The Scottish Countryside Alliance welcomes the practical approach taken by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in granting a research licence to mitigate the impact of raven predation on vulnerable and red-listed ground nesting birds. On what is an obviously contentious issue, SNH is to be congratulated for disagreeing with the largest conservation bodies in the country by prioritising science over emotion.

The raven population has risen by 134% in the UK over the last twenty years, with strong localised populations throughout Scotland. Many of our wading birds have suffered steep declines in the same time frame, especially curlews and lapwing which have plummeted by over 50% in the last 20 years. Added to this, the golden plover population has also dipped by a worrying 18%.

The application was made by a group of land managers who have seen first-hand the problems faced by ground nesting birds such as curlew, golden plover and lapwing as the localised populations of ravens have grown. This licence is about a pressing and complex conservation issue: improving our understanding of factors affecting key wader species.

Jamie Stewart, Scottish Countryside Alliance Director said: “Culling any species is controversial, but the conservation of our beleaguered waders is too important an issue to be decided by emotive campaigning. Any approach needs to be grounded in science, and that’s why we welcome this research licence. The granting of licences to control ravens impacting on livestock is nothing new, the harm that ravens can do to sheep and lambs has been readily recognised and licences have been granted annually. We now welcome SNH recognising that this impact may also extend to localised harm to ground nesting wader populations.

“The Scottish Countryside Alliance is a strong supporter of adaptive management, the principle that practice should evolve over time as evidence develops rather than rashly acting on emotion, so we welcome this trial research licence and hope it can further the understanding of the impacts of the rising numbers of ravens on wader populations. We look forward to the results of this ground-breaking licence.”

Background information:

The Understanding Predation report published two years ago, which was agreed by a range of stakeholders including SNH, RSPB, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Countryside Alliance, highlighted where action was most urgently needed. Future work is embodied in the Working for Waders project and this experimental raven management licence will play an important scientific part in that initiative.

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.