Ravens are a conservation success story. Despite widespread persecution in the 19th and 20th Centuries, usually at the hands of gamekeepers and shooting interests, the species has since recovered and is generally doing rather well. The BTO Atlas of 2007-11 shows the range is expanding and the numbers increasing too. In the Atlas I find this sentence particularly telling “the only unoccupied upland area is the North York Moors” – I wonder why? I’d highly recommend reading Derek Ratcliffe’s Poyser monograph for a frank and fascinating account of the Raven – one of my favourites of all the Poyser monographs. The species has clearly had a tumultuous relationship with the shooting industry.
The Raven is currently categorised as ‘Green’ according to the list of Birds of Conservation Concern, unfortunately Scottish Natural Heritage has interpreted this as a green light to sanction a cull. Not only have they sanctioned a cull, they have done so without much consultation, without much (any) scientific justification and without considering alternative conservation approaches. The whole debacle has so far been a bit of an embarrassment for SNH and wildlife conservation in Scotland in general. I don’t think there is a single conservation body that supports the Raven cull, it appears nothing more than a sop to the grouse shooting industry under the guise of wader conservation. The story has been widely reported in the media, both printed and social. Raptor Persecution UK and OneKind have written numerous blogs on the cull and I’d encourage everyone to check out their respective blogs. For RPUK try here and here. For OneKind try here – it is quite surprising just how many Ravens are being culled. If you live in Scotland it is still worth contacting your MSP, see here.
During the last 4-5 weeks I’ve been mainly working abroad, and I’ve not been able to escape discussions around the Raven cull. Firstly, at a conference in Abu Dhabi, I was discussing illegal bird killing as part of a focussed workshop. In the sidelines I was asked, unprompted, by three separate individuals about the Raven cull and why it was happening. I’d not met any of the individuals before, they were all non-UK based, and all were amazed that in Scotland/UK the culling of Ravens was allowed. They were rather gobsmacked that the statutory conservation agency would endorse such an approach, and amazed that it was being seen as some sort of scientific experiment – I told them not to hold their breath waiting for the published research paper. Then whilst doing fieldwork in Kazakhstan I had several conversations, again unprompted, with colleagues about the Raven cull, again along the lines of why would those charged with protecting nature seek to cull it?! Finally, last week at an EU Life project conference, I was asked “what the hell is going on with Ravens in Scotland?” “I don’t know, it’s all a bit embarrassing really.”
As I catch up with what’s been happening with the Raven cull, I can’t help but reflect on those three different encounters, in three different countries, with three different groups of people (all unprompted). The world is watching and let’s face it, the Raven cull really is an embarrassment to Scotland, to SNH and the Scottish Government. It doesn’t bode well for the future of nature conservation in the UK. What other surprises are waiting around the corner? The Statutory Conservation bodies in the UK are failing in their duty to protect our threatened species, indeed they appear to be in a race to the bottom, our wildlife deserves better.
In Scotland, the UK and around the world, this Raven Madness really is an Embarrassment