Ravens are a conservation success. They have been increasing in both numbers and range in recent decades, much of which is down to a reduction in illegal persecution and also an increase in carrion (due to increased sheep numbers). A good overview of these increases is available from the BTO website and in the Bird Atlas (Balmer et al. 2013). The breeding population now stands at 7400 pairs (as of 2009 and thus is likely to be nearer 10,000 now). Ravens are increasing their range south and east and can now be seen in most counties in the UK, they even bred in Suffolk this year, the first time in 138 years. So rather than celebrate this achievement our statutory conservation agencies are busy sanctioning culls. A few months ago the news broke that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) had agreed to a cull of Ravens in the Strathbraan area allegedly to protect breeding waders. A legal challenge to this decision and the process that was followed is underway – you can read more on the Raptor Persecution UK website (here and here).
Culling Ravens appears to be contagious and now Defra are reported to have sanctioned culls in Berkshire, Derbyshire, Dorset, Lancashire and Wiltshire. The news broke in yesterday’s Sunday Times in an article by Jonathan Leake. I’ve not been able to track down any further information on either the Defra or Natural England websites. It could be that I’ve not been looking in the right place of course, so I’ve emailed both organisations asking for any links to the appropriate information on their websites. Even Google doesn’t appear to know. I’ve checked the RSPB website, and the relevant websites of the local Wildlife Trusts, there is no mention of Raven culls in England. So, at this stage it is difficult to know what is going on other than Ravens are going to be culled in a few counties in England to help protect lambs and piglets (as reported in the Sunday Times).
There are undoubtedly a lot of questions that need to be answered about this new cull of another protected species. Hopefully, further details will emerge in the coming days, and this will be a subject I’ll come back to. In the meantime I’m pretty sure that this is just a start. It must be odds on that this cull will spread to other areas. Why control Ravens for the benefit of sheep in Lancashire but not neighbouring Cumbria? And why stop at Ravens? Buzzards are doing well, maybe we have too many of them too? These are dark times for conservation and the environment and Michael Gove’s green credentials are increasingly losing their colour.
UPDATED: Martin Harper (RSPB Conservation Director, has written an informative blog on this issue here
Photo credit: Dieter Schaeffer