CAMPAIGNERS have hit out at Scottish National Heritage (SNH), after the conservation body granted a five-year licence for an “experimental” cull of ravens in Perthshire.

Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders, a group of farmers and gamekeepers, were last week given permission to kill 300 birds.

The Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) say they are furious that the license has been granted and can’t believe that’s it’s been given to gamekeepers in “an area dominated by driven grouse shooting with a history of illegal raptor persecution”.

The cull will be in the same part of the country where Blue X, a white tailed sea eagle went missing, last month. The raven, an omnivorous and opportunistic feeder, has long been held responsible for the falling numbers of wading birds.

In the last decade the number of dunlin in Scotland has fallen by 52 per cent, while oystercatchers are down by a third, and the population of curlews has plummeted 23 per cent.

The SRSG say they have doubts about the credibility of the experiment. Writing on the Raptor Persecution blog, the raptor experts say SNH haven’t explained how they’ll be able to measure the impact of ravens, compared to “other predatory pressures, the loss of suitable habitat and changes in agricultural practices.”

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s head of wildlife, defended the licence: “We understand the concerns over wildlife crime in Strathbraan, but we are also clear that the granting of this licence is wholly unconnected to the issues concerned.

“This licence is about a pressing and complex conservation issue. It is a large-scale collaborative trial which will help improve our understanding of factors affecting key wader species, populations of which are declining at an alarming rate. We are satisfied this licence will not affect the population of ravens overall, and is over a five year period.”

But Duncan Orr-Ewing from RSPB Scotland hit out at the conservation body for not consulting them before handing over the licence: “We are extremely concerned about the likely scale on impact of this research licence on the local raven population in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire.

“We are also very surprised that SNH has issued such a research licence in the vicinity of Strathbraan, which has an appalling and well documented track record of illegal persecution of raptors, noting also the very recent suspicious disappearance of a satellite tagged white-tailed eagle in this very same area.

“We, together with local raptor workers who have been monitoring ravens in the area for decades, could have helped SNH with this background detail to the licence application if we had been consulted.”

In the early 19th century, an unkindness of ravens was a common sight throughout Scotland. But with a diet which included sheep and deer carrion, hares, rabbits, and grouse, they were a enemy for the country’s farmers and gamekeepers.

By the 20th century, numbers had dwindled substantially. But after decades of absence, the birds have in recent years started making a come back.

A pair has even been recorded breeding successfully in Glasgow.