Scottish Countryside Alliance director Jamie Stewart shares his thoughts on raven control.
In recent weeks, the Scottish Countryside Alliance and other land-based organisations welcomed the pragmatic approach taken by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in the granting of a five-year research licence for raven control across part of Perthshire, to learn more about the impact of raven predation on ground nesting birds such as the curlew.
In the face of fierce remonstrations, the decision is a win for practical conservation.
SNH’s opinion, along with the community involved with the trial, is that the ravens in this area could be having a detrimental effect on the breeding success of one of the most vulnerable species in the country.
Currently the only information available is first-hand accounts of raven predation and a desk study that concluded more research was needed, so this trial will provide a wider evidence base and a greater understanding of this potential conservation conflict. It might boost curlew populations, or it might not– either way it won’t affect national raven numbers (which have grown 134% in the last 20 years) and in five years’ time we will know more about how to save curlews in Scotland.
However, the decision seems to have whipped up a degree of hysteria from the usual anti-shooting brigade such as the anonymous ink- slingers at Raptor Persecution UK and the Scottish Raptor Study Group, who have desperately tried to link the granting of the licence to grouse management. Demands have been issued for the licence to be revoked, petitions launched, and outrage directed at SNH chairman Mike Cantlay.
BBC presenter Chris Packham joined the debate by writing a public letter to SNH which said: ‘If you had asked a team of the very best PR executives to come up with a plan to incinerate the last vestiges of credibility, to banish any dwindling reserves of integrity and to destroy any remaining trust between conservationists and SNH, then it’s my bet that they would have suggested this. Top work.
‘As it stands the already beleaguered reputation of SNH lies in bloodied tatters, and, whilst I am not a PR person I would suggest that to reverse this ill-judged and ruinous decision – as quickly as possible – would be a jolly good idea.’
Ironically, one of the main voices of dissent has come from the RSPB, the charity who presume to protect all avian species, issuing the following bizarre view on the issue: ‘any help they [curlew] are given to arrest their decline, especially where it might involve the lethal control of other predatory species, needs to be founded on an extremely robust evidence base before such intervention is considered.’
A strange and hypocritical statement for a charity that partakes in the lethal control of thousands of animals annually and who has claimed May as ‘Curlew Crisis Month’, yet is not prepared to trial raven control to arrest the ‘crisis’.
What makes the lethal control of foxes, black backed seagulls and carrion crows which the RSPB already undertake as part of their ground nesting bird programme, more acceptable than raven control? Neither have an impact on the wider population of the controlled species.
Rather than fighting against innovation and adaptive management measures, scientific organisations like the RSPB should be leading the charge of trialling new methods to save species. The calls to stop the trial have been predictably steeped in emotive language and anti-shooting sentiment rather than engagement with the issue.
It seems that the rhetoric from these ‘conservationists’ will only end once the curlew has disappeared from our uplands. Fortunately, the SNH, GWCT and land managers are putting in their own money and time to save this magnificent species. Long may this continue.