That damning report on the Raven cull

Raven. Photo: Tim Melling

Earlier today SNH issued a statement and published their own Scientific Advisory Committee’s views on the value of SNH’s highly controversial licensing of a Raven cull in the Strathbraan area. Reading the SNH statement you might get the impression that the SAC did have some serious doubts about the project that SNH had licensed but that SNH intended to press on regardless with a bit of tweaking perhaps.  A close look at the SAC report suggests that a much more fundamental review is needed.

I’ve rarely read such a damning report, from an internal advisory body, on its own organisation’s work.  It is clear that the SAC were immensely unimpressed by what SNH had done. And quite rightly! There is no mincing of words here.

Here are some quotes but you can read the whole thing yourself to find others. These quotes are taken from the Exec Summary and the six areas which the SAC was asked to examine.


From the Executive Summary:

committee members were unanimous in the view that the existing trial methods, both as originally outlined in the licence application and as practiced in 2017, are completely inadequate and will fail to provide any meaningful scientific evidence for or against any effect of culling ravens on wader populations.‘.

1. How the proposed trial fits within the existing knowledge – base around wader conservation and factors affecting wader populations.
The SAC were pretty happy about this as a  general area of study but said ‘The use of only anecdotal testimony on predation as a driver in the Strathbraan study is concerning from a scientific perspective.’.  So, SNH scrapes through with a mild rebuke on this charge.

2. The rationale for selecting ravens for removal, noting other drivers of change in wader populations
The scientific rationale for selecting ravens for control at Strathbraan was absent: no evidence was provided that other known drivers of wader populations were not having an impact, and the design for raven control was flawed.‘.  You cannot get much more damning than that.

3. The proposals and monitoring methods to inform the impacts of raven removal on wader numbers and productivity, and the baseline data and information informing this.
There were major flaws in the baseline data, and the design and collection of the data for waders and ravens.
This section is well worth a read – particularly the criticism of the GWCT! GWCT claimed that this was a BACI study – Before-After-Control-Impact – but the SAC says there is no Control and that the Before data are not good enough.  Not so much BACI as AI – Absolutely Indefensible?

4. Consideration given to the impacts of removal on the raven population locally, and nationally.
‘...the Committee considered that the planned intensity of culling in the Strathbraan removal area could not be extended to a wider area without a likely impact on raven populations

5.  How the information gathered can be used to best effect to inform future work on wader conservation through Working for Waders.
The Committee felt the information gathered, as presented, would not meet the intended purpose‘.

6.  Whether, bearing in mind the community-led and adaptive nature of this proposal, there are any modifications that can be made to how the work is carried out in future in order to improve the value of any data collected, and the wider scientific impact of the work.
Given the flawed baseline data and experiment design, the Committee suggests that, if continued, the trial should be completely redesigned rather than the current trial being modified.‘.

I wonder what SNH will actually do now. These are the questions that I believe they face over their handling of this flawed and useless project:
  • 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 the SAC’s advice to emerge into the light of day? – the 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 would be wise simply to ditch this project and get the GWCT in and give them a sharp ticking off for promoting such a flawed study (but then, maybe GWCT would say ‘It’s your job to issue licences properly. We never thought you would license this project. We were as gobsmacked as everyone else’ – or maybe they wouldn’t…).
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8 Replies to “That damning report on the Raven cull”

  1. Your suggestion that "SNH would be wise simply to ditch this project and get the GWCT in and give them a sharp ticking off" is, I would suggest unlikely. GWCT and it's backers is the audience which SNH has decided to appeal to, and it will continue to completely ignore it's remit. It is instead following the lead set by NE.

  2. BBC Scotland reported on the SAC analysis

    here is the final comment from the report

    A spokesman for Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders said: "Local farmers and gamekeepers have been united in trying to prevent further loss of rare birds such as the curlew, which would be tragic especially as action on the ground clearly makes a difference.

    "Thanks to the licence, and hens being in good breeding condition, we are delighted to say it has been an excellent breeding year in Strathbraan. Folk at the sharp end have even seen nests of four fledged curlew chicks for the first time, greatly helped by being better able to protect the chicks and eggs from the raven flocks that have been so damaging in recent years.

    "In terms of wader conservation, therefore, it has been a much better season. The license has been temporarily suspended so those on the science side can make adjustments.

    "However, the community remains committed to wading bird conservation, spurred on by what has been achieved so far."

    So not many lessons learnt there!

    1. So all those poor waders in Iceland are domed due to the massive amount of Ravens breeding and non breeding using the island as their home! No call for a cull their!

      I wonder what a 'good' summer had on the number of Curlew chicks seen?
      And how many more where 'cut to pieces' in those dedicated farmers' machines when making silage/haylidge. Who was counting them? Not the Game Conservancy. It has to be Ravens. Did they shoot the gulls/kites/ravens flying to the fields to pick up the pieces of flesh left after the cutting?

  3. Thanks for the analysis and quotes. This is about as damning as it can get. Essentially it demonstrates that there was no scientific basis or rationale for this cull at all.

    Mark asks the obvious question "why did SNH’s Principal Scientific Advisor not spot the weaknesses in this half-baked project – the rest of us did?" There was no scientific rationale for this cull at all, as the SAC found. How could this have possibly escaped his notice?

  4. Thanks Mark for your usual acuity. Whether or not DNH would be wise to ditch the project, I feel sure that their lawyers will advise them that it is hopeless to resist the judicial review. The SAC report, in showing SNH's complete regard for the science, also by the same token shows their original and now continuing disregard for the law. The licence, one way or another, will be revoked. The only question is how long it will take and how senior will be the head that rolls because of the catastrophic mishandling of a institutional failure to recognise and abide by the law.

  5. There may be reasons to think that the judicial review may fail, so I am not sure that is the case.
    I was intrigued by the inclusion of BTO in the review proposed by SNH. On reflection that is reasonable. It would be expected that the scientific (if that can still be used as a description for GCWT) proposal will have several hurdles to overcome. I'm not a 'real' scientist but see issues with selecting an area to compare which presumably will need some live Ravens during the trial (best of luck with that anywhere near the trial area) a mobile species, and the time needed for a baseline study and training.


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