Ravens have been in the news lately – mainly for the wrong reasons. Scotland led the way with the announcement of an unscientific cull, and a legal challenge is currently underway – see the Raptor Persecution UK blog for various updates here and here. Then, in June an article in the Times suggested that a cull had been sanctioned in England too (I blogged about that here). Very little information was apparent either from Defra or Natural England’s websites until a blog appeared a few weeks later. The blog by the Operations Director of the South of England gives away very little, and in many ways largely repeats what Martin Harper (RSPB Conservation Director) wrote in his blog on the 18th June. Prior to that I’d politely emailed Defra asking for links to their website that would give me some information on what was being planned, and at the same time I submitted a Freedom of Information request on the 18th June. I didn’t get a reply from Defra, but a few days later I got an acknowledgement from Natural England that my request was being dealt with under the Environmental Information Regulations 2014 and I could expect a response within the 20 working day legal deadline (18th July). On the morning of the 18th I got a very polite and helpful phone call from Natural England saying that my request had been dealt with and due to the size of the files they would be sent in the post on CD – they duly arrived the next day.
The information supplied to some of my various questions had already been answered in part by the Natural England blog mentioned above. However, it is worth repeating this information as there will be further blogs on this issue of Raven killing in England. The first question was rather straightforward – can you confirm that licences to kill Ravens have been issued by Natural England – the answer was Yes. I then asked for a breakdown of the number of licences issued over the last 5 years. A total of nine licences have been issued (2 in Wiltshire, 1 in Berkshire, 1 in Cheshire, 1 in Derbyshire and 4 in Dorset). This at least partly tallies with the article in the Sunday Times and gives more detail in what was outlined in the blog above. However, there seems to be a discrepancy with the Cheshire and Derbyshire licences as they both appear to be in Cheshire – I’ll seek some clarification on this. I also asked various questions about the conditions, restrictions, methods of control (killing), non-lethal options and how NE assessed whether issuing a licence would impact on the conservation status of the Raven. All of these questions were answered through the provision of copies of the licences and technical assessments – redacted so the locations and names and the applicants could not be determined (which is fair enough – at least for some of the applications).
The figures from the FOI on the number of farms and the numbers of Ravens that can be killed annually don’t quite match up with that mentioned in the NE blog post above. The biggest discrepancy is for 2018. The official NE blog states that there is currently only one licence active for 2018 covering three farms and allowing 15 Ravens to be killed. The information I received from NE states that there are actually 3 licences active in 2018 covering 8 farms and allowing a total of 27 Ravens. Either the information within the NE blog is incorrect or the information that I’ve been provided is incorrect – either way it doesn’t inspire confidence in the accuracy of the information that Natural England are providing. I’m assuming that the figure that is given in the NE blog covers one licence which is actually from 5 farms (not 3 stated) although the number of Ravens that can be killed (n=15) is correct. This particular licence issued on the 28th February and then amended on the 28th March is quite interesting and I’ll come back to this one at some point in the future.
Eight of the nine licences which have been issued over the last 5 years (according to the data supplied by NE) have been to protect lambs and sheep, with one licence issued to protect rare breed piglets. The four licences issued in Dorset appear to be the same farm and have been issued to kill 2 Ravens per year – in one year only a single Raven was actually killed. The applicant appears to have tried a whole range of non-lethal methods and I’d say that from the information provided is clearly using lethal control as a last resort. Some of the images provided to support this application and subsequent renewals are rather gruesome.
Rather than an English version of a Raven cull as was initially reported, Natural England appear to be routinely addressing the five tests as outlined in their blog on the 5th July (and the process outlined by the RSPB); that actual damage is occurring; the species is actually causing the damage; other reasonable and practical non-lethal alternatives have been considered; the action is proportionate; and that the conservation status of the species will not be negatively affected. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made about issuing licences to tackle localised conflicts between protected wildlife and other interests such as farming, although more information about the evidential base for some of these issues would be helpful.
One of the questions I also asked of Natural England is whether any of the licences issued are within National Parks. Two licences have been issued that are within National Park boundaries, one of them is mentioned above, and I’ll come back to both of these in the near future – they raise some very interesting questions.
Photo credit: Dieter Schaeffer