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Raven cull: latest update

Somebody posted a comment yesterday to ask what was happening with the raven cull, so here are a few updates:

As far as we are aware, the controversial raven cull continues in Strathbraan.

The raven cull has become an international embarrassment for SNH and the Scottish Government – see this excellent blog by Dr Rob Sheldon.

There was an interesting segment on BBC Springwatch last night showing footage of sheep predating lapwing and curlew eggs (available on BBC iPlayer here for 29 days, starts at 48.26 mins). There was also mention of a research paper that showed sheep had killed and eaten at least 680 Arctic Tern chicks on Foula over a seven-year period. Here is a link to that paper: Furness 1988 Predation of tern chicks by sheep

It would be interesting to find out if any studies of sheep predation on waders has taken place in Strathbraan, prior to SNH’s decision to licence the killing of ravens ‘to see what happens’.

[Raven photo by Dieter Schaeffer]

Despite concerted efforts by many people lobbying their MSPs to support Alison Johnstone’s Parliamentary motion calling for the raven cull licence to be withdrawn, so far only 14 MSPs have signed up (as of noon today):

Patrick Harvie (Greens), John Finnie (Greens), Andy Wightman (Greens), Ross Greer (Greens), Mark Ruskell (Greens), Claudia Beamish (Labour), Iain Gray (Labour), Daniel Johnson (Labour), Colin Smyth (Labour), Johann Lamont (Labour), Liam McArthur (Liberal Democrats), Tavish Scott (Liberal Democrats), Christine Grahame (SNP) and Mairi Gougeon (SNP).

[UPDATE 2pm: Anas Sarwar (Labour) has now also signed]

Disappointingly, several SNP MSPs have been sending out a generic response, claiming that this is an ‘operational matter for SNH rather than the Scottish Government’, although Graeme Dey (SNP) reportedly sent out his own personal response which included the statement:

I note your comment regarding consulting with the RSPB. And I understand where you are coming from. But in my experience you cannot engage with that organisation on matters such as this and arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. The RSPB is opposed to any measures such as these even when they might be designed to protect other bird species“.

That’s quite a statement from the convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee (and it’s also inaccurate – the RSPB has and does undertake predator control and hasn’t tried to hide it – e.g. see here). If Graeme Dey MSP thinks the RSPB ‘cannot be engaged with’ on issues of bird conservation, on what issues does he think the RSPB can be engaged to arrive at ‘a satisfactory conclusion’ (whatever that means)?

Alison’s motion requires 30 signatures by 11 June to progress to a Parliamentary debate but this, unfortunately, looks unlikely. It also seems unlikely that the Scottish Government has any plans to step in and intervene.

So where does that leave us?

Watch this space…..


Law seminar to discuss admissibility of video evidence

After several controversial decisions by the Crown Office last year, where prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution were dropped due to the perceived inadmissibility of video evidence (e.g. hen harrier shooting on Cabrach Estate here; setting of illegal pole trap on Brewlands Estate here), there followed a series of blogs written by law academics at Aberdeen University (see here and here) that provided a welcome explanation about the legal complexities behind these decisions.

Aberdeen University’s School of Law is now hosting a free public seminar on this issue, with contributions from Dr Phil Glover (a lecturer at the School of Law and an expert in the law of evidence, investigatory powers and related human rights matters), Malcolm Combe (senior lecturer and an expert in property law), Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland) and Tim Baynes (Director of Scottish Land & Estate’s Moorland Group and the Gift of Grouse). After the presentations audience members will be invited to participate in an open discussion.

DATE: 15 June 2018

TIME: 3.15pm – 5pm

VENUE: The Sir Duncan Rice Library, Aberdeen

This is a free event but spaces are limited so booking is essential. Further information & a link to the online booking system is available HERE.



Laughable statement from SGA on missing satellite-tagged hen harriers

Following Tuesday’s news that three more satellite-tagged hen harriers have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (here), the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has issued a statement about the two that vanished in Scotland (one in the Angus Glens and one near Moffat).

So according to the SGA, these suspicious disappearances ‘merit further, independent, investigation‘. Note the use of the word ‘independent’. Does the SGA not accept these harriers have disappeared in suspicious circumstances? Does the SGA not consider Police Scotland’s investigation ‘independent’? Police Scotland will have had full access to the satellite tag data to make an independent assessment of whether the harrier’s disappearance was suspicious or not, and presumably the Police agreed with the RSPB that the disappearance was indeed suspicious, not least because the circumstances mirrored the circumstances of 41 sat-tagged golden eagles, revealed by a Government-commissioned independent report to have disappeared in suspicious circumstances, several of them in, er, the Angus Glens:

The SGA statement looks like the usual well-rehearsed dig at the RSPB – indeed ex-SGA Director Bert Burnett wrote on social media in reference to the hen harrier that vanished in the Angus Glens: “I think I’m justified in claiming that the area was searched by people involved in the tagging and the bird was found and as it died naturally and was of no publicity value it was secreted away”.

Is he seriously suggesting the RSPB have perverted the course of justice? That’s a very serious allegation. Is this view shared by the SGA?

The official SGA statement also states: ‘There has been a commitment in Angus over the last few years to changing past reputations‘ (and therefore by inference this hen harrier couldn’t possible have been illegally killed).

We’re very interested in this phrase, ‘commitment to changing past reputations’. What does that mean, exactly? Does it mean the SGA is finally acknowledging that gamekeepers in the Angus Glens have been involved in illegal raptor persecution? If that is what the SGA means, perhaps it could elaborate on which raptor persecution incidents it now accepts had gamekeeper involvement? We’d be fascinated to know, because for as long as we’ve been writing this blog the SGA has consistently denied the extent of raptor persecution on grouse moors in the Angus Glens, despite all the evidence to the contrary (see here for an extensive list of raptor persecution incidents uncovered in the Angus Glens).

A classic example of SGA denial was the case of the sat-tagged golden eagle that was caught in a spring trap on an Angus Glens grouse moor in 2012, suffering two broken legs. The eagle was then driven through the night to be dumped in a Deeside layby where it lay in agony for a further four days before it died. Despite being given access to the eagle’s sat tag data and the findings of the official post-mortem report, the SGA concocted the most far-fetched explanation possible for this eagle’s injuries – see here.

Here is that dead golden eagle [photo by RSPB Scotland]

The other interesting part of the SGA’s official statement was this: ‘We know talks have been held between sporting estates regarding translocating a pair of breeding harriers…..‘. Talk, as they say, is cheap. There should be no need to translocate hen harriers to the Angus Glens. We know, thanks to satellite tag data, that young hen harriers regularly visit the Angus Glens – and why wouldn’t they? The habitat is good, there’s a plentiful food supply, and there aren’t any resident territorial adults to chase them away. And this last bit is the telling part. Not one successful hen harrier breeding attempt in the Angus Glens since 2006. Why is that? It’s pretty obvious.

The estates also presumably know that there isn’t a cat in hell’s chance that anyone would authorise the translocation of hen harriers to the Angus Glens. The golden rule, as laid out by the IUCN, is that translocations can only take place if the cause of the species’ decline has been identified and rectified. We know what the cause is, and we also know that it hasn’t been addressed.

The estates can talk about their supposed desire to undertake translocations all they want (and they will because they think it makes them look like conservationists) but as long as these satellite-tagged raptors keep ‘disappearing’ in the area, and for as long as the breeding territories remain suspiciously vacant, their words are hollow.


Does your MSP support the raven cull licence?

Three weeks ago Alison Johnstone MSP lodged a Parliamentary motion raising political concerns about the Strathbraan raven cull licence and called for its immediate withdrawal. She also called for SNH to withdraw the use of the Open General Licence in this area in response to the catalogue of confirmed and suspected wildlife crimes recorded in recent years.

Nine days after the motion was lodged, only five MSPs had signed in support:

Patrick Harvie (Greens), Christine Grahame (SNP), John Finnie (Greens), Andy Wightman (Greens) and Ross Greer (Greens).

[Raven photo by Dieter Schaeffer]

To progress to a Parliamentary debate, where the subject can be exposed to political scrutiny, the motion requires support from at least 30 MSPs from more than two political parties by 11 June 2018.

We believe that if this licence (and the process used to approve it) remains unchallenged, it is likely to be replicated in other areas dominated by driven grouse moors, and we’re likely to see similar applications for other species, especially buzzards, to be killed ‘just to see what happens’. If you think this is unlikely, read the comments made by SNH’s Nick Halfhide earlier this month, including the words: “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“.

This kind of approach” means SNH basing future conservation decisions on rural myth and old wives’ tales instead of peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

[Cartoon by Mr Carbo]

Due to these concerns, a couple of weeks ago we encouraged blog readers to contact local MSPs and ask them to sign in support of this motion. We know many of you have done this (thank you) judging by the correspondence we’ve received.

We know that Conservative MSPs appear to be sending out a generic response to these requests from their local contituents, and we can guess that this response has been written for them by one of the ‘countryside organisations’ given that its full of old wives tales that aren’t even relevant to this licence (e.g. ‘Ravens often target and kill new born lambs by the barbaric removal of their eyes and tongues‘) and unsupported claims such as ‘SNH take a robust evidence-based approach when issuing licences‘.

Unsurprisingly, Alison’s motion has not been supported by any Conservative MSP.

So who has supported it?

As of 5pm this evening, the following MSPs have signed in support:

Patrick Harvie (Greens), Christine Grahame (SNP), John Finnie (Greens), Andy Wightman (Greens), Ross Greer (Greens), Mark Ruskell (Greens), Claudia Beamish (Labour), Iain Gray (Labour), Liam McArthur (Liberal Democrats), Daniel Johnson (Labour), Colin Smyth (Labour) and Mairi Gougeon (SNP).

That’s a total of 12 MSPs from four political parties. The cross-party support is excellent but the numbers are nowhere near enough. Eighteen more signatures are needed to secure a debate.

Is your MSP on this list? Have you asked them to support this motion? If you have, and they haven’t yet responded, please chase them up. If you haven’t asked them, please consider doing so. MSPs are more likely to engage if they’ve received a bucketful of correspondence on a particular issue from their local constituents.

If you’re not sure who your MSP is please click here to find out. And remember you’ll have more than one MSP – your constituency MSP and your regional list MSPs.

Thank you


Raven cull: Parliamentary questions & answers

Earlier this month Claudia Beamish MSP (South Scotland, Labour) lodged a series of Parliamentary questions about the raven cull licence issued by SNH to a consortium of grouse shooting representatives, permitting the mass culling of ravens ‘just to see what happens’.

Claudia’s questions have now been answered by Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham (or to be more accurate, SNH has provided these answers to Ms Cunningham):

Eh? How’s that ‘monitoring’ going to work, then? How many ‘inspections on the ground’ will SNH be able to resource? And what will those ‘inspections’ entail? Asking the gamekeepers for a list of the ravens they’ve killed and expecting them to be truthful accounts? Come on, this is an area where in recent years an illegal clam trap was found, a buzzard was found caught in an illegally-set spring trap, a red kite was found illegally poisoned, a raven was found illegally poisoned, there have been suspicious failures of breeding attempts by hen harriers, red kites and buzzards, and there has been a suspiciously high turnover of red kites and a suspicious loss of breeding red kites at nearby sites. Oh, and a young satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle also disappeared in suspicious circumstances two months ago.

We know from the raven cull licence application there are 31 individuals (mostly gamekeepers) undertaking predator control in the Strathbraan area: how the hell does SNH expect to ‘monitor’ their activities?

That’s an awful lot of licences issued by SNH to kill an awful lot of ravens (there’ll be more on this in the papers tomorrow). It says the Strathbraan licence ‘was granted for science, research and education purposes’. Really? Killing a load of ravens ‘just to see what happens’, without any parallel control study, isn’t good science, isn’t good research and certainly isn’t educational.

Eh? That’s about as vague a response as you can get. What aspects of habitat quality and management did SNH consider? Why did SNH decide habitat improvement was a less favourable option than killing a load of ravens ‘just to see what happens’? And what ‘other predator control’ did SNH consider extending and why did SNH decide killing a load of ravens ‘just to see what happens’ was a better alternative?

Did SNH consider undertaking raven dietary studies as a non-lethal alternative to killing ravens ‘just to see what happens’? If so, why wasn’t this considered a favourable option? And if SNH didn’t consider it as an alternative research option, why not?

The licence SNH has issued for killing ravens in Strathbraan is unprecented. Previous raven cull licences have been issued to individuals, mostly sheep farmers, to undertake small-scale, local culls for the supposed protection of livestock (lambs) but not for spurious ‘science, research and educational purposes’. We don’t believe SNH has ever issued a licence permitting the mass killing of ravens over such a large area and for such a tenuous purpose as ‘to see what happens’. For this reason, SNH cannot compare the Strathbraan licence with any other raven cull licences and as such, other stakeholders should have been consulted, especially those who have been involved with the monitoring of the local raven population in this area for decades (i.e. Scottish Raptor Study Group). Excluding other stakeholders also flies in the face of SNH’s purported interest in ‘partnership working’. Many suspect that SNH did not communicate with other stakeholders because SNH knew full well that those stakeholders would have strongly objected to the licence application.

We discussed this answer in today’s earlier blog – see here.

Crow cage traps? To capture and kill ravens? Seriously? Aside from the obvious welfare issues of using live ravens as decoys inside these traps for weeks on end, how will the gamekeepers determine whether the raven(s) caught inside the trap are not breeding adults? (Remember, this licence only permits the killing of young, non-breeding ravens).

Sorry SNH, but none of these Parliamentary answers inspire any confidence in your ability to effectively monitor the implentation of this raven cull licence, nor the credibility of your reasons for issuing it in the first place.


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]


Red kite suffers horrific injuries from illegal gin trap

From Powys County Times, 22 May 2018:


An RSPCA appeal for information has been launched following the death of a red kite caught by an illegal gin trap.

RSPCA Cymru was alerted after the poor bird of prey was found bleeding, and with broken legs, in the trap on the B4340, near New Cross and Abermadwr on May 7.

The caller who found the bird transferred the animal to a local veterinary practice on Park Avenue, where it was confirmed that the legs had been broken by the trap.

Sadly, the vet was left with no choice but to put the bird to sleep to prevent further suffering.

Gin traps, such as the device used in this incident, are spring-operated and illegal to set and use, although not illegal to own. It is also illegal to set any spring trap in the open or on top of a post.

The RSPCA say they are following a line of inquiry about the placing of the trap – but are calling on the local community in Aberystwyth to get in touch should they have any relevant information.

RSPCA inspector Keith Hogben said: “These gin traps were made illegal to set many years ago and yet shockingly are still being used to catch animals. They are indiscriminate and sadly this red kite is the latest victim.

The potential consequences of these devices for animals and humans are so severe. I shudder to think what could have happened had a toddler, for example, crossed the path of this trap.

We are following a line of inquiry on this incident but are eager for more information to come to light as to the circumstances behind this illegal trap being put down.

The RSPCA’s inspectorate appeal line can be reached on 0300 123 8018, and all calls are treated in confidence.”


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