Scottish Natural Heritage, the statutory conservation body in Scotland, has just launched a consultation on the General Licence in Scotland. This includes looking at the merits of adding the Raven to the General Licence 2, resulting in minimal scrutiny and no reporting. Currently Ravens can be killed by applying for a specific licence, and in recent years quite large numbers have been killed each year. I blogged about this last year, and the numbers are within the table below, showing that in the region of 3000 Ravens have been legally killed in Scotland in four years. Constructing the table below was only possible because licence holders are allowed to kill a set number of birds based on their specific circumstances, and have to inform SNH how many they have killed once the licence has expired.  Such information doesn’t have to be provided if a bird is added to the General Licence.

Raven data Scotland1As pointed out by Raptor Persecution UK, this quite significant potential change to the General Licence, was not mentioned in the associated Press Release, despite SNH surely being aware that there is significant public interest in the killing of this species. Remember Strathbraan? Remember the 188,000 people who signed a petition against the Strathbraan cull? Remember the 1000+ people who donated more than £25k to support a legal challenge to against the Strathbraan cull? The science behind the Raven cull wasn’t particularly well received by SNH’s own Scientific Advisory Committee either.

In previous FOI exchanges with SNH about Raven licences they stated that they are “confident that our licensed activities will not affect raven conservation status.” It was also clear that they were basing that statement on some population modelling that they had contracted the British Trust for Ornithology to undertake. The findings of this research were published earlier this year. It is a rather detailed study that is full of complicated population modelling, but the main findings, which are summarised at the beginning of the report, are particularly relevant in the context of this blog. Remember, SNH are considering the merits of adding the Raven, currently a protected species, to the General Licence so it can be killed with minimum scrutiny and no reporting. Essentially, if that were to happen, we wouldn’t know how many Ravens would be killed each year.

I highlight some of the most relevant key findings and comment on these in brackets:

  • it is likely that the maximum level of sustainable removal of non-breeding ravens is around 200 birds per 100 x 100 km area in much of Scotland (adding the Raven to the General Licence clearly is not compatible with this, arguably the key finding of the BTO report)
  • In order to ensure that licenced control is sustainable however, lower limits should be set in situations where: productivity or survival are known or suspected to be lower than the average values used in these analyses; raven numbers have not yet reached carrying capacity; carrying capacity is lower; or control might affect both breeding and nonbreeding birds (these recommendations are probably difficult enough for SNH to meet even with specific licences, and impossible to comply with if the Raven was added to the General Licence).
  • This is taken from the conclusion section “Our models indicate that, in a scenario where breeding adults are subject to licenced control at similar rates to non-breeders, the number of individuals that could be sustainably killed will be reduced.” (It will be interesting to see how SNH ensure a differentiation between breeding and non-breeding Ravens if added to the General Licence)

This piece of research was commissioned by SNH at the cost of at least £28,000. I would suggest that that is good value for money. It would of course be a total waste of money if the results were ignored and Ravens were allowed to be killed above the maximum level of 200 birds per 100km2. Surely the best way of ensuring these levels aren’t exceeded is to maintain the status quo and require land managers to apply for specific licences to kill Ravens.

You can view the SNH General Licence consultation here.