Many of us have had this standard letter from the chair of SNH:
Thank you for your recent correspondence on the subject of the issue of a research licence to the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders.
I welcome that so many people in this country care passionately about the welfare of all our wildlife species. This has been shown in the volume of correspondence we have received, both positive and negative. In response, I have offered to facilitate a meeting between the RSPB and the local community group in Strathbraan.
The laws in place to protect birds, plants and animals recognise that in some situations their control can be permitted as long as we can ensure that this won’t affect their wider populations. Under this legislation SNH regularly grant licences to control species, including a range of birds and mammals. This includes the control of corvids. These activities are widespread and are carried out by farmers, gamekeepers and conservationist organisations alike in order to protect bird populations that are at risk.
Curlew and lapwing are listed as Red status in the birds of Conservation Concern (BOCC) review, with declines in abundance of over 50% in the past 20 years. They are also listed as Vulnerable at a European level. Ravens are currently on the Green list with no indication that licenced control is having any impact on the population of this species. This trial will help us and others to better understand the impact of ravens on species in grave danger. It permits the control of 69 ravens this year.
Strict conditions apply to all licences issued by SNH. This includes the means by which birds are controlled, and in this instance, also ensuring that all of the appropriate monitoring is set and records kept of what is taking place.
Thank you for taking time to write to me about this matter,
In the many copies of this letter to have been forwarded to me (for which, many thanks all!) I have yet to see anyone who has been mightily impressed by SNH’s response. And nor am I!
A few initial comments:
- the first sentence uses the word ‘welfare‘ – this is not incorrect use but I see this as a conservation and welfare issue, not a welfare issue.
- ‘the volume of correspondence we have received, both positive and negative’ – I wonder what the balance of positive and negative comments was? I’d be surprised if they were equal.
- ‘In response, I have offered to facilitate a meeting between the RSPB and the local community group in Strathbraan’ – that’s a poor response, you’re the government agency responsible for this daft decision; getting some other people to talk about your daft decision somewhere else isn’t what anyone asked for. This is a mere displacement activity. Please go back and revoke the licence!
- ‘The laws in place to protect birds, plants and animals recognise that in some situations their control can be permitted as long as we can ensure that this won’t affect their wider populations.’ – true, but not wholly clear. ‘In some situations‘ yes, but you do not justify that this is one of those situations, and don’t even try to do so. This case arguably falls well short of what SNH should require of anyone who wants to go around killing wildlife under licence. And this is a research licence – you haven’t mentioned the research element yet.
- ‘This includes the control of corvids.’ – well obviously it does if you mean Hooded and Carrion Crows! We look forward to the Chough Extermination Plan which could be badly justified using the same words!
- ‘These activities are widespread and are carried out by farmers, gamekeepers and conservationist organisations alike in order to protect bird populations that are at risk.’ – first, because words matter, note the use of the phrase ‘conservationist organisations’. Not ‘conservation’ but ‘conservationist’. It’s an interesting choice of word. I am a conservationist, but which are the organisations that would call themselves conservationist ones rather than conservation organisations? Conservationist is usually used in this way by people who don’t like conservation organisations and its use here is quite revealing. Second, because words matter, ‘alike’. The use of this word is revealing too. If Mr Cantlay really believes that there is a great deal of similarity in how and why gamekeepers and conservation organisations carry out predator control then he is not fit to be in the position that he holds in SNH. He can’t really believe that and so the use of the word ‘alike’ is an attempt to bundle all forms of predator control and all organisations who ever carry it out into the same category – which they are not and which is why so many oppose this unwarranted and unscientific cull. And there is a bit more to do in this sentence yet: ‘in order to protect bird populations that are at risk’. Gamekeepers operating a cage trap are doing so to protect bird populations that are at risk are they? Which bird populations are they? Pheasant? Red Grouse? Red-legged Partridge? So this sentence is a classic in conflation: it attempts to pretend that what gamekeepers do and what conservation organisations do in terms of predator control are pretty much the same and for pretty much the same motives and that this Raven cull is nothing very different from what everyone else is doing. Cobblers! And, you still haven’t, Mr Cantlay, justified the research element of this licence.
- ‘Curlew and lapwing are listed as Red status in the birds of Conservation Concern (BOCC) review, with declines in abundance of over 50% in the past 20 years.’ – true. Are those declines primarily due to Raven predation or might it just be that agricultural change and habitat loss have rather more to do with them? Sorry, when I say ‘rather more’ I do, of course, mean ‘vastly more’. This letter does not address the evidence for any need for Raven control and does not justify the research element of it.
- ‘Ravens are currently on the Green list with no indication that licenced control is having any impact on the population of this species.’ – true, but you mean that the national Raven population will not be affected by this Raven cull. If your licence were extended to the whole range of the Raven in Scotland then it would have an impact wouldn’t it? And in any case, the impact of this cull even if it succeeded beyond the wildest alleged dreams of the Raven cullers would not lift the Lapwing or Curlew off the Red list, would it? So you are using the national and international status of the Raven badly to justify this local cull (because the large scale population of the Raven won’t be affected by this local cull) and yet you will not use the national and international status of the Lapwing or Curlew to measure the success of the cull on its intended beneficiaries. Your argument is ‘We can kill Ravens because they are common in the world in order to benefit waders (allegedly) even though they won’t be commoner in the world as a result’.
- ‘licenced‘? You mean ‘licensed’. Just saying!
This is a terribly poor response and we should all go back and tell Mr Cantlay that he has not justified SNH’s decision he has simply talked around the issue in a misleading manner. He appears to have attempted to justify SNH’s daft decision on the grounds that ‘Everyone’s doing this type of thing, nothing to see here’ which is, in fact, false. We should say that our objection to SNH’s licensing decision remains and we await a proper response which actually explains how the cull was licensed as a research project . What is the justification for licensing and what are the research results that SNH expects to see from this licensing?
Still, SNH is doing its very best to make Natural England look good in the race to the bottom between our statutory nature conservation (certainly not conservationist) agencies.