Nearly 35,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Scotland’s nature agency to withdraw a licence that allows the killing of up to 300 ravens.
The permit, from Scottish Natural Heritage, gives permission to kill the protected species as part of an experimental project aimed at reversing severe declines of wading birds such as curlews.
But conservationists have reacted with anger over the issuing of the research licence to an organisation called the Strathbraan Community, which includes estates where satellite-tagged birds of prey have disappeared in “suspicious” circumstances.
They claim plans to cull more than 60 ravens a year over a five-year period in parts of Perthshire are to benefit sporting interests rather than safeguarding threatened wildlife.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management for RSPB Scotland, said in a blog: “In the first instance, we doubt very much that the proposal in this case has anything to do with the given reason for the research licence request.“In light of previous loud complaints by estates in this and other grouse shooting areas about raven predation of red grouse, we and many others see this raven research proposal as simply a rather transparent mechanism whereby a perceived pest species can be removed to benefit red grouse, with the conservation of wading birds as a by-product.”
In a blog on the site Raptor Persecution UK, the Scottish Raptor Study Group wrote: “When selecting a trial area, why would you choose an area dominated by driven grouse shooting with a history of illegal raptor persecution? What message does this send out to the many law-abiding estates? Wildlife presenter Chris Packham has also spoken out against the scheme on social media and in a message to SNH chair Mike Cantlay.
He tweeted: “What has angered me most about @nature_scot licensing the cull of Ravens on grouse moors with histories of raptor persecution is the absolute betrayal. They are MEANT to be protecting wildlife not encouraging its slaughter.”
But land managers and gamekeepers have welcomed the decision by Scottish Natural Heritage to grant the licence, congratulating the body for “prioritising science over emotion”.
A spokesman for Strathbraan Community, which was issued the permit, said: “Farmers and keepers in the community have for a number of years identified ravens as a predators of wading bird eggs and chicks, particularly at breeding time.