PLANS for an “experimental” mass cull of ravens in Perthshire could face a legal challenge after protesters announced plans to push for a judicial review.

Within hours of launching the #Justice4Ravens crowdfunding campaign online, the Scottish Raptor Study Group had raised thousands of pounds towards court costs.

The country’s conservation body, Scottish National Heritage, came under fire in April for awarding a five-year licence to cull ravens to Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders, a group of farmers, and gamekeepers.

SNH said the cull was an experiment in a small part of Perthshire to see what would happen to wader populations locally if ravens were killed off.

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

Ravens, natural predators and scavengers, have often been blamed for the falling numbers.

But campaigners say the science doesn’t back this claim up, and that they have doubts about the credibility of the assessment being carried out as part of the experiment.

They also have misgivings about the cull taking place in an area managed for grouse shooting, and an area they’ve described as a “hotspot” for wildlife crime.

Ruth Tingay, from the Scottish Raptor Study Group said they believed the slaughter was “actually to protect red grouse, which will later be shot for fun”.

Writing on the crowdfunding page, Tingay said: “Gamekeepers have long campaigned to be allowed to kill ravens because they are perceived as a threat to grouse stocks, despite the charismatic raven only recently making a comeback from historical persecution.

“We believe this licensing decision is unlawful because lethal control of a protected species like the raven should be a last resort and the decision should be based on sound scientific evidence, not on the basis of ‘just to see what happens’.”

The campaigners say their challenge to SNH’s decision is not just about ravens, but is also about fears it may lead to other culls on other predators, like buzzards.

A spokeswoman for SNH said it was wrong to suggest the raven cull could lead to a cull on other birds: “This is a community-based application which seeks to bring a balance between species, bringing back waders from the brink whilst still maintaining a healthy national population of ravens.

“This is about getting a balance between species, bringing back waders from the brink whilst still maintaining a healthy national population of ravens.”

Over 168,000 people have signed a petition calling for the licence to be revoked.