Posts Tagged ‘golden eagle

29
Jun
18

Species Champion Andy Wightman visits golden eagle satellite-tagging team

Earlier this year Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman took on the role of Golden Eagle Species Champion.

Species Champions are members of the Scottish Parliament who have agreed to lend their political support to the protection of Scottish wildlife, in an award-winning scheme organised by Scottish Environment LINK.

[Photo: Ruth Tingay]

As a long-time reader and supporter of this blog, Andy shares our concerns about the on-going threat to golden eagles from illegal persecution in some areas of Scotland. He’s also well aware of the compelling evidence published in the Scottish Government-commissioned review of the fate of satellite-tagged golden eagles, which demonstrated that almost one-third (n = 41) of sat-tagged eagles in Scotland have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, most of them on or close to intensively managed driven grouse moors.

As many of you will know, last year in partnership with Chris Packham we satellite-tagged a shedload of golden eagles as part of a wider collaborative scientific study on the dispersal and land-use of juvenile golden eagles, to help inform conservation planning for this species. One of those eagles, Fred, ‘disappeared’ from the Pentlands in January this year in the same highly suspicious circumstances as the other 41 ‘missing’ eagles (and this grim tally has since increased following the recent suspicious disappearance of golden and white-tailed eagles on grouse moors in the Monadhliaths (here), the Cairngorms National Park (here), and the Strathbraan area of Perthshire (here)).

This year we’ve satellite-tagged more eagles (another shedload) and Andy joined a team of expert licensed fieldworkers from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, who, with support from local landowners, have been visiting nest sites across Scotland.

We anticipate releasing a short film and an interview with Andy in due course.

Meanwhile, here’s one of this year’s satellite-tagged golden eagles. This is ‘Adam’, named by Andy in tribute to Dr Adam Watson, an influential character during Andy’s formative years on the hill!

[Photo: Ruth Tingay]

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31
May
18

Why we satellite tag raptors and why the grouse shooting industry wants to stop us

A year ago today saw the publication of the Government-commissioned Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which showed how almost one-third of all satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland (41 of 131 eagles) had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances between 2004-2016, many of them vanishing in particular clusters on or close to driven grouse moors:

It seems timely then to undertake a review of how many more satellite-tagged raptors (not just golden eagles) have ‘disappeared’ since that damning analysis was undertaken (data cut off point 15 January 2017), a period of just 15 months between then and now.

An astonishing 14 sat-tagged raptors have vanished during this short period: 3 x golden eagles, 2 x white-tailed eagles, 8 x hen harriers, 1 x Montagu’s harrier. Eight of these ‘disappeared’ in Scotland, five in England and one in Wales. In addition to the missing 14, a further two satellite-tagged raptors (hen harriers) were found dead and post mortem results indicated illegal persecution.

Here’s the list:

January 2017: Hen harrier Carroll, Northumberland

March 2017: Golden eagle #338, Cairngorms National Park

August 2017: Hen harrier Calluna, Cairngorms National Park

August 2017: Montagu’s harrier Sally, Norfolk

October 2017: Hen harrier John, Yorkshire Dales National Park

October 2017: Hen harrier Manu, North Pennines

October 2017: Hen harrier Kathy, Argyll & Bute

December 2017: Golden eagle, Monadhliath Mountains

January 2018: Golden eagle Fred, Pentland Hills

February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin, Wales

February 2018: Hen harrier Marc, North Pennines

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa, Angus Glens

March 2018: White-tailed eagle Blue X, Strathbraan, Perthshire

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn, nr Moffat

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue, Cumbria

May 2018: White-tailed eagle Blue T, Cairngorms National Park

Of course, not one of these 14 recently ‘disappeared’ sat-tagged raptors will make it in to the ‘official’ wildlife crime stats (just as none of the 41 missing golden eagles and 60+ missing hen harriers have made it there) because, without a body, the police’s hands are tied. This suits the grouse-shooting industry because they can point to the ‘official’ crime stats and claim, disingenuously, that raptor persecution is in decline and argue that this is evidence that the industry has cleaned up its act.

Unfortunately for the shooting industry, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged raptors still makes headline news because, quite obviously, in the vast majority of these cases there is no other plausible explanation other than illegal persecution. The authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review demonstrated 98% tag reliability (supported by robust statistical analyses) and showed that sat-tagged golden eagles were 25 times more likely to ‘disappear’ in Scotland than anywhere else in the world where golden eagle tagging studies, using identical tags, have taken place.

As Dr Hugh Webster said: “They can hide the tags. They can hide the bodies. But they can’t hide the pattern“.

[Satellite-tagged golden eagle Fred, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances in January. Photo: Ruth Tingay]

As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks against those involved in the projects or by arguing that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers. The industry knows how incriminating these sat tag data are and so is trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors.

As ever though, the game shooting industry hasn’t done its homework.

One of the latest claims being made by some in the industry is that there’s no need to fit sat tags to species like golden eagles because ‘we know all we need to know’ and ‘fitting tags doesn’t stop illegal persecution so why bother fitting them’? There are also repeated claims that tag data are ‘not shared’.

Let’s just nip this in the bud, shall we? The main reason for fitting sat tags to golden eagles is not to entrap gamekeepers; it’s to provide information for conservation and scientific research. Sure, if a tagged eagle then ‘disappears’ in suspicious circumstances of course that’s going to be publicised – why shouldn’t it be? But that is NOT the main objective of satellite-tagging eagles. And tag data ARE shared, just not with armed criminals intent on killing eagles, and who have a long track record of doing exactly that.

For those still struggling to understand the simple rationale behind golden eagle sat-tagging, below is a summary list of research & conservation studies in Scotland that are benefitting from golden eagle satellite tag data. As you can see, it’s all collaborative, there’s plenty of open data-sharing amongst research groups, and far from ‘knowing all we need to know about golden eagles’, the sat tag data are showing us exactly how little we actually did know prior to the availability of this new technology:

Peer-reviewed scientific paper: Weston, E.D., Whitfield, D.P., Travis, J.M.J. & Lambin, X. 2013. When do young birds disperse? Tests from studies of golden eagles in Scotland. BMC Ecology 13, 42. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6785/13/42 [Co-authors: University of Aberdeen and Natural Research; tagging data from several institutions.]

Peer-reviewed scientific paper: Weston, E.D., Whitfield, D.P., Travis, J.M.J. & Lambin, X. 2018. The contribution of flight capability to the post-fledging dependence period of golden eagles. Journal of Avian Biology 49. [Co-authors: University of Aberdeen and Natural Research; funding contribution from SSE; tagging data from several institutions.]

Regional Eagle Conservation Management Plan (RECMP). A joint initiative to encourage the conservation of golden eagles in the Central Highlands Natural Heritage Zone (NHZ 10), involving SSE, The Highland Council, Natural Research, Haworth Conservation, RSPB, SNH, Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, and other contributors. Research funded by SSE. The RECMP research has produced data from 15 eagle nestlings tagged in or near to NHZ 10 which are pooled with other tagging research initiatives. Data from satellite tagged birds have also been contributed and are available as a resource for ongoing and future initiatives on education and community outreach also associated with RECMP.

Ongoing research projects under RECMP (projects involve several collaborators from different institutions; analyses involve tagging data shared by several institutions):

  • A simple topographic model to predict golden eagle space use [Golden Eagle Ridge Model: GERM]. Manuscript to be submitted shortly to ornithological journal.
  • Displacement of young golden eagles from wind farms in Scotland.
  • Age of first breeding and natal dispersal distance in Scottish golden eagles.
  • Use of settlement areas by dispersing golden eagles in Scotland.
  • Variation in dispersal behaviour of young golden eagles in Scotland.

Raptors and Forestry Joint Working Group. Current membership involves SNH, FCS, FES, RSPB, Haworth Conservation, CONFOR, Borders Forest Trust, Natural Research and Scottish Raptor Study Group. Evidence base for use of forestry by golden eagles is being supported by research derived from satellite tagged birds, to lead to guidance for practitioners. Preliminary research work, involving eagle satellite tagging data (including GERM: model development also supported by SNH and FCS), presented at a Sharing Good Practice event organised by FCS and SNH, 14 May 2018.

Scottish Natural Heritage, with assistance from Natural Research. Programme of tagging young eagles in National Nature Reserves (NNRs) to increase knowledge of connectivity with wider environment.

Scottish Raptor Study Group. Data used by several regional SRSG workers to identify ‘new’ territories if dispersing birds occupy a territory; and used to identify any gaps between known territories. Data improve efficiency of survey and monitoring.

Novel proposals for development and forestry. Data from satellite tagged eagles supplied and available to SNH, private/independent forestry consultants and Forestry Commission Scotland (forestry proposals); and SNH and ornithological consultants for EIA (e.g. wind farm or power line planning proposals). Data improve assessments of new proposals.

SNH Commissioned Report 982, funded by Scottish Government and SNH, included analyses which apart from the priority of analysing the ‘suddenly disappeared tags and birds with these tags’ also led to results on survival of dispersing young and lack of any evidence of tagging causing ‘harm’, for example.

As you can see, there’s a hell of a lot of scientific research going on to help inform conservation strategies for golden eagles in Scotland (some of which will also be applicable elsewhere in the world), and most of this research would be virtually impossible to achieve without satellite tag data. The gamekeepers, ridiculously, think it’s all about them; it clearly isn’t, although the criminal activities of some of them is certainly impacting on the conservation of golden eagles in some parts of Scotland, as has been well documented. For that reason, we, and others, will continue to highlight and publicise the illegal persecution of golden eagles (and other raptors) for as long as it takes to force the authorities to take meaningful action against the criminals responsible.

17
May
18

New podcast: the illegal persecution of satellite-tagged eagles in Scotland

An excellent new podcast is now available on the illegal persecution of satellite-tagged eagles in Scotland.

Charlie Moores (a producer at LUSH) interviews Ian Thomson (RSPB Scotland Head of Investigations) about the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged golden eagles and white-tailed eagles in areas intensively managed for driven grouse shooting, and how the raptor killers’ tactics have changed since satellite tags became more commonly used.

Well worth 25 minutes of your time.

Listen to the podcast on the LUSH player HERE

[Ian with Chris Packham holding a picture of satellite-tagged golden eagle Fred who ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances earlier this year, photo by Ruth Tingay]

15
May
18

Missing sea eagle Blue T: statement from Cairngorms National Park Authority

Following last week’s news that a young satellite-tagged sea eagle (Blue T) had ‘disappeared’ on Invercauld Estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s CEO, Grant Moir, has published a statement:

The frustration is evident and it’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone in to this statement, which is a huge improvement on previous CNPA statements about ‘disappearing’ satellite-tagged raptors in the National Park (e.g. see here), but we wanted to pick up on a few things.

The news that SNH will shortly be launching the next phase of its raptor tracker project is great – any technological developments that might provide more detail about the fate of ‘missing’ satellite-tagged raptors will be warmly welcomed by most (but probably not by the criminals within the grouse-shooting industry).

However, Grant seems to think that knowing exactly where and when a tagged bird was killed will “take the ambiguity away from the situation“. It won’t.

As we’ve blogged before, if the tag/raptor is destroyed on an estate that employs multiple gamekeepers, the issue of identifying the individual culprit(s) will remain, especially if all the staff give the standard ‘no comment’ police interview. There will also be the sometimes plausible argument that the raptor had been shot/poisoned on a neighbouring estate and died just over the boundary of the estate under scrutiny. And as we’ve seen in recent years, even with clear video evidence of an individually identifiable gamekeeper killing a raptor, a successful prosecution is highly unlikely because the Crown Office will declare the evidence inadmissible or will claim it’s not in the public interest to proceed.

Sorry, Grant, but the so-called ‘ambiguity’ will remain – although there’s nothing ambiguous about the robust & statistically significant findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review, which demonstrated a clear relationship between suspicious raptor disappearances and land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting in and around the Cairngorms National Park:

One other thing in Grant’s statement that we wanted to pick up on –

Invercauld Estate is part of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership and I genuinely do believe that progress has started to be made across a wide range of subjects with the Estates involved……”

Really? What progress is that, then? Any progress on stopping the illegal persecution of raptors?

The East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership was established in December 2015 and comprises six estates working in ‘partnership’ with the CNPA.

The Partnership’s statement of purpose can be read here.

Here are the estates (boundaries sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website):

  1. Glenlivet Estate. 2. Glenavon Estate. 3. Mar Lodge Estate (National Trust for Scotland). 4. Invercauld Estate. 5. Mar Estate. 6. Balmoral & Birkhall Estate.

Last October, almost two years after this Partnership was established, we wanted to find out what progress had been achieved. We submitted an FoI to the CNPA asking for copies of all correspondence relating to the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership since 1 January 2016.

Here’s the reply we received in November 2017:

We have searched our Corporate Drives for the period as above and we hold no information‘.

Impressive amount of progress, eh?

We do know that in February this year the CNPA was advertising for a part-time East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership Officer, on a decent salary of £28,770 – £34,633 pro rata.

Assuming someone has now been employed in this new position, they’ve certainly got their work cut out in delivering the objectives set out in the Cairngorms National Park Management Plan 2017-2022, which includes improving raptor populations in the National Park. Recent peer-reviewed science has revealed that the local hen harrier population has crashed (here) as has the local peregrine population (here).

Oh, and satellite-tagged hen harriers keep going ‘missing’ in highly suspicious circumstances inside the National Park, just like hen harrier Calluna, as do satellite-tagged eagles such as sea eagle Blue T and golden eagle #338.

National Park or National Disgrace?

04
May
18

Jason North convicted for disturbance & egg theft from raptor nests

RSPB press release (3 May 2018):

EGG COLLECTOR RECEIVES SUSPENDED SENTENCE AND FINE FOR OFFENCES AGAINST RARE BIRDS

An egg collector, who was previously unknown to police, has pleaded guilty to taking osprey eggs and disturbing rare breeding birds in Devon and Scotland.

Today (3 May 2018), Jason North, 49, from Plymouth appeared at Plymouth Magistrates Court and pleaded guilty to nine charges relating to the taking of osprey eggs from Highland Scotland, and the disturbance of golden eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon and little-ringed plover during 2016.

He received a 6-week jail sentence on each charge suspended for one year and a fine of £665 for taking the osprey eggs. He was also put in a 10-week curfew to ensure he remains at home between 9pm-6am. Maps, books and equipment were also confiscated.

The four species involved are all rare breeding birds listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Offences against these birds can result in up to six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine per offence.

[Jason North leaving court yesterday, photo by Penny Cross]

In December 2016, Devon and Cornwall Police, assisted by RSPB and NWCU officers, searched the home of Mr North at Haddington Road, Plymouth. They seized a number of items including hand-written notes, diaries and a computer. Following forensic examination of the computer, hundreds of digital images and video clips were recovered showing eggs and nests. The evidence indicated that North had been routinely making unlicensed visits, over a number of years, to the nests of rare breeding birds in Devon and Scotland. There were also images of eggs which had been removed from nests and put into display cases. The location of these eggs remains unknown.

A detailed investigation by Wildlife Crime Officer (WCO) PC Joshua Marshall, supported by RSPB and others, located several of the nest sites shown in the images. Evidence from people monitoring those sites, supported by expert evidence, confirmed that eggs had undoubtedly been taken in some cases. All the evidence clearly indicated that North, in addition to making unlicensed visits to take photographs, was also involved in taking eggs and it is believed these were then added to a collection.

PC Joshua Marshall of Devon and Cornwall Police said:

North was unknown prior to this investigation and only brought to account for his illegal activities via a number of diligent members of the public reporting to police confidentially. The public have such an important role to play in bringing wildlife criminals like this to justice. Please be vigilant while out in the countryside and report any suspicious behaviour, especially around nest sites, to the police on 101.

It also serves as a warning to potential or active offenders that you stand a high risk of being brought to account for any illegal activity you commit in respect to wild birds.

I would like to thank all those involved with the investigation including CPS, the expert witnesses and RSPB Investigations Officer Guy Shorrock.”

Jenny Shelton from the RSPB’s Investigations unit added: “These days, thankfully, egg collecting is by and large a thing of the past. However, there are still some active collectors targeting our rarest birds, and it is particularly worrying when new egg collectors come to light showing that the everyone needs to remain vigilant. We are grateful for the fantastic work by Devon and Cornwall Police plus the support from the CPS, NWCU and numerous people involved in monitoring and protecting these nest sites.

It’s hard to understand why someone would prefer to take the eggs of these incredible birds rather than see the birds flourishing in the wild.”

If you notice any suspicious behaviour around birds’ nests or breeding sites, including people looking in bushes or wading out to islands, often at unsociable hours, please call police on 101 and RSPB Investigations on 01767 680551.

ENDS

UPDATE 9 May 2018: A good blog about this case from the RSPB’s Investigations Team (here)

24
Apr
18

Grouse Moor Management Review Group: 1st meeting report

In May last year Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced her intention to establish a Grouse Moor Management Review Group, in response to the damning findings of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review which had revealed that almost one third of satellite-tagged golden eagles had disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances on or close to intensively managed driven-grouse moors (see here).

The membership of the Grouse Moor Management Review Group was announced in November 2017 (see here) and the panel was expected to report back its findings to the Cabinet Secretary in early 2019.

The Group held its inaugural meeting on 16 January 2018 at the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Chair (Prof Alan Werritty) outlined the background and context for the Group, and the following terms of reference were agreed:

The Group will examine how to ensure that grouse moor management continues to contribute to the rural economy while being environmentally sustainable and compliant with the law. The Group will recommend options for regulation including licensing and other measures which could be put in place without new primary legislation‘.

[Photo of intensively managed driven grouse moor, Cairngorms National Park, by Ruth Tingay]

Prof Werritty noted that the Cabinet Secretary had also commissioned a socio-economic study to be undertaken in parallel with the work of the Group, with interim findings to be made available later in the year.

According to Prof Werritty’s report of this first meeting, in addition to identifying a schedule for meetings, the Group agreed the following framework:

January to July 2018: gathering evidence and identifying key issues:

  • Meeting 2. Evidence 1 (Environmental law relevant to grouse moors, current licensing systems and Codes of Practice, wildlife crime)
  • Meeting 3. Evidence 2 (Predation/raptors and mountain hares)
  • Meeting 4. Evidence 3 (Muirburn and medicated grit, call for written evidence)

September to December 2018: written and oral evidence, visit to estate(s), socio-economics:

  • Meeting 5. Written evidence reviewed and oral evidence from key stakeholders
  • Meeting 6. Visit to grouse shooting estate(s)
  • Meeting 7. Review input from socio-economic study

January to March 2019: drafting report and recommendations:

  • Meeting 8. Review evidence and initial drafting of report and recommendations
  • Meeting 9. Finalise report and recommendations

At the first meeting in January 2018, the Group heard presentations from three of the Group’s special advisors, as follows:

  • Adam Smith (GWCT): Grouse moors and their management: an introduction
  • Ben Ross (SNH): Current regulatory system governing grouse moor management
  • Des Thompson (SNH): Raptor persecution and driven grouse moors

[Photo of satellite-tagged golden eagle Fearnan, found illegally poisoned on a driven grouse moor in the Angus Glens. Image by RSPB Scotland]

20
Apr
18

SNH issues licence for mass raven cull in 5-year ‘experiment’

To the utter disbelief of conservationists, statutory conservation agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has issued a licence authorising the mass killing of ravens in a large area of Perthshire (an area identified as a wildlife crime hotspot where six satellite-tagged eagles have suspiciously disappeared in recent years), as part of a proposed five-year experiment, on the basis of ‘seeing what happens’ to wader populations when ravens are removed.

The licence has been issued to a consortium calling itself the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders (SCCW) which, according to the licence application, ‘represents some of the local land management (farmers, gamekeepers) and private interests in the area who value wading birds for their biodiversity, social and economic value to the area and to Scotland more widely. The application is supported by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and technical advice and support, notably data gathering and interpretation, is being provided by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT)‘.

[Raven photo by Dieter Schaeffer]

The following has been written by a group of Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) members as a guest blog:

STRATHBRAAN RAVEN LICENCE

The news about the missing white tailed sea eagle disappearing in Glen Quaich on Tuesday 17th April could sadly not have been more timely as Scottish Natural Heritage, (SNH), have issued a licence to several estates in the Strathbraan area in Perthshire, including Glen Quaich Estate, for the killing of 300 ravens in a large scale trial over five years to see if wader productivity and populations can be improved by removing raven predation.

The manner in which the government’s statutory nature conservation agency have conducted themselves has come as a shock and there is grave concern about the mis-application of science, the lack of consultation with key stakeholders, such as the RSPB and SRSG, their choice of estate partners and the lack of transparency, trust and honesty, and even seasoned SNH watchers are aghast.

We have raised our concerns and are unhappy with the response so far and have resorted to writing this blog to make the matters public. Following the “suspicious” disappearance of the white tailed sea eagle and the fact the police are describing this as ‘an illegal act’ we call upon SNH to conduct a review and if the circumstances fulfil what we consider to be the established criteria set out in SNH’s own report then we expect the licence to be withdrawn.

Our concerns focus on three areas, firstly the choice of partners:-

Firstly when selecting a trial area why would you choose an area dominated by driven grouse shooting with a history of illegal raptor persecution? What message does this send out to the many law-abiding estates? Is it that persecution will enable you to ‘cut a deal’ with the statutory nature conservation body? Cynics might suggest this is more about an opportunity to kill ravens in an attempt to protect red grouse stocks and it could also be argued that a licence has been issued to kill one species of bird to enable another bird to be shot for fun.

[Map of proposed cull area in north Perthshire, from the licence application, running from Loch Tay in the west to the A9 in the east]:

Raptor workers over the years have been monitoring the area and can speak with authority on raptor persecution. The Scottish Government’s review of satellite-tagged golden eagles showed that four of these birds have disappeared suspiciously in this area, with a satellite-tagged red kite also disappearing in 2010. In all cases, the tags can be classed as “stopped – no malfunction” as used in the review – ie. highly suspicious.

[Map of north Perthshire showing the last known fixes of five satellite-tagged golden eagles that disappeared in suspicious circumstances. Sea Eagle Blue X also disappeared in Glen Quaich last month]:

In addition, a radio-tagged white-tailed eagle was tracked to this area, but disappeared in January 2012, while a further satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle recently similarly disappeared in Glen Quaich. An illegal clam trap was found in November 2012, while a buzzard was spring-trapped in January 2012. A red kite was found poisoned in January 2015. A raven was poisoned in 2017. In addition, licenced raptor study group members have noted a number of cases of suspicious failure of nesting attempts by hen harrier, red kite and buzzard across the area. They have also recorded a higher than usual turnover of red kites and a loss of breeding pairs at nearby sites. All of which indicates on-going illegal persecution.

Even bearing in mind these detected incidents represent an unknown proportion of actual persecution taking place, this is an area where land management practices have displayed a proven criminal intolerance to protected species, stretching back for many years. All this has been in the public domain so why did SNH press on knowing that their partners in this initiative have such a dubious record, and what level of confidence can we have in their honesty and integrity?

Secondly, science and key questions that remain unanswered:-

  • What monitoring is in place to assess that this cull will not affect the raven population status?
  • How will SNH be able to differentiate from other factors affecting the decline of waders such as other predatory pressures, the loss of suitable habitat and changes in agricultural practices?
  • What criteria will be used to differentiate between breeding and non-breeding birds? This year we have noticed that the breeding season is later than usual.
  • What allowance has been made for the immigration of immature flocks into the proposed licence area?
  • Why has the licensing decision been taken in the absence of the raven population modelling report, as it was commissioned with the sole, or at least the main, purpose of underpinning raven licensing decisions with sounder background information?
  • What is the nature and extent of the independent scrutiny that has been carried out?
  • If any raven roosts are located during the period of the licence, can we be assured that any Schedule 1 non-breeding species and other protected species (possibly also using the same roosts) will not be disturbed?
  • What safe guards are in place to ensure the numbers killed will remain within that permitted?

Thirdly, the lack of engagement

SNH are always keen to trumpet words such as ‘trust’, ‘building relationships’, ‘shared objectives’ ‘working collaboratively’ but we have seen none of this.

  • There has been no communication with SRSG workers who have been active in the proposed licence area and have many years of breeding data on ravens and raptors.
  • We understand that not all landowners/managers within the area of licence have been contacted about this licence, contrary to reassurances provided.
  • This proposed application was developed outside the much lauded ‘Working for Waders’ initiative and we only became aware of this by accident; hardly working together or building trust!
  • Under the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme raven data are submitted to SNH (who is a key partner), yet it seems this information was not included in the licence considerations, (we know this as under the permission sharing protocols raptors workers who collected the information in the first place would have had to have been consulted).

We are deeply suspicious that the lack of engagement was deliberate as SNH knew their proposal was weak and would not stand up to the rigour of an independent scientific review.

We again call upon SNH to withdraw the licence.

ENDS

It’s well known that SNH issues a number of licences every year to cull ravens where they are considered a ‘serious threat’ to livestock (e.g. see here, here) but these are apparently for a limited cull, not related to game management and supposedly based on sound scientific evidence of a perceived local problem.

It’s also well known that gamekeepers have long wanted ravens to be added to the General Licence (e.g. see here, here) because they are seen as a perceived threat to grouse stocks.

It’s also well known that ravens are routinely demonised in the press, including this outrageous piece published by the BBC (see here, and well worth a read to understand the hysteria whipped up around this protected species).

However, this latest licence authorising a multi-year mass culling of ravens over a large area for spurious reasons (and apparently very little, if any, scientific justification) is unprecedented. That it also happens to be a well-known raptor persecution hotspot just adds to the lunancy of this situation.

If you share the concerns of the SRSG members, please consider sending an email to Mike Cantlay, SNH Chair, calling on him to withdraw the licence with immediate effect. Emails to: chair@snh.gov.uk

UPDATE 14.20hrs: Thanks to the blog reader who brought this article to our attention, reporting on the results of a scientific study that dispels many of the myths associated with ravens and wader population declines. And here is the scientific peer-reviewed paper by Amar et al that specifically warns against making predator control licensing decisions without a thorough evaluation of the evidence.

UPDATE 21 April 2018: A quote from SNH Head of Wildlife, Robbie Kernahan:

We understand the concerns over wildlife crime in Strathbraan, but we are also clear that the granting of this licence is wholly unconnected to the issues concerned.

This licence is about a pressing and complex conservation issue. It  is a large-scale collaborative trial which will help improve our understanding of factors affecting key wader species, populations of which are declining at an alarming rate. We are satisfied this licence will not affect the population of ravens overall, and is over a five year period.

The licence places significant responsibility and expectations on all those involved – to be able to show that this approach can work and will help deliver what are essentially shared objectives.

Trust is a key element of this and this presents a great opportunity to develop that trust and relationships with all involved. If it becomes apparent that actions are not being carried out in accordance with the terms of any licence then we will have no hesitation in removing the licence“.

UPDATE 21 April 2018: A quote from RSPB Scotland Head of Species & Land Managament, Duncan Orr-Ewing:

We are extremely concerned about the likely scale on impact of this research licence on the local raven population in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire. We are also very surprised that SNH have issued such a research licence  in the vicinity of Strathbraan, which has an appalling  and well documented track record of illegal persecution of raptors, noting also the very recent “suspicious” disappearance of a satellite tagged white-tailed eagle in this very same area.

We, together with local raptor workers who have been monitoring ravens in the area for decades, could have helped SNH with this background detail to the licence application if we had been consulted.

We will be seeking a high level meeting with SNH shortly to discuss. We will be pressing for the research licence to be revoked on the back of the white-tailed eagle incident, and instead consideration given by SNH to removing the use of the Open General Licence in this area, as is within their powers“.

UPDATE 22 April 2018: Raven cull update and what you can do to help (here)

UPDATE 23 April 2018: Article published in The National (here)

UPDATE 23 April 2018: Article published in The Herald (here)

UPDATE 23 April 2018: RSPB Scotland blog in response to raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 25 April 2018: OneKind blog in response to raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 25 April 2018: Chris Packham’s response to raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 26 April 2018: Is the raven cull licence still active whilst SNH review takes place? (here)

UPDATE 26 April 2018: SNH refuses to say whether raven cull licence has been suspended (here)

UPDATE 27 April 2018: Green MSPs seek urgent meeting with SNH re: raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 27 April 2018: ‘No justification’ for raven cull licence, says RSPB Scotland Director (here)

UDATE 28 April 2018: Raven cull licence: SGA evasive on benefits to grouse moors (here)

UPDATE 1 May 2018: Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders: who’s involved? (here)

UPDATE 4 May 2018: Raven cull: next steps to take as SNH blunders on (here)

UPDATE 7 May 2018: “Let’s have more trials [culls] whether it’s about ravens or other things” says SNH (here)

UPDATE 8 May 2018: Parliamentary questions lodged on raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 9 May 2018: Alison Johnstone MSP lodges Parliamentary motion on raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 12 May 2018: Raven cull: please ask your MSP to support this Parliamentary motion (here)

UPDATE 23 May 2018: Raven cull update: scientific advisory committee not being asked to repeal licence (here)

UPDATE 23 May 2018: Raven cull: Parliamentary questions and answers (here)

UPDATE 20 May 2018: Raven cull: latest update (here)

UPDATE 5 June 2018: Legal challenge to raven cull licence: your help needed! (here)

UPDATE 6 June 2018: Raven cull: legal challenge crowdfunder smashes £10k target on day one! (here)

UPDATE 19 June 2018: Raven cull: a few updates (here)

UPDATE 20 June 2018: #Justice4Ravens fundraising merchandise now available (here)

UPDATE 22 June 2018: Preston man receives warning for raven cull death threat (here)

UPDATE 1 July 2018: Last push on #Justice4Ravens crowdfunder (here)

UPDATE 1 July 2018: #Justice4Ravens crowdfunder target smashed! (here)

UPDATE 5 July 2018: #Justice4Ravens: application lodged for judicial review (here)




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