Row erupts over calls for raven cull to protect sheep

An online petition launched by farmers calling for greater control of ravens on farmland to protect newborn lambs and calves is gaining momentum.

Britain’s largest species of crow has been blamed for a rise in attacks on livestock in Scotland, particularly in upland areas.

The petition, started by Danny Bisset of Thurso, urges Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to change control laws on ravens to allow the birds to be shot to protect livestock.

See also: ‘Shoo, don’t shoot’ farmland bird proposals rejected

It calls for the common raven (Corvus corax) to lose its protected species status and be added to the list of species that can be shot with a general licence, which includes magpie, jay and the carrion crow.

[The raven] is a predator responsible for huge losses throughout the farming community every year Danny Bisset

However conservationists have attacked the petition, claiming a rule change could lead to the extinction of ravens.

The petition states that increasing attacks this year on in-lamb ewes and newborn lambs have “led to an untold amount of sheep deaths, emotional upset and huge financial losses” for sheep farmers across Scotland.

According to SNH, there are about 12,000 pairs of common raven in the UK, of which most can be found in Scotland.

Because the common raven lacks natural predators and holds protected status, the petition urges SNH to add the species to the list of birds under general licence, which allows the “taking or killing of certain birds for the prevention of serious damage to livestock”.

Mr Bisset has added a video (warning: graphic content) to his YouTube channel showing the aftermath of a raven attack on a sheep in Argyll.

Writing on his Facebook account, Mr Bisset says: “Please continue your efforts to spread the word and raise awareness. The general public, who don’t see the effects of raven attacks, need to be made aware that this is a current, ongoing and escalating issue prior to the SNH 2017 review of the general licence.

“This may reduce the backlash from the every day back garden ornithologist, who may have been under the assumption that the raven was a scavenger and not have realised it’s a predator responsible for huge losses throughout the farming community every year.”

But conservationists have hit back with a petition of their own, which warns that unregulated killing of ravens could decimate the species. More than 27,000 people have signed this counter petition.

RSPB Scotland has acknowledged it is a “distressing situation” for livestock farmers. But it said the unregulated control of ravens would put the species at risk of becoming extinct.

A spokesman said: “SNH regularly issue licenses to farmers to kill ravens for livestock protection. It is therefore completely unnecessary to put raven on the general licence, which would result in poorly regulated, unrestricted killing of ravens. 

“It should be remembered that ravens in the east of Scotland are only now recovering from historical eradication and would once again be vulnerable to local extinction if SNH allowed the free-for-all the petition seeks.”