NEWS: SNH admit Raven cull error – but fail to apologise for it

 

Raven. Photo: Tim Melling

This was issued this morning by SNH – it represents a significant victory for the challenge by the Scottish Raptor Study Group, led by Ruth Tingay, to the legality of the licence to cull Ravens issued by SNH.  See also the report by the Scientific Advisory Committee. I’ll come back to this later today.

 

SNH media release:

A report into Strathbraan Community work to support wader populations has been published today by Scottish Natural Heritage’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

Earlier this year, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) issued a licence to the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders (SCCW) to control ravens in order to reduce impacts on nesting waders, which are in marked decline nationally.

A report into Strathbraan Community work to support wader populations has been published today by Scottish Natural Heritage’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

Earlier this year, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) issued a licence to the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders (SCCW) to control ravens in order to reduce impacts on nesting waders, which are in marked decline nationally.

Following concerns, SNH commissioned its Scientific Advisory Committee to review the methodology of the study. The Committee has found it to be inadequate to provide robust scientific conclusions and advised on ways in which the scientific rigour of the study can be improved.

SNH has agreed to ensure these terms are part of any licenced raven control going forward and the SCCW have voluntarily suspended the cull until revised monitoring arrangements are in place.

A specific Scientific Advisory Group will now be created to assist the project and will include members from the SNH Scientific Advisory Committee, the British Trust for Ornithology and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The group will advise on further methods and analytical work required including:

  • Monitoring the full range of factors which could be impacting wader bird numbers and productivity;
  • Developing the way data are collected and analysed – including using cameras to monitor nests;
  • Making sure that the work is linked to the wider conservation programme Working for Waders.

Professor Des Thompson, Principal Scientific Adviser on science and biodiversity at Scottish Natural Heritage, said, ‘Populations of curlew and lapwing in Scotland have more than halved over the past 20 years. We are rapidly reaching crisis point and we need to take action. After all, the Curlew is one of our most rapidly declining of all our breeding bird species in the UK.

Our Scientific Advisory Committee has provided us with a detailed assessment and very helpful pointers to further work at Strathbraan and more widely. In particular, the Committee notes that more needs to be done to understand the effects of predation by ravens and other factors in driving down wader numbers.

We need to learn from this trial, and the experience and knowledge gained, and move on to develop advice and support for action on the ground to benefit waders.  Having a Scientific Advisory Group will be a huge help in developing the work.

SNH welcomes the decision by the Strathbraan Community Group to suspend the cull for the rest of this year.‘.

Ends

 

SNH now faces a lot more questions about its good faith, scientific competence and integrity:

  • why has Professor Thompson not apologised for this monumental cock-up over SNH’s science on his watch?
  • why did SNH’s Principal Scientific Advisor not spot the weaknesses in this half-baked project – the rest of us did?
  • why has it taken so long for this advice to emerge into the light of day? – the Scientific Advisory committee met to discuss this matter at the end of May and given the damning nature of their views a more rapid response would have been expected
  • why, and how, has SNH decided to plough on with this project when this year’s data are clearly useless and the SAC report says ‘the Committee suggests that, if continued, the trial should be completely redesigned rather than the current trial being modified
  • why is SNH setting up an extra committee when this ought to be their staff’s job to sort out?
  • why are the GWCT involved in this extra, special, committee when they were involved in the original flawed proposal? GWCT appears to be part of the problem rather than the solution, and maybe the RSPB would be a better bet?
  • will the SNH Chair be writing to all of us who pointed out back in April what SNH has now admitted in late July – that this is a flawed and worthless study  – to apologise for his patronising tone and failure to act quickly on what was blatantly obvious 14 weeks ago?

SNH’s maladroit handling of this issue is shocking.

Well done, again, to the Scottish Raptor Study Group for taking the legal challenge.  I’m not sure that this  announcement brings your case to an end.  But in any eventuality, I think you might need to put your ‘legal challenge face’ on again in the future by the sound of it. I’m guessing, and hoping, that you may well not have used too much of the money you raised, including my £50, and that the residue may constitute a fighting fund for future challenges. But if not, my £50 will be there again – I’ll start saving up now.

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12 Replies to “NEWS: SNH admit Raven cull error – but fail to apologise for it”

  1. A large proportion of those who were criticising the cull, not least of all Mark, are scientifically literate, and have a lot of insight into scientific methodology, or conservation principles. In other words the cull was being criticised, not because people didn't like it. but because it was as plain as the nose on our faces that this was a piece of sophistry, a contrivance and just about giving gamekeepers the right to kill Ravens, through specious justification. We were being treated as if we were stupid.

    Reading between the lines on this SNH communique, they are not admitting fault, and are essentially saying we've suspended this crock of a plan, until we come up with a much more cunning specious justification, which will be harder to challenge.

    The whole notion that it is okay to wipe out one vulnerable bird to protect another is an abomination. Like many here, including of course Mark, I can remember when you simply didn't see Ravens except in remote areas of the country, so remote the gamekeepers were either few on the ground or non-existent. What's more, anyone with their eyes open knows very well that the pretence that this is about protecting Waders is a contrivance. Put it this way, if it was proved that driven grouse shooting was responsible for the decline of these waders (I am not suggesting it is, and this is for the purpose of a thought experiment), do we really think that those behind this Raven cull, would given up driven grouse shooting, to protect waders? Of course not. And this is what speaks volumes about what the real motivation is.

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  2. Good news, well done! This 'project' had absolutely no scientific integrity from the very, very beginning and it seems SNH were the last to see (or admit) that. This awful precedent has hopefully been nipped in the bud as it was very difficult to believe that SNH's involvement was only to make it easier for estates to indulge their rabid anti predator addiction - this phoney concern for waders from them and cronies would be hysterically funny if not for some people falling for it. Trying to identify what's really causing wader declines as opposed to trying to blame predators would be a good start. Yesterday I was at my mum's and was shocked to look out at a field of what had been rough grazing for decades and decades that is now like the a rumpled snooker table. It's been ploughed, fertilized and rye grass sown - a solid, uninterrupted monotonous green from corner to corner. It looks like plastic lawn compared to the field with reasonable plant diversity that preceded it and other, but decreasing number of adjoining fields that still have flowers and rushes in them. I doubt there's a single flower anywhere in it and invertebrate life must be vanishingly rare. When it has happened right in front of you so quickly then it really comes home like a punch to the gut.

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  3. "We need to learn from this trial". Do they really believe that? They need to learn from their scientific advisory committee. This ridiculous "let's see what happens" trial should never have happened and 175000 of us knew it. This out of control (and it's not the only one) body needs to read it's remit more carefully in the future. I'm eagerly awaiting the next development.

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  4. Why do they not learn how to conduct a predator control trial for waders run by the RSPB? I refer to the Glenwherry breeding wader project
    https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/projects/glenwherry-breeding-wader-project/
    That of course, may not satisfy the bodies SNH is trying to please.
    They certainly are not pleasing me. I'll have to keep using the T shirt and beanie hat, I see.

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  5. As I read the SNH post the cull has been "voluntarily suspended " for this year not cancelled as claimed by a former head of RSPB on Twitter. So if the new advisory group comes up with a scheme that keeps the various conservation groups happy I trust they will all get behind the cull and support the experiment. I have my doubts . The hysterical reaction to the removal of about 50 to 60 ravens a year I suspect had more to do with the crusade against the dominant land use in the study area than any great concern for the ravens . As any culling required to protect this years wader crop is likely to have been completed by now the suspension is no big thing . I trust the BTO will work in good faith on the advisory group as time is running out on a lot of our wader populations.

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    1. David - I think you mean a former Director of the RSPB in Scotland don't you?

      SNH can only issue licences if the application meets a certain number of legal constraints. It's hardly hysterical to point out that the reasoning is utterly flawed. And the views of the SAC show that what you call a 'hysterical reaction' was better judged than that of SNH's scientific and technical staff, it seems.

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      1. I was not sure of the job title of the man in question and stand corrected. If SNH had issued a series of licenses for individual holdings in the area for a few ravens each the result would have been the same but it would pass without comment so I still see it as a bit of an over reaction . Ravens are not rare after all and in some areas are a problem hence the granting of licenses to shoot them . My point still stands that if the advisory group comes up with a cull plan that is sound science will you back it or continue to oppose it .

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        1. Speaking for myself I'd want objective science to try and find out exactly why waders are declining then a solution, NOT a blatant attempt to use a valid conservation concern as a smokescreen to kill a bird which is only starting to recover from horrendous levels of persecution (and in fact is still considerably rarer than lapwing, curlew or golden plover) and whose only 'crime' is to be a predator not quite on the verge of extinction anymore.

          You should read that sac review of the Straathbaan license which is a cracking diememberment of why it has no scientific validity and thereby no meaningful contribution to informed conservation practice. Here is one section out of many that could be pasted in here:-

          At Strathbraan, the evidence that other drivers (e.g. habitats, land use, land management, other predators) were not influencing the wader population appeared anecdotal. Land management and habitat were described in the application as ‘optimal for waders’ without evidence to support this, and a conclusion that there are no further land management actions to be taken was reached without presenting any analysis of the extent, quality, and spatial targeting of agri-environment management for breeding waders in the landscape. This is despite the fact that in nearby Strathallan, Bell and Calladine (2017) found that a 25-year decline of breeding wader numbers was in large part attributable to agricultural management change.

          Please explain to us in light of this why killing ravens to 'see what happens' would ever be a sensible use of time, effort and money? It was a disgrace that SNH ever granted that license. In the same review it also noted that predation on ground nesting birds may also increase due not only to mesopredator release (returning goshawks would eat a lot of corvids), but ALSO the rearing and release of gamebirds. Not rocket science that tens of millions pheasant and partridge released into the countryside could be unnaturally boosting fox numbers for one. Then of course there are the pheasants themsleves - Keith Brockie stated that he saw a pheasant eat a lapwing chick despite ten adult LW mobbing it. Doesn't this deserve attention a hell of a lot more than killing some ravens to 'see what happens'?

          And David a point that has been made before given this sudden predilection for conservation in Straathban when can we expect a Straathban Collaboration for ...bats, juniper, fungi and beetles that need deadwood, house sparrows, aquatic invertebrates, Kentish glory moth or hen harriers?

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        2. "Ravens are not rare after all and in some areas are a problem"

          Blue Tits aren't rare, so is it okay any old nutter to pop them off with an airgun from their kitchen window, just to "see what happens" to Tortrix moth populations? I suggest to you that Ravens are only "a problem" to those with a vested interest in their destruction.

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  6. The raven cull is a direct follow on from 'Understanding Predation', the exercise conducted by Scotland's Moorland Forum, which was supported by Scottish Government and funded by SNH. It placed 'conflict resolution' above scientific integrity and effective conservation by promoting a spurious equivalence between gamekeeper anecdote and science, carrying out a mass consultation of gamekeeper opinion which produced the predictable guff we are all familiar with. Passages from the project's 2016 Report pretty much sum up the raven cull approach.

    'we need to move away from the current model of science ignoring local knowledge and feeding directly into policy and instead we should be developing new collaborative approaches, challenging though they might be. We should be linking robust science together with local knowledge holders'.

    and

    'We should be linking robust science together with local knowledge holders from the outset, in agreeing the questions, designing the research, collecting the data and interpreting the results. Such knowledge co-production is a way of overcoming the potential biases'

    Anecdote is the usual stimulus for scientific enquiry and testing but that doesn't usually involve the lunatics taking over the asylum as they are doing with the cull. SNH embarked on this very takeover process formally as 'conflict resolution' well before the raven cull proposal and that is probably making it much harder for them to ditch the cull now. It's an indication also of how SNH see the conflict that the 'collaborative approaches' and 'local knowledge holders' don't include the Raptor Study Group.

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  7. I think it is always worth remembering that at no point did the Strathbraan killing club apply to undertake research. All of the papers released by SNH show that they applied for a licence for the conservation of wild birds. There is simply no licence application form for research. SNH decided that it would issue a research licence of its own bat...presumably to help justify the ridiculous request. I thought this might be an area that the judicial review might explore.
    for me the most damning statement in the report is the one where the SAC underline the fact there is absolutely no justification for laying the blame for the wader decline on Ravens. In fact they point out that there are other better defined and much more significant issues. In their response, the SNH board completely ignore this point.
    It is this point which makes me wonder why BTO might be considering joining the "project". Why would they sign up for a project which involves culling specially protected birds when there is absolutely no scientific justification for the cull? Clearly they are running the risk of a major tarnish on their reputation.

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