The welfare of newly born lambs and ewes has been forgotten in the present furore over increased numbers of ravens attacking sheep when they are at their most vulnerable, according to George Milne, development officer with the Scottish region of the National Sheep Association (NSA).
He believes that all the focus had been on the protected status of the birds meaning they were not allowed to be shot even when they were pecking the eyes or tongues out of the newly born and still fragile lambs.
“The welfare of both the ewes and their offspring has to come into the equation,” Milne said yesterday, adding that he would be discussing the welfare side of the problem with Scotland’s chief vet next week.
Milne added that while sheep and lambs were increasingly under attack by ravens, other protected or recently introduced species were also claiming the lives of more and more sheep and lambs.
“We now have more than 100 breeding pairs of sea eagles and they are causing a great deal of problems where they have been introduced. In other areas, the explosion of badger numbers is resulting in losses of lambs,” he said.
Most of the raven attacks are in the hills and remote areas of Scotland but Milne said he was receiving reports from all over the UK.
The birds generally go for the eyes or the tongues of the lambs leaving them blind and helpless but still alive.
One shepherd who has witnessed such an attack said: “I now understand why a collection of ravens is called a murder.”
Currently shepherds can apply for a restricted licence to control ravens but these are only issued under strict guidelines. Last year, 122 such licences were issued and as a result 561 ravens were shot.
Milne added the NSA supported a petition started up by Danny Bisset ofThurso, which has now attracted more than 2,000 messages of support. It calls for the common raven to be added to Scottish Natural Heritage’s general licence – 02/2016 – which allows for the “taking or killing of certain birds for the prevention of serious damage to livestock”.
The decision on whether to change the current policy on ravens lies with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
Yesterday Robbie Kernahan, head of the national operations unit at SNH, said: “We’re aware of the concerns about ravens and lambs, and the interest in adding ravens to the birds which may be killed under general licence. We are due to hold a consultation on general licences later this year and will consider if any changes are required for the 2017 general licences.”
He added: “We regularly issue specific licences to shoot ravens to prevent damage to livestock where there is no other satisfactory solution.
“But any licence we issue to shoot ravens is done so as part of an overall scaring programme and is not intended to cull the population, but to deter them.”