Raven cull: legal challenge crowdfunder smashes £10k target on Day One!

Yesterday the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) launched a crowdfunder to raise funds to cover the costs of a legal challenge against SNH’s decision to issue a raven cull licence to grouse moor owners and gamekeepers in Strathbraan, Perthshire.

The legal challenge will take the form of the SRSG applying to the courts to seek a judicial review of the decision-making process used by SNH when they agreed to issue the licence.

The initial crowdfunder target was set at £10k and the SRSG had just 30 days to raise these funds. The SRSG couldn’t instruct its lawyers until this funding was secured.

From the minute the crowdfunder page went live at 7am yesterday, donations streamed in, some large, some small, all of them important. By 9pm, the initial target of £10k had been smashed. What an overwhelming response! As @RareBirdAlertUK wrote on Twitter, ‘If SNH was under any illusion about the strength of feeling against the raven cull, they won’t be after today’.

It’s doubtful SNH was under any illusion though. A recent FoI response received by one of our blog readers revealed that SNH received 1247 emails about the raven cull licence. Of those, just 73 were supportive. The rest (1,174) were “either unsupportive or seeking clarification of [the licensing] approach“. That’s a lot of angry and/or bemused people.

Over 500 people have donated to the crowdfunder so far –  and it’s only Day 2 – all of them in support of the SRSG’s decision to launch this legal challenge, and it’s not hard to see why they’d be supportive. SNH has been given every opportunity to explain and answer straightforward questions about the raven cull licence over the last six weeks but has simply ducked and dodged and refused to engage on any meaningful level. So much for its claimed ‘commitment to high standards of openness and transparency’. The public has clearly had enough.

The success of the crowdfunder was picked up by The National and there’s an article in today’s edition (here). It doesn’t provide any new information except for SNH saying it was ‘wrong to suggest the raven cull could lead to a cull on other birds’ and an SNH spokeswoman was quoted: “This is a community-based application which seeks to bring a balance between species, bringing back waders from the brink whilst still maintaining a healthy national population of ravens“.

Wrong to suggest the raven cull could lead to a cull on other birds? Really? Perhaps the spokeswoman hadn’t listened to this interview given by Nick Halfhide (Director of Sustainable Development at SNH) in early May who said, “Let’s have more trials [culls] whether it’s about ravens or other things so we can really test to see what we can learn from this kind of approach“.

The solicitor handling the raven cull legal challenge (Sindi Mules of Balfour & Manson LLP) has now been instructed and the QC will be instructed imminently, so as preparations begin for the legal proceedings there will be no further commentary on the details of this case until the lawyers advise differently.

Meanwhile, the SRSG’s crowdfunder is open for the next 28 days and now has a stretch target of £25k. At the moment it’s already halfway there at £12.5k.

If you’d like to donate please click here and please do keep sharing it on social media and amongst friends, family and colleagues.




37 Responses to “Raven cull: legal challenge crowdfunder smashes £10k target on Day One!”

  1. 1 Mordaj1
    June 6, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    [Ed: comment deleted as don’t want to give the other side any ideas. Yes, it has been considered and advice is being taken. Thanks for flagging it]

  2. 2 Sue Cluley
    June 6, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    Times are tough enough in the first place for most of us without having to find money to defend some outrageous cull of wildlife that should not be happening in the first place!! I’m behind fighting this cull all the way but can barely afford to feed myself. Would so love to help. I’m sorry.

  3. 4 Fight for Fairness
    June 6, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    Glad to make a small contribution and so pleased that the target was reached so quickly. Proves the strength of feeling behind this initiative.

  4. 5 Loki
    June 6, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    Can’t SNH be sued for failing to adhere to scientific investigation prior to issuing this raven cull licence? Doesn’t it have a mandate as a statutory body to thoroughly investigate before issuing a licence? God – imagine if we all worked in this way. It’s just scandalous!

  5. 6 Merlin
    June 6, 2018 at 7:59 pm

    small contribution made but massive thanks to all involved in helping to level the playing field and joining the fight against the organised crime that pollutes our uplands

  6. June 6, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    I wonder if it would be possible to get odds at the bookie for which figures at SNH will be forced to resign? Maybe we could recoup the crowdfunder?

    However… a serious questions…
    Do we know what questions were put before the snh science panel?
    Do we know when they are due to feedback?

    • June 7, 2018 at 9:08 am

      Several of us had made FiO requests seeking exactly information about the decision making process. As far as I know SNH have requested time extensions for all these requests. At this point I’m told by RPUK that the best course of action is to allow them the time extension to reply since until that expires we have no grounds for appeal.

      • June 8, 2018 at 9:54 am

        I guess the key document will be the approved brief for the research project….along with the papers associated with its development. I wonder if an FOI for a single, easily located document…say the project brief… would be dealt with more rapidly?

  7. 10 Iain Gibson
    June 6, 2018 at 11:31 pm

    So SNH says it was ‘wrong to suggest the raven cull could lead to a cull on other birds.’ Well, perhaps they would like to tell us what led to the astonishingly inept decision to permit the cull of 300 Ravens. What is it about Ravens that entitles society to take such action against them? There are profound psychological influences generating this hatred of a species, perpetuated by believers in folk tales and dark imagery. You could almost believe “it’s ‘cos they are black”! Yet anyone who has sat on a hill and been enthralled by the croak of a Raven flying high overhead, or who has studied these beautiful and graceful birds in detail, cannot help but fall in love with them. So long as your understanding is not biased by the many falsehoods and scaremongering the birds unduly suffer. To be able to sit close by and observe the behaviour of communal non-breeding Ravens incites marvel at their level of intelligence, and the variety of sounds being uttered that can almost be perceived as language. They provide a spectacular display of communal aerobatics as they swirl and dance in the updraft on a hillside. Only the truly insensitive or cruel members of human society could perceive them as some sort of vermin which require their lives to be terminated. SNH’s approach in granting this licence is neither ethical nor scientific, it is profound ignorance combined with heartlessness. We must put an end to this experimental barbarity, although overturning a warped cultural mindset will not be the easiest of tasks.

    • 11 Loki
      June 6, 2018 at 11:54 pm

      Beautifully put, Iain. I think the world is fucked just now – there seems to be a war against nature, science and common- sense!

    • 14 Dougie
      June 7, 2018 at 10:44 am

      “SNH’s approach in granting this licence is neither ethical nor scientific, it is profound ignorance combined with heartlessness”

      Profound ignorance probably exists in super abundance. However, my suspicion is that there is another powerful force at work. People with influence are twisting the tails of the decision makers in the SNH and Sc. Gov. in order to formulate policy that embraces the destruction of wildlife.

  8. 15 lizzybusy
    June 7, 2018 at 8:13 am

    Doesn’t the wonderful response to the SNH license and the crowdfunder appeal put the pathetic response of the MSPs to shame. Hopefully they’ll now see how out of step they are and start to make amends. As ever RPS, thanks for informing, updating and inspiring so many people. You’re an absolute blessing.

  9. 16 Loki
    June 7, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    Response from Lewis MacDonald MSP:

    Thank you for your email regarding the decision of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to issue a licence on a ‘mass cull’ of ravens in Strathbraan, Perthshire.

    As RSPB Scotland’s Species Champion for the curlew, I have been in contact with the RSPB about their thoughts on this cull. They have expressed their concerns that the cull is being carried out without sufficient understanding of the relationship between predation and wading bird populations.

    I share RSPB Scotland’s concerns that the trial is not based on sound evidence that ravens have a population impact on wading birds. As such, all possible avenues, such as local habitat quality, the possible impacts of ground predators such as foxes, and the efficacy of other legal predator control should be thoroughly evaluated before this proposed cull goes ahead

    As I understand it, the SNH’s Scientific Advisory Committee are now looking at the scientific validity of the present research trial and will advise the SNH Board on their findings soon.

    In the meantime, my Scottish Labour colleague, Claudia Beamish has submitted Parliamentary questions to clarify whether SNH now intends to proceed with a cull in the face of a growing public outcry. I have attached the answers to those questions overleaf.

    I hope this information is useful to you.

    Yours sincerely,

    Lewis Macdonald


    Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Scottish Labour): 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.

    Roseanna Cunningham: 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.


    Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government how many lethal control of ravens licences have been issued by Scottish Natural Heritage in each year since 2016, broken down by the (a) reason for issue and (b) number of ravens covered by each licence.

    Roseanna Cunningham: The detail of raven control licences issued by Scottish Natural Heritage are summarised in the following table.

    Number of Licences Issued
    Number of Ravens Permitted to be Killed
    Number of ravens killed
    2018 (to end April)
    N/A (this information only becomes available from June onwards each year)
    140 licences issued for preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters. The Strathbraan licence was granted for science, research and education purposes for 69 birds (included in total)
    All of the licences were for preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters.
    All of the licences were for preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters.

    • 17 Iain Gibson
      June 7, 2018 at 11:41 pm

      It is unbelievably frustrating for those of us who observe closely or study Ravens to see the leading reason given for issuing a licence to kill as “for preventing serious damage to livestock…”. Where is the evidence for this, especially to justify the use of the term “serious”, that merits granting 141 licences to kill 1,082 Ravens in 2018? This is utterly scandalous, especially when justification is accepted by SCOTTISH NATURAL HERITAGE in the form of anecdotal, unproven claims made by a bunch of gamekeepers and farming interests. Killing potential competition, whether precautionary or justified (in loose terms), is in these people’s DNA. It simply beggars belief that SNH chose not to consult stakeholders from scientific, ornithological or conservation camps, thereby introducing 100% bias, from those whose detailed observations of Ravens are usually down the barrel of a gun! Even after the decision was announced as a fait accompli, SNH cynically rejected the views of virtually every Raven expert in the country. Whether they even listened is open to question. This is both cynical and highly suspicious. How can they possibly hope to maintain any credibility among conservationists following this shameful fiasco?

      My own research, and that of others, has demonstrated that the “marauding flocks” of Ravens, which allegedly “swoop down into fields of lambing ewes [or breeding waders!]”, are merely interested in clearing up afterbirths and any natural fatalities of either adult ewes or sickly lambs. My own local studies (yet to be published) also demonstrated that these communal gatherings, of mainly immature, non-breeding Ravens, prefer to feed in lambing fields adjacent to grasslands with especially abundant field vole populations. Their activity budgets can be broadly separated into loafing communally (often on a high point), displaying and interacting with others in the sky, foraging in fields with lambing stock, and foraging in adjacent rough grassland, apparently searching among tussocks for field voles and their nests. They often forage in loose flocks across moorland, but never have I witnessed a grouse being disturbed off its nest, or alarm-calling when a Raven was near its chicks. No doubt such events do happen occasionally, but in my experience rarely. There is, of course, a possibility that they could also be predating nests of birds like pipits and skylarks, or the occasional wader, but again I have never witnessed this actually happening. I suspect it must happen infrequently, as an occasional bonus to the Ravens when searching for field voles. During my seven seasons of research, every field they foraged in held a dense population of field voles, compared to control fields not attended by Ravens which held low numbers or no field voles. Perhaps intentionally, waders seemed to avoid breeding among high densities of voles, which would seem to make sense as voles attract more foxes and kestrels.

      In 2018, SNH issued 140 licences for “preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, foodstuffs for livestock [sic], crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters.” Having casually observed Ravens for more than twenty years, I have never witnessed behaviour which could possibly justify these claims, which I suspect to be concocted excuses or simple misunderstandings. It seems unlikely that Ravens in my extensive study area behave differently to Ravens elsewhere. According to Scottish Natural Heritage, “The Strathbraan licence was granted for science, research and education [sic] purposes for 69 birds (included in total)”. Yeah, sure it is! We used to trust SNH with looking after the interests of our wildlife and natural habitats, but clearly more powerful forces with counter interests are now pulling the strings. How can SNH’s original ethos and intended purpose be rescued, and how can we persuade them to revert to a firmly scientific approach?

      • 18 HypocrisyReigns
        June 8, 2018 at 8:54 am

        So it’s okay for your anecdotal evidence but no one else’s?

        • 19 Loki
          June 8, 2018 at 5:20 pm

          Iain’s work is publishable which means he has scientific credentials, you xxxxxx

          [Ed: Loki, please refrain from personal abuse. HipocrisyReigns has a valid point: please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anecdotal_evidence ]

        • 21 Iain Gibson
          June 10, 2018 at 1:00 am

          HypocrisyReigns, I won’t dignify your comment by entering into any argument or slanging match, but it’s a bit rich (hypocrisy even?) to compare my seven-year detailed research project, and twenty years of closely observing Ravens, with casual anecdotes delivered by biased farmers and gamekeepers. In a narrow sense I can accept that some might view my research as anecdotal, in that most of the observations were made on my own, but that’s by no means unusual in scientific research. For a bit of informative education, I suggest you read The Raven (published by Poyser 1997, ISBN 0-85661-090-9), written by the late Derek Ratcliffe, who was one of the most distinguished naturalists of the 20th century. My desire to study Ravens in my own humble way was inspired by his writing, especially his description of earlier work by an amateur ornithologist which involved direct observation of Ravens in lambing fields. My seven-year project involved over eighty hours of intense observation and recording of the birds’ activities over that period during critical lambing times. Some might argue that farmers and shepherds have spent a lifetime with their flocks, but although I frequently observed them crossing fields on quad bikes to check their livestock, and attending to problems, not once did I see any one sitting for hours with binoculars or telescope (as I was), closely observing what Ravens were actually doing in the fields. They just assumed the birds were “up to no good.” I stand by my conclusions, and once published anyone is welcome to adopt a scientific approach and repeat my methodology or challenge the conclusions supported by actual evidence. In the meantime I can’t help notice that the Srathbraan Wader Saviours have produced nothing more than unconvincing anecdotal allegations (except apparently to SNH) that waders are affected by Raven predation, with not a shred of real evidence being gathered. Hence their stated objective to carry out the cull “just to see what happens”! By supporting this ridiculous licence application with its rather obvious hidden agenda, without consulting and then dismissing the views of other stakeholders, including Raven biologists, SNH could take a very long time to recover their credibility among scientists, ornithologists, all nature lovers and a large section of the general public. Hopefully the licence will be revoked.

          • 22 Anon
            June 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

            A lot of fancy writing and a lot of text but essentially you are admitting that your work is not peer reviewed (yet) and that it is your own observations. In essence what you have said is “I’ve spent a lot of time in the countryside around ravens so what I say is correct and the other side aren’t correct” – which is exactly what the people that you are slating do all day long in all of their press releases. Why are you right and they are wrong when the evidence is the same?

            If we continue with this tectonic shift where people expect you to be 100% protection of all birds and no killing ever or free reign to kill anything that looks at you funny as the only two camps available to be in then we are doomed to never reconcile and nothing will ever be achieved.

            I’m not saying that’s what you want to happen but it is what some seem to want. You only have to read the comments from the crowdfunding to see that there are a lot of ignorant people in the world about wildlife management. Unfortunately wildlife management exists, it happens and it has to happen. To what scale is where we should be debating things, not trying to have it completely banned or opened up to do it at will.

            I don’t really see the point in posting this and I won’t be commenting to any replies because this website has started on that path to 100% banning killing of all wildlife, which is not the way forward. It’s an echo chamber where the “reasoned” voices (not necessarily mine) are shouted down for speaking about reconciling.

            • 23 lizzybusy
              June 10, 2018 at 5:58 pm

              Anon and Hypocrisy – your casual dismissal of Ian’s work is shocking! Ian is an independent observer with no pecuniary interest in observing raven behaviour in the presence of livestock or game. He’s given you references of peer reviewed work and, over the last 10 months or so I’ve been following this blog, has referenced dozens of research papers to support his theories and observations. He clearly is an expert in his field. If you can provide similar, credible, independent research then make your case! I always think that when people have to resort to hurling insults at opponents or portraying them as extremists then their case is pretty weak or they feel threatened by the quality of the opposition point of view.

            • 24 Iain Gibson
              June 10, 2018 at 11:32 pm

              Anon, I won’t submit an elaborate reply, but I was intrigued by your statement that “Unfortunately wildlife management exists, it happens and it has to happen.” Isn’t that what they used to say about hanging witches and locking up people who were mentally disturbed? Or killing raptors? I might add there are non-lethal methods of “wildlife management,” which is essentially a euphemism for inflicting violent death.

            • 25 Willie Speirs.
              June 11, 2018 at 2:45 am

              Anon – You speak as if you may have more than a passing interest in this particular issue.

              The SNH should perhaps have been asking for a lot of fancy writing and a lot of text to be submitted as part of the application process before considering whether to issue a license for the raven cull. This fancy writing and a lot of text should then perhaps have had to stand scrutiny as part of a SNH transparent consultation process before considering whether to issue a license for the raven cull.

            • 26 Iain Gibson
              June 15, 2018 at 3:34 am

              Anon, you summarise my seven years of detailed research as “I’ve spent a lot of time in the countryside around ravens so what I say is correct and the other side aren’t correct.” You then go on to say that the farmers and gamekeepers I criticise do this “all day long in all of their press releases.” I didn’t realise they spent so much time writing up the results of their observations, but I beg to differ. If you can refer me to any of the said press releases which give accounts of detailed data gathering, I’d be very interested in seeing them. Most of the farmers in my study area are simply too busy to sit patiently for many days closely noting the micro-behaviour of Ravens. As for gamekeepers, they might be relatively thin on the ground, but I’ve never seen them doing anything remotely resembling detailed research; like some farmers, they merely presume that flocks of Ravens are “up to no good.” This is of no use, and contributes nothing to scientific knowledge. It would be extremely interesting to see what empirical data they submitted to SNH to convince that organisation that Ravens pose any significant threat to breeding waders. Why have they not published or at least provided a summary with data of their findings? Perhaps because they have none? Surely not.

    • June 9, 2018 at 11:49 am

      Yesterday I had a positive response from Claire Baker MSP:

      “I have supported motion S5M – 11986.

      Sottish Labours Spokesperson for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Claudia Beamish has written to Scottish Natural Heritage with urgent questions on the wisdom of instigating a cull of 300 ravens on an experimental basis which has no control measure in place to measure the impact on the wider population.

      Claudia has also submitted a number of Parliamentary questions to clarify whether SNG now intends to recind the licences in the face of a growing public outcry. The relevant responses are below.

      Kind regards


      Claire Baker MSP

      PQs posed by Claudia Beamish with responses

      S5w 16448

      Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government which stakeholders were consulted prior to Scottish Natural Heritage granting the lethal control of ravens licence to the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders.

      Roseanna Cunningham: Scottish Natural Heritage usually does not consult stakeholders when considering a licence application and did not do so prior to granting the control of ravens licence to the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders.

      […continues as Loki’s comment above]”

      However, Claire Baker’s name does not yet appear at http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&ReferenceNumbers=S5M-11986&ResultsPerPage=10

  10. 28 matthew dalby
    June 7, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Have contributed to the appeal, but am pissed off that I help fund SNH through the taxes I pay, then have to pay more to make sure they do their job properly.

  11. 29 Merlin
    June 13, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Nice to see on Springwatch last night Curlew Redshank and Dunlin all increasing their breeding populations on the RSPB reserve at Dovestones, simply improving the blanket bog holds higher densities of insects and as Chris pointed out, no need for any unnecessary predator control, it was almost as if he was having a dig at SNH (#ARSEHOLES)

  12. 30 SOG
    June 13, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    I’m curious. How are wader numbers in other areas, perhaps where Ravens are less common?

  13. 31 Adrian Taylor
    June 15, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    SNH, via a FOI request, have released the following PDF. https://www.nature.scot/strathbraan-licence-information-released

    • June 19, 2018 at 4:30 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing this. Highlights for me so far: (I started at the end for some reason)
      p182,184 reverse order SNH emails declining another licence ap for raven ‘control’ and stating that evidence for a link between raven predation and wader decline is poor, but suggesting applicant collaborates with SCCW
      p171-173 SNH briefing recognising contentious nature of licence approved; well informed – why didn’t Mike Cantlay express this? Didn’t read the memo?
      p153 someone at GWCT admitting being “brain dead”
      p137 rspb email concerns spot on
      All the template email footers throughout are amusing – this email is confidential and privileged and specifically for the addressee only and other sharing is prohibited etc. Er, naw, not when you’re contacting a public organisation

      I received my formal complaint response (not upheld) – a better effort to communicate including almost answering my specific questions.

  14. 33 Andrew Archer
    June 17, 2018 at 11:34 am

    Apologies if this has already been published, but my EIR request to SNH for information on the Raven cull solicited the following web page, which includes quite a lot of information on the application, SNH’s internal machinations on its response to the application etc:


    Interesting stuff, some of which is worthy of pursuit for further answers.

  15. 35 AlanTwo
    June 19, 2018 at 8:56 am

    “The licence application, rationale and methodologies were developed with support from GWCT scientists. It is not a traditional academic study …”

    Say no more.

    • June 19, 2018 at 1:23 pm

      The supporting information, if that’s what we’re seeing in it’s entirety, is clearly substantial and detailed. What’s surprising though, is the amount of time that it’s taken for SNH to release the information – all of this would have been to hand, you would have thought.
      If you were to be totally cynical, you would question who would or could be prepared to outlay the cost for this clearly substantial and detailed information without being able to recover costs. From a routine agricultural point of view its questionable whether this could ever be cost effective.

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