Greens slam ‘open season’ in row over bird culling

Scotland’s heritage body has been accused of declaring “open season” on ravens as part of a review of its policies surrounding the culling of wild birds.

Andy Wightman.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) yesterday announced a consultation into the future of its licensing system.

The body says its ambition is to allow wild birds to “thrive” under a “proportionate” regime, but the Scottish Greens claim the steps will result in the “free slaughter” of ravens – a protected species.

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Consultation documents state SNH is “considering the merits” of adding ravens to a general licence designed to prevent damage to crops, vegetables and fruit, as well as livestock.

The licence covers situations where there is no other satisfactory solution and, says SNH, should only be used as a “last resort”.

But Greens MSP Andy Wightman has hit out at the proposed inclusion of ravens under the licence, warning that land managers could kill as many of the “magnificent birds” as they want, with “no monitoring or oversight” in place. He said: “SNH is meant to protect Scotland’s natural heritage, but once again it has shown it is completely unable to stand up to vested interests.

“I hope that they will walk away from these ridiculous proposals to kill yet more wildlife and focus on stopping the epidemic of wildlife persecution that continues across Scotland.”

SNH’s 12-week consultation will gather views on the circumstances under which wild birds can be controlled, such as preventing crop damage, protecting public health and stopping bird strikes on aircraft.

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s head of wildlife management, said it wanted its licences to be “clear, proportionate and fit for purpose” in the wake of a successful legal challenge by wildlife campaigners, including Chris Packham, over the system overseen by the Natural England watchdog.

Mr Kernahan said: “Our role is to help wild birds thrive, but we must balance this with making sure the public is safe from health and safety risks, as well as ensuring that farmers can protect their crops.

“The consultation, along with our ongoing work, will provide us with valuable feedback. This will allow us to consider if we need to make changes to the current set of licences for 2020.”

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has urged its members to fill in a survey circulated by SNH as part of the consultation. It said it was vital the general licences are “retained as practical, workable tools”.

The association said it was “important that we get this right in Scotland” and pointed to the “widespread sense of dissatisfaction” in England over new licences which it claims has resulted in a “disastrous situation”, with businesses struggling to protect stock, crops and wildlife.

It follows the discovery of around 100 dead birds last week in Perthshire, which was reported to police amid concerns of an illegal cull.

The grim find was made fewer than five miles from Strathbraan where licences to shoot 300 ravens were suspended last year due to public anger over culling.

As revealed by Scotland on Sunday at the weekend, SNH last year approved 138 licences to cull ravens.

The body also ticked off on licences to cull numerous “red listed” species, including grey partridges, herring gulls, house sparrows, skylarks and starlings.