told that there was only ONE in-house adviser in my part of Scotland dealing with ornithological issues, including providing recommendations for licence applications. I still find this hard to believe, so will not name the individual officer. However… a short while thereafter I had cause to discuss the matter of “responsible persons” being granted licences to cull Ravens, for alleged offences that Ravens very rarely commit. I was quite astonished (unsurprisingly with hindsight) to discover that this “Ornithological Adviser” knew very little about Ravens, and refuted unreservedly my hard-earned results of a seven year project studying interactions between flocks of Ravens with outdoor lambing ewes. I came away from that discussion despairing at the “Adviser’s” lack of knowledge, belief in archaic rural mythology, and his refusal to remove the mistruths about Ravens killing lambs from the SNH advisory leaflet. What hope is there for the future, assuming this was an example of a typical SNH “Ornithological Adviser”?

  9. Will there be any Ravens left in the area by the time all this chitchat and obfuscation concludes…..while SNH are not doing or saying anything about this sick licence, presumably during the silence absolute bastards are killing our wildlife….excuse my French. !

    1. It appears that not once has SNH clarified any estimate of the current Raven population in Perthshire. We know from local bird report data that there were 43 breeding pairs at the last census, but the population of non-breeding immature birds appears to be undetermined. Presumably (!) the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders [sic] carried out a pre-application census to inform SNH of the potential impact of killing 300 alleged non-breeders? How strange if they did not engage the services of an independent ornithological consultant, or the SOC as the official bird recorders, to obtain this vital data? From what we’ve been told so far, no stakeholder from the ornithological community was consulted by SNH. Very odd indeed. The licence, of course, does not permit the culling of breeding Ravens. How do the gamekeepers and any other hired guns intend to discriminate whether a Raven flying overhead is a breeding bird or not? Presumably (!) this was explained in the licence application? Could the application not be made available in the public domain through a FOI request? This whole exercise stinks of corruption, and SNH appears to be answerable to no-one.

      1. They’ll neither know or care about breeding status. SNH has given them the go ahead to kill as many ravens as possible while the cull licence is in force and the numbers, breeding or otherwise will never be known. Can RPUK make an FOI to have sight of the application?

        1. Hi Ron,

          FoIs have been submitted by a number of people. When the 20-working day deadline was reached, SNH said it needed more time to respond and has added a further 20 working days, so it won’t release anything until mid-late June.

      2. Completely agree with all your points and indeed, who do SNH answer to, end of day. I am heartbroken…..

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