Raven cull is a bolt from the blue

Amy Lewis

A plan to cull ravens in Lancashire and four other English counties has shocked naturalists at the Wildlife Trust.

The Lancashire Wildlife Trust heard that Natural England has issued licences for a cull of ravens in Farmer’s Weekly, which reports that “The licences have only been granted to a small number of farmers in areas where the landowner has exhausted all other options to protect their livestock.”

The raven is a protected species under the terms of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

The Lancashire Wildlife Trust has emailed Natural England’s local office in Crewe to ask for clarification of the reasoning behind the award of these local licences. Policy Officer Dave Dunlop said: “We want to know what non-lethal measures have already been tried and why these have failed.

“And we want to know what are the checks and balances that have been put in place to ensure that a level raven population may be maintained across Lancashire despite any localised reductions resulting from the culls.

“Irrespective of the merits or otherwise of these individual local culls, we’d also want to know the details of its timing. It would be important that this should not be in the raven breeding season, for animal welfare issues (removing parents that are feeding young) and especially because ravens share nest sites with peregrines in some local quarries, and “collateral’ disturbance of those and their young as a result of shooting would be a serious issue. Peregrine is a specially protected species under law.”

Once confined by persecution to the highest and most remote uplands, ravens began a quite rapid westward expansion in the region in the early 1990s. This was helped by the birds’ adaptation to nesting in quarries and on a variety of other human structures, including cathedrals, gasometers and electricity pylons.

Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager at The Wildlife Trusts, says: “Ravens are a protected species and have long appeared in myths and legends, from Aesop’s fables to Native American folklore; their intelligence is renowned. After centuries of persecution, populations of this majestic bird are recovering.

“We believe that the culling of any animal should always be a last resort after every appropriate alternative has been explored.

“We have not been notified that Natural England were considering licences and we have concerns about the evidence base used to guide licensing decisions. Without transparency, we won’t know the impact that this decision will have on the population of a protected species; this is a worrying issue both now and in the future.”

Historically ravens were a scavenging bird of mediaeval cities and, following their population’s recovery, they seem to be returning to this role. Indeed, ravens colonising from the south have bred successfully on Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. There are estimated to be about 100 breeding pairs in Lancashire and North Merseyside with 300 hundred spending the winters here.